Try as we might, it’s difficult to imagine the original meeting where Life On Mars was pitched.

“So… er… it’s like The Sweeney. But with more time travel. In 1973. But it’s after a car crash in, um, the present day. And we’re going to name it, confusingly and pointlessly, after a melodramatic David Bowie mini-opera. Fancy it?”

Arguably worse, the entire multi-million pound series would hinge around the performance of one man: Philip Glenister. A 45-year-old thus far confined to supporting roles in various British dramas, such as Hornblower and Ray Winstone’s PI crime series, Vincent. And yet, somehow, someone at the BBC took a chance. It worked. Much critical acclaim and an Emmy later, grumpy detective Gene Hunt is now regarded as one of the few iconic and significant characters of the last decade. And Glenister himself? Being invited to spin round the Top Gear track for ‘Star in a Reasonably Priced Car’. Something he wouldn’t have been offered before he played Manchester’s shouty sheriff.

Philip Glenister

DCI Gene Hunt

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Skills on Ashes To Ashes: Misogyny, inventive profanity

It’s no surprise that Glenister was happy to sign on to continue Gene Hunt’s story in London-based spin-off Ashes To Ashes. No matter that Mars co-star John Simm bailed out – instead actress Keeley Hawes has been transported back to 1981 after being shot. Is she mad, in a coma, or back in time? We’re now finding out, as Hunt drags side-kicks Dean Andrews (DS Ray Carling) and Marshall Lancaster (DC Chris Skelton) to the Met with him.

The result has been the most hotly anticipated new show of 2008 – and that’s not just because the Americans aren’t making any at the moment. And so, it seemed like a good idea to send ‘the boys’ to an abandoned warehouse to torture each other in sharp new suits. How wrong we were: Phil wasn’t happy. Quite the opposite: he was moody, brooding and monosyllabic throughout our photoshoot – much like Gene Hunt himself, in fact. Meeting up a few weeks later, we ask for an explanation. “It was cold,” he says. “Bloody freezing.”

Did you not enjoy it or were you acting?

Well, we’d come off filming the day before and were a bit jaded. We weren’t in the right frame of mind so it was quite tough, actually. It was in some warehouse miles away. But let’s say I was just getting in character.

Okay. What fashion labels do you go for?

I’m not that big on fashion. I’ve never gone out of my way to have the latest thing. I’m happy with a pair of jeans and a T-shirt. It’s funny, you see people walking around today and you think to yourself, “In 20 years this guy is going to realise he looked like a right twat.” That said, I used to wear tight jeans, pixie boots and a neckerchief.

We notice you’ve ditched the camel coat for Ashes To Ashes. Who came up with your new look?

We discussed quite a lot whether we should keep the coat, but in the end we thought we shouldn’t bother with it. Dean’s got a perm, but it was quite nice to have Gene as this rather enigmatic person who hasn’t changed all that much in terms of looks. I had an idea from when I was a drama student – I had to pay visits to my bank to try and get more money for my overdraft. The guy I used to meet with wore a suit with cowboy boots because he was into westerns. I sold that look to our costume designer.

Were you worried it’d feel like a direct continuation of Life On Mars?

It’s got a different feel about it. And like anything, when you establish a new character, like we’re doing with Keeley, you can’t just go full pelt into it. You’ve got to lay your foundations in the first episode.

You sound like you’re preparing for a bit of a backlash…

I’m sure some people will have a go. But people are looking forward to it so maybe I’m just being pessimistic. Hopefully they won’t judge it on the first one. You’ve got to give it time to breathe.

What do you think Gene Hunt would make of the de Menezes shooting – and Sir Ian Blair’s decision to stay in office?

I don’t know, but I think it’s quite interesting. This is my personal opinion: it was godawful what happened at Stockwell. But Blair is a man with so much knowledge about terrorism.Do you really want to take that person out and start with someone who has none of that knowledge? Is this the right time to remove someone from that post? It’s a contentious one, but I think Gene might think like that.

Shall we lighten this up a bit? You’ve got a new car this series – an Audi Quattro. Will it become as iconic as Mars’ Ford Cortina?

We had no idea the Cortina would become so iconic of Life On Mars. I thought people would see it as a nod to The Sweeney because of the Granada. The Quattro looks great onscreen, it’s very sleek and very ’80s.

And it’s given you a new catchphrase: “Fire up the Quattro!”…

It was originally “Fire up the Audi!” but we’re not allowed to advertise on the BBC. But Quattro is okay for some reason.

Dean Andrews

DS Ray Carling

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Dean Andrews is a relieved man: he didn’t have to keep his Ashes To Ashes perm for our photoshoot. “It was us as people rather than characters. Though I did a picture where I threw someone out of a window.”

Which are more ‘you’ – the Ashes… clothes or the clothes from the shoot?

I love the clothes I wear in the show – my favourite’s the burgundy leather jacket. But I’m not sure I’d wear them to go out. And there was a beige polo neck that was unflattering around the little paunch that older men get. I’m not really a suit person, but the ones they dressed us in were pretty cool.

Is there more pressure on you because you’re one of the returning characters?

Not really. Phil’s got lots of pressure on him because it’s his show. And I’m sure Keeley feels as much because everyone’s going to compare her to John Simm. I can be there all day and say six lines, but they’ll say 60.

Have you had people from school getting in touch since you’ve become famous?

My real name isn’t Dean Andrews – it’s a stage name – so they probably don’t know it’s me. I went to school with James May and met him on a train. He thought I was just a punter. As soon as I shave my hair off and get rid of the ’tache, no one recognises me.

Marshall Lancaster

DC Chris Skelton

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As happy as Marshall Lancaster is with the way the photoshoot turned out, he still has reservations about some of the clothes. “I looked like Preston from The Ordinary Boys at one point,” he moans. “That’s definitely not me.”

So what do you usually wear?

I’m generally scruffy – jeans and whatever T-shirt’s on the top of the pile. If you stuck a bin bag on me I’d be smartened up.

What’s your biggest fashion mistake?

I once went to a ‘bad taste’ party with a pink fluffy top and ripped jeans. I had to go to another party later on and I was drunk so I forgot what I was wearing. When I got there this fella was being a bit over-friendly and I thought, “What’s up with him?” He said, “Come on pinky, don’t be shy” and I realised. He’d got the wrong end of the stick. I’m still scarred.

You dress up as a new romantic in Ashes To Ashes…

Yeah. It was fun. I had all this white make-up on and Edward Scissorhands hair. I went up to Matthew Graham, the writer, and he didn’t even recognise me. And the jeans were very tight. I was singing like Charlotte Church by the end of the day. But I wear tight jeans throughout the series – they might become very iconic for my character, Chris.


Photography Assistants: Jamie Bowering, Tom Donald and David Foster.

Fashion Assistant: Nikki Ahmed.

Digital Operator: Chris Kennedy. Grooming: Aaron Dorn at using Redken Location: Lavish Locations. Thanks to: John Butterfield at Real London