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Fire up the Quat­tro and re­verse into the 1980s with Bol­lyknick­ers and the Guv. We’re happy, hope you’re happy too.

APOPULAR BBC FAN­TASY SE­RIES, THE LEAD­ING MAN re­placed by a younger woman, air­ing to a mixed re­ac­tion from fans and some luke­warm re­views… SFX isn’t in 2019 dis­cussing Doc­tor Who, but back in 2008, when matthew gra­ham and ash­ley pharoah’s in­spec­tor sam tyler (John simm), a 21st cen­tury cop trapped in the 1970s in Life On Mars (2006-07), was re­placed by in­spec­tor alex drake (Kee­ley hawes) in the se­quel, Ashes To Ashes (2008-10). What made the re­launch pos­si­ble was the pop­u­lar­ity of tyler’s boss, the de­fi­antly un-PC Chief in­spec­tor gene hunt (philip glenis­ter), who’d bul­lied, in­sulted and thumped his way into view­ers’ af­fec­tions over two se­ries. With the ac­tion re­lo­cated from manch­ester in 1973 to lon­don in 1981, hunt re­turned with his sergeants ray Car­ling (dean an­drews) and Chris skel­ton (mar­shall lan­caster). “at the time i re­mem­ber be­ing very sad that John had de­cided to leave,” the jovial an­drews tells SFX. “i un­der­stood his rea­sons, as his fam­ily were very young at the time and he was un­der im­mense pres­sure, not only be­ing the lead in Life On Mars, but be­ing in every sin­gle scene... nev­er­the­less, i wasn’t ready for it to end so soon and i was dis­ap­pointed. i had no idea then about Ashes To Ashes but when i did find out about it, i was a very happy bunny.” “We talked and said, ‘is there any way we can do a Doc­tor Who and re­gen­er­ate him into some­body else?’” laughs co-cre­ator and writer matthew gra­ham. “in the end, we had to think up a trun­cated end­ing to Life On Mars that hope­fully dealt with the sam part of the story. i built some­thing into the last episode that ref­er­enced the alex drake char­ac­ter which said, ‘there is a po­lice psy­chol­o­gist who knows ev­ery­thing that sam went through. she could end up in his world, be­cause she has all the things in her head that sam had in his.’ “the BBC were very, very keen that we thought about do­ing a se­quel,” re­veals gra­ham. “they had a big, hit show that they felt should have re­ally been run­ning for an­other cou­ple of years. to be hon­est, they felt short-changed that we were go­ing to end Life On Mars. you don’t get a hit show very of­ten, so when you do, the temp­ta­tion is to find a way to keep it go­ing a lit­tle bit longer.” pair­ing hunt with a new, fe­male part­ner against the back­drop of lon­don in the early 1980s proved

a vi­brant com­bi­na­tion. apart from the sex­ual ten­sion be­tween alex and “the guv”, the uK’s cap­i­tal city in the early 1980s was at the fore­front of the so­cial, po­lit­i­cal and cul­tural changes sweep­ing the coun­try. af­ter what lon­don’s free news­pa­per the Metro called a “dodgy start”, Ashes To Ashes de­liv­ered sto­ries every bit as vivid, dra­matic and funny as those in

Life On Mars, fo­cus­ing on – among other sub­jects – the re­de­vel­op­ment of dock­lands, gay cul­ture, the falk­lands War, stu­dent ac­tivism and the new ro­man­tics’ Blitz Club (in which Blitz dJ and Vis­age singer steve strange ap­peared as him­self ).

With a change of gen­der in one of the two lead­ing char­ac­ters, writer Julie rut­ter­ford took the op­por­tu­nity to ex­plore one of the 1980s’ most no­to­ri­ous at­ti­tudes. “it was the time of the york­shire rip­per, who at­tacked pros­ti­tutes, and noth­ing was done,” she ex­plains. “there was a clas­sic quote from the head of West york­shire po­lice, who said some­thing like, ‘We need to find this man, be­cause he’s now tar­get­ing in­no­cent women.’ What must it have been like if you were a sex worker at that time? you get raped, you try and re­port it to the po­lice, and they’re like, ‘you what?’ that was the premise of my story, and it worked much bet­ter with alex as the sec­ond lead, be­cause she could em­pathise with the vic­tim.”

rock­ing the boat

as with Life On Mars, there was a sound­track of great pop mu­sic. View­ers were treated to a golden age of sin­gles that in­cluded “into the Val­ley” by the skids, “re­ward” by the teardrop ex­plodes and “there there my dear” by dexys mid­night run­ners. it was a great mo­ment when gene com­manded “fire up the Quat­tro” for the first time and the team went into ac­tion to the Clash’s “i fought the law”, later bet­tered when hunt, Chris and ray pow­ered down the thames in a speed­boat, equipped with au­to­matic weapons, as the stran­glers’ “no more heroes” thun­dered on the sound­track. “to be part of such an iconic shot was very ex­cit­ing and we thought we were the coolest of the cool that day,” an­drews re­mem­bers hap­pily. “We got many ‘boys with toys’ mo­ments on Ashes. maybe that was the ul­ti­mate.”

the thames se­quence was there for a spe­cific rea­son, as gra­ham points out: “the crit­ics were quite hard on us, par­tic­u­larly be­cause of that scene. they said we were jump­ing the shark, but the ’80s were all about jump­ing the shark. you couldn’t do The Sweeney in the ’80s, you had to do The

Pro­fes­sion­als or Mag­num PI – that was the whole point. We were de­lib­er­ately re­flect­ing the decade that we were in, which was brash and larger than life, rather than dour and do­mes­tic. the ’80s was about be­ing big, brassy and bold.”

an­drews and the reg­u­lar cast also had the chance to in­dulge in the recre­ation of a pop video, one of the era’s sig­nif­i­cant pop cul­ture de­vel­op­ments, with Billy Joel’s “up­town girl”. “it was a lot of fun,” an­drews says. “i’m from an en­ter­tain­ment back­ground so danc­ing around is pretty straight­for­ward for me. mar­shall was also com­fort­able with it. i’m not sure phil would ever be asked on Strictly Come Danc­ing…”

head­ing into light

every se­ries of Ashes To Ashes was struc­tured around a dis­tinct nar­ra­tive. the first had alex try­ing to save the lives of her par­ents, killed in 1981 in a bomb ex­plo­sion. in se­ries two, she met mar­tin sum­mers (adrian dun­bar), an­other cop in a coma in the fu­ture but alive in the 1980s. in the third and fi­nal year, the

enig­matic su­per­in­ten­dent Jim Keats (daniel mays) ma­noeu­vres alex to­wards the truth about hunt and the world drake is trapped in.

han­dling the cru­cial open­ing and clos­ing episodes of se­ries three was di­rec­tor david drury. “i came to Ashes To Ashes in a state of grace; by that, i mean i had no idea what it was,” he ad­mits. “you can be blinded or overly in­flu­enced by see­ing too much of what’s gone be­fore, and i hadn’t seen Life On Mars, ei­ther. i started read­ing the first script i was sent and i burst out laugh­ing af­ter five pages. i thought, ‘this is great!’, went along and met phil, Kee­ley and the other ac­tors in­di­vid­u­ally, then we made a start. i got on ex­tremely well with the gang, and it was my idea to cast daniel mays – he’s ter­rific.” talk­ing about the over­all plan for Ashes to

Ashes, gra­ham sug­gests, “i wanted to find out who gene was and i wanted to find out what this world ac­tu­ally was… the idea de­vel­oped that it was a kind of pur­ga­tory for cops, for po­lice who’d died in ter­ri­ble cir­cum­stances to work out their is­sues, and that gene was an un­wit­ting guardian an­gel of cop­pers. it was a very bold and crazy no­tion.”

in the last episode, alex comes to terms with the fact that she is about to go into the af­ter­life and does so with Chris and ray – en­ter­ing the rail­way arms, the pub from Life On Mars – while gene stays be­hind. “i thought it was a very mov­ing end­ing,” con­sid­ers an­drews. “Kee­ley’s per­for­mance was heart­break­ing. the end of Ashes epit­o­mised the se­ries and i thought it was very well thought out. it was very clever and quite a sur­prise for the au­di­ence, as well as be­ing a sur­prise for me.” drury agrees: “there’s that lovely mo­ment be­tween phil and Kee­ley right at the end out­side the pub, when nel­son the bar­man comes out and you think, ‘Will-she, won’t-she, will-she, won’t-she stay with gene?’ – but she doesn’t. it was per­fect. Beau­ti­ful. a very sat­is­fy­ing end­ing.”

af­ter three suc­cess­ful years, such a high con­cept con­clu­sion to a high con­cept se­ries didn’t please every­body. gra­ham re­calls, “some fans felt very bereft that gene and alex didn’t get mar­ried, have ba­bies and buy a house. i had let­ters from dis­traught women say­ing, ‘how could you do this?! how could you leave gene on his own, and alex has gone!’ i wrote back and said, ‘for a start, all the great­est love sto­ries in the world nearly al­ways end in tragedy or with the lovers sep­a­rat­ing: Romeo And Juliet, Casablanca, Love Story, Gone With The Wind… the best love sto­ries should leave you yearn­ing for more, rather than just leav­ing ev­ery­one to live hap­pily ever af­ter.’ and gene’s happy – ul­ti­mately, he doesn’t want to live with alex and have ba­bies. he wants to be the guv.”

The cast got a chance to go big on the hair­spray.

Keats hinted at the truth in se­ries three.

Why so se­ri­ous?

All change from the yel­lows and browns of ’70s Manch­ester.

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