ACTOR Martin Shaw has blasted BBC red tape which he said left scriptwriters on his hit North-East drama tearing their hair out, as he also criticised TV bosses' obsession with youth.

The veteran star said delays in commissioning his popular series Inspector George Gently, which is filmed in and around County Durham, as well as the to-ing and fro-ing with scripts, meant the stars had often taken on other work by the time they were approved.

In an interview with Radio Times, he also criticised the budgets allocated to the 1960s-set detective drama for the forthcoming seventh series in which just a handful of protesters are seen when there should have been dozens.

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Shaw, 69, said: "That's all they would pay for. In America when a show is successful, the budget is increased, but here they take money away. It p*** me off, but as a human being you need a target and I don't know where BBC decisions come from.

"You ask, Why are 100 protesters played by six extras? and everyone says, 'I know. Isn't it a nightmare?'"

Shaw, who is also famed for his role in former shows The Professionals and Judge John Deed, said he was unsure about the future of Gently.

"We don't know if there will be an eighth series. They'll wait to see our ratings and then if they do recommission, it will be too late," he explained.

"The pressure is on to write four films quickly, and once they're finished, it's passed up the food chain. The first set of administrators make changes and send it back to the writers who say, 'You've taken out our favourite bits'.

"They'll rewrite and it goes to the next level. By the time it's gone through everyone, the writers are tearing their hair out or walking off in a huff.

"When we actors get the script, we're often already committed to other work and have to make last-minute adjustments."

He suggested viewers would prefer to see older characters on screen, and did not see why TV commissioners concentrated on portraying youth on screen when he claimed younger people were more likely to be out of the house, which he called idiocy.

Shaw said: "Only young people can be on TV. It's bloody obvious older people stay home to watch. The young go out."

He added: "I'm bound to say there are too many cop series because I'd like mine to be the only one, but it's a shame there isn't more variety."

Shaw also told how he heard his former Professionals co-star Lewis Collins had died from cancer last November shortly after receiving a Christmas card with a photo of him smiling in sunshine accompanied by his family.

The two actors had famously fallen out many years earlier, but he said they had patched things up in recent years.
"We weren't in touch for 20 years until he and his wife came to dinner and we reminisced. It was a good way to end after the trials and tribulations of the series," Shaw said.

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