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Gene Hunt: the antidote to our banal times and middle life crisis

May 23, 2010
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For me Life on Mars was always a reaction to forensic TV crime dramas like Silent Witness and Waking the Dead, where the world of contemporary police work is strictly cerebral and scientific. Elsewhere, these days, police car chases are confined to reality TV shows, where well-trained officers pursue joyriders at responsible speeds and always paying due care and attention to the safety of pedestrians and other road users. The only people the police beat up seem to be anti-war protestors and anti-capitalist demonstrators. And if the cops shoot anybody, it’s likely that they’ll turn out to be further collateral damage in the ‘war against terror’. None of this is terribly inspiring if you want to produce a thrilling, contemporary cop show. So what do you do? Well, you make a drama out of a modern day copper who gets seriously injured in the line of duty and wakes up in the 1970s, an era when TV cop shows could boast police hard men like Jack Regan and George Carter, who drank, fought and shouted their heads off throughout The Sweeney.

Sam Tyler was the officer struck by a car who found himself in 70s and couldn’t decide whether he was in a coma or had actually travelled through time, but the real star of the show, and its sequel, Ashes to Ashes, was Detective Chief Inspector Gene Hunt, the essence of unreconstructed, politically incorrect, masculinity. Hunt was the sort of peeler who had no qualms about beating a confession out of a suspect, his thuggish behaviour an absolute affront to the modern, liberal policing methods espoused by Sam Tyler making their’s an unlikely pairing in real life but exactly what you want from a crime fighting double act.

It’s easy to conclude that the cult status achieved by Gene Hunt  over the series had something to do with the popular perception that crime is out of control; political correctness has gone mad, and wouldn’t the world be a better place if it were policed by the old fashioned coppers like Regan, Carter and Hunt, instead of smart-arsed, middle class college graduates like Sam Ryan (who isn’t even a copper in any case). But there is more to Hunt than that. Or at least I hope so otherwise I don’t quite know how to account for the fact that I loved him.

As a fully paid up member of the looney-left I should find Hunt abhorrent but I don’t. His challenge to the prevailing liberal sensibilities of our time came almost as a relief. This is a personal response that I need to think about more , but it might have something to do with my own growing disaffection with multiculturalism and a particular version of feminism that seems to equate women’s liberation with purchasing power (see Sex and the City for an example).

On the other hand, I’m more than open to the suggestion that Hunt is nothing more that a middle aged mentor to that demographic of once young men who were served by Loaded magazine and Oasis in the early 90s, and are now confronted with their own encroaching male menopause. I hope not though, for on anther level Hunt represents for me a wonderful affront to the audit culture and bureaucratization that has crippled areas of the public sector beyond policing. I’m sure that it’s not only police officers but teachers, nurses and others in public service who admire Gene Hunt’s style. No carefully compiled reports, records and meticulous paperwork in his filing cabinet, just a bottle of good scotch whiskey.

Gene Hunt seemed to answer to no-one until his nemesis, DCI Jim Keating turned up in 1983. Keating, from the Discipline and Complaints Department, made clear his intentions to bring the ‘Manc Lion’ down and steal away his team of stalwarts, Chris, Ray and Shaz. To do this he enlisted Alex Drake, who like Sam Tyler before her, was injured in the line of duty and came round in the early eighties. Drake was repelled and attracted to Hunt in equal measures. (Well, actually, probably more attracted than anything else) but she could have been convinced that Hunt’s unconventional methods, by modern day standards, may have put him sufficiently on the wrong side of the law to merit giving him up to Keating.

In the end Drake chose Hunt when she realised that she was in fact dead and had been resident in some sort of police purgatory where troubled coppers go to work through the woes. In this they were assisted by Hunt, their guardian angel, whose job was to keep them from the clutches of the evil Keats and see them all safely to The Railway Arms, where all good coppers go when the job is done.*

There is an obvious nostalgia about Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes, which is simultaneously a critique of the present. So when at the end of the second series Sam Tyler decided to nose-dive off a high building, it seemed a perfectly rational thing to do given that the choice was between returning to Gene Hunt and the fictional world of the 70s or staying in our own oppressively banal times.

* There is a much more eloquent account of the final season of Ashes to Ashes here, written by the Wartime Housewife.

And here’s an interesting aside. This is Labour demonstrating that they just don’t get the Gene Hunt-thing with this poster from the 2010 election campaign…


…and the Tories – returning the serve.

Though, let’s be frank. David Cameron will never fill those snake-skin boots…

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. wartimehousewife permalink
    May 23, 2010 9:42 pm

    Great piece – you articulated my own thoughts exactly. (…and thanks for the plug!)

  2. May 24, 2010 3:51 am

    The ads are funny!

  3. Affer permalink
    May 24, 2010 7:59 am

    There has been a long history of American films about vigilantes and tough stretch-the-law cops – Death Wish, Dirty Harry, Die Hard etc etc. Liberal England has sneered at them all whilst secretly buying the cinema ticket and the dvd. So the success of A2A and LOM should be no surprise really…they’re OUR bad cops so it’s ok to love them! Unfortunately, when we see the style transferred to real life, we immediately cry ‘foul’ and demand scapegoats – or more accurately, our two-faced Meeja do: cf The Kingsnorth Report, the sad case of Jean-Charles de Menezes, the Bradford ‘joyriders’ (sic).

    I’m old enough to see that our population increasingly finds it difficult to separate Entertainment from Reality…..

  4. Rabelais permalink*
    May 24, 2010 11:29 am

    Hi Affer,
    You may be right about the public but I hope they can tell the difference between fact and fiction with regard to Gene Hunt. Life of Mars and Ashes to Ashes are fantasies, that’s what makes them so intriguing. But let’s hope we never have cops that drive like Gene Hunt in real life. The civilian body count would go through the roof.

    There was always something slightly other worldly about the sequences when they’d ‘fire up the Quattro’: an almost complete absence of other road users. In fact, there were few ordinary Joes at all in the series, just cops and villains, which is perhaps what gives Hunt license to behave as recklessly as he cares — there is little chance of some innocent by-stander ‘catching one’.

  5. Dr. Disco permalink
    May 26, 2010 12:44 pm

    male menopause my arse!

  6. Rabelais permalink*
    May 26, 2010 7:13 pm

    Dr D.
    I’m trying to think of something urbane and witty to say in response to your contribution….

    ….. I have nothing.

  7. May 29, 2010 12:21 pm

    Loved the final episode, but wasn’t keen on the idea that you have to go to work even when you’re dead…

  8. May 29, 2010 1:12 pm

    Quite right, Jenny. Is there no end to neo-liberalism’s despicableness?

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