|Ashes to Ashes: Life after Mars|
Last Updated: 12:01am GMT 20/01/2008
It's 1981, and 'Ashes to Ashes' - the sequel to 'Life on Mars' - finds DCI Gene Hunt in the land of perms, red leather ties and cocktail bars... with a fetching young Detective from 2008. As the first episodes were shot, producer Beth Willis kept a diary
Our first day of filming. Everyone stands grinning at each other nervously in the car park. It's my first time as a producer, which frankly I'm relieved about - being ignorant of the million things that can (and will) go wrong is bliss. All I know is that the nostalgia, the humour, the music, the characters and dialogue of Life on Mars were a winning combination. So - large shoes to fill then. And no pressure. After weeks of sitting in a locked room with four executive producers, banging our heads on the table working out the logic of this illogical world, the day has finally dawned to make it real.
Life on Mars featured a present-day detective who suddenly finds himself back in the 1970s; Ashes to Ashes uses the same idea, but this time it's set in the 1980s. Both series were written by Matthew Graham and Ashley Pharoah, and they both take their title from a David Bowie song of the time. In Ashes to Ashes, DCI Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister), the Neanderthal copper from 1973, has moved to London from Manchester to show the 'southern Nancys' a thing or two about policing.
As far as Gene is concerned, scum is scum wherever you are and his only aim is to keep his streets clean. Except that now it's 1981 - the year of Charles and Diana's marriage, the Brixton riots, the birth of yuppies and Thatcher's Britain. Gene is forced to hang out in dodgy wine bars and cheesy Italian tavernas trying to find a decent pint, while those around him are all wearing pastel shades and drinking cocktails with long-winded titles and lots of umbrellas. He is joined by his loyal sidekicks, Ray Carling (Dean Andrews) and Chris Skelton (Marshall Lancaster) who are now sporting perms, red leather ties and polo-necks.
All of this is taking part in the mind of DI Alex Drake, played by Keeley Hawes, a single mother and police psychologist from 2008 who has studied the world of the now-deceased Sam Tyler - the detective played by John Simm in Life on Mars. When she has an accident and wakes up in 1981 she realises she has mixed Sam's fantasies with her own experiences to create this world. Gene, Ray and Chris's reactions to their new female colleague are predictable: 'Blimey, if that skirt was hitched any higher I could see what you had for breakfast'; 'Women DIs should look like a cross between Betty Turpin and the HMS Arc Royal, they shouldn't be shag-worthy… but she's got a cracking pair of puppies.' But like the fantastic Keeley Hawes herself, Alex Drake is quite capable of holding her own.
Watching the detectives: Gene Hunt and his sidekicks at Tower Bridge
The day starts with a scene set in a junk yard with Keeley and Marshall filming the arrest of Alex Drake's nemesis Arthur Layton (Sean Harris) in 1981. We'll also meet Layton in 2008, so Hair and Make-Up have to make him look as young as possible. Keeley is wearing a complicated 'morning after the night before when she was dressed as a prostitute' outfit and still looks completely stunning. Marshall thinks it will take a while to get back into playing Chris Skelton. It doesn't. He slips back into character without a moment's hesitation - although he's noticed that his 1980s white drainpipe jeans are very tight. Everyone else has noticed, too.
It's also the first outing for the brand-spanking-new, red Audi Quattro. Phil road-tests it around the Dining Bus at lunchtime. It's easier to drive than the Cortina from Life on Mars, but the handbrake doesn't look like it's going to cope with the 360-degree turns. We start it off on something gentle - the gang crashing into a pile of boxes and leaping out to try to rescue one of their team. Phil's getting used to his new black coat, having left his old camel one back in 1973. Apart from the belt always getting trapped in the door of the Quattro it looks fantastic, and makes Gene look a little bit cooler - and sexier. Alex Drake can't believe that as a modern, confident woman she could be attracted to a dinosaur like Hunt - maybe it's his new crocodile-skin boots that do it? In Episode One Gene asks her: 'Now then Bolly knickers, are you going to kiss me or punch me?' Alex can never quite decide?…
The Blitz Club. The art department has spent the morning making a snooker hall look like the famous 1980s Blitz Club, home to a young Boy George and Steve Strange. We've got a look-a-like to play Boy George (who worked in the cloakroom at the club), but we've got Steve Strange for real. He's going to sing Fade to Grey as Alex Drake enters for a night out with a sexy Thatcherite businessman, played by Rupert Graves. No one knows quite what to do with themselves when Steve takes to the stage. Half the extras are real Blitz Club fans who know all the right dance moves, hair styles and outfits. Everyone looks unique - which was what the club was all about.
It's Montserrat Lombard's first day as the other new female member of the team, Shaz Granger. Shaz is a kind, loyal and quietly clever WPC whom Chris has fallen for big time - much to Ray's annoyance because he feels he's losing his mate to a girl, of all things. Out of uniform Shaz likes a night out and on their first date she takes Chris to the Blitz, making him wear eyeliner, black lipstick - the works. They both look fantastic. Montserrat has even sacrificed her beautiful long hair for a 1980s 'bowl cut'. The 1980s look seems to be infectious: even director Jonny Campbell is sporting a pair of mirrored aviator sunglasses - though that may just be his taste.
After the first take, Ashley Pharoah turns away from the monitor and sighs, 'In 1981, when I was putting my eyeliner on, if I'd known that I'd write the Blitz into a script and Steve Strange would be there, I'd never have believed it.'
While most of the crew are filming Keeley waking up in a 1981 brothel, I'm on a boat on the Thames with Phil, Dean and Marshall. This is for the end of the first episode when the boys come to Alex's rescue in a speedboat. We will be filming the whole scene near the Royal Docks in London, where some abandoned mills will double as 1980s wharf-side buildings near Tower Bridge (which nowadays are very upmarket apartment blocks and bars). We'll use CGI to put Tower Bridge in the background, but we also want some close-ups of the boys with the real bridge behind them to make it look as authentic as possible. The boys spend forever playing/practising with their guns. Marshall, within seconds, has perfected a 'cowboy style' gun spin which he will use at the end of the episode, when Chris gets to shoot someone in the foot and points out: 'I'm not nervous, I'm just cautious.'
Once I've confiscated the guns we set off, and I try not to look too green every time Phil points out I look a bit seasick. After nearly losing the cameraman, equipment and half the cast following a particularly enthusiastic turn on the boat, everyone is pinned down and we go for the shot. We have real difficulty getting Dean to stop smiling because he knows he looks so cool (even with his perm), but eventually they all hide their mobile phones, pick up their guns and don their Ray-Bans just as the bridge surfaces above them.
While we've been on location, the art department has been working against the clock to get everything in our studio fitted in time for us to film there. A number of sets are being built, including the CID office, Alex's flat and Luigi's restaurant. As it turns out we'll be building and filming at the same time, asking hammering to stop so we can do a take. But on Day 10 Luigi's is complete - right down to the red tablecloths, cheesy mural, wine bottles with candles wedged in the top and strings of lemons in the alcoves. On discovering that some of the Chianti bottles haven't yet been emptied to be hung from the ceiling, we sit at the bar and toast the gang's new hang-out.
Our last day on location before we head into the studio and the weather holds out for us. We all look like we've spent a week in Barbados rather than on a patch of wasteland out near the Royal Docks. Our Special Effects team have rigged an impressive number of machine gun explosions, bleeding feet, exploding dogs and car bonnets for our shoot-out scene. Dean and Marshall point out that in the first two weeks we've been to the Blitz, gone on a speedboat, had a car chase and now they're avoiding 'exploding' bullets and letting rip with machine guns surrounded by extras in pastel suits and espadrilles. Who said the 1980s weren't cool?
Our guests for the day are Zippy and George from Rainbow (voiced by the wonderful Roy Skelton), who perform a fantastic dream sequence with Grace Vance as Molly (aka Alex Drake's daughter, who has been left behind in 2008). The sequence is very surreal, with the puppets popping up unannounced to excitedly tell Molly that Alex is nowhere to be seen.
As we are about to go for our first take, the air-conditioning unit in the studio explodes, our ceiling starts raining and the puppets and Gene's office become soaked. Our lighting team climb into the rafters, work some magic and before you can say 'up above the hills and?…' the lights are back on, Zippy has donned a police hat and he and George are acting their socks off. The crew can't wipe the grins from their faces and our make-up team's photos of themselves with their heroes now have pride of place on their trailer wall.
The filming of our first two episodes is drawing to a close. After two weeks of torrential rain the sun comes out as if on cue for the Audi Quattro, which shimmers in the midday sun. It's so red you need sunglasses to look directly at it. Phil skilfully avoids the anachronistic speed bumps as the team race to the crime scene having solved the case. Maybe this will be the key for Alex to get back home. Or maybe not.
'Ashes to Ashes' begins on 7 February, BBC1