THE bottles of Old Spice and Hai Karate aftershave are still in Gene’s office and a jar of pickled eggs sits behind the bar of The Railway Arms.
Earlier this week I spent a day on set in Manchester during filming for the second series of BBC1’s Life on Mars – the best drama on TV last year by some distance. And that includes Bleak House.
The main interviews with cast and crew have to be held back until nearer transmission. But from what I saw and heard, fans of the show won’t be disappointed when it returns early next year. Even the most avid student of Life on Mars should be satisfied.
It’s been hot in the city for the TV team this summer. The heatwave has caused problems for Philip Glenister, who plays Det Chief Insp Gene Hunt in a big camel coat. “It’s been pretty nightmarish,” he told me.
But there’s another reason why the Gene Genie has been getting hot under the collar while making the second series of the hit drama set in 1973.
One of the eight new episodes sees three former Coronation Street actresses guest starring in a sizzling slice of seventies life, with a story including scenes at a swingers’ party.
Blackpool star Georgia Taylor, who was Corrie’s Toyah Battersby, plays a local beauty rep in the plot which also involves Clare McGlinn, recently seen again as Matt Ramsden’s wife Charlie.
And Eva Pope, still remembered as Weatherfield’s Tanya Pooley, co-stars alongside Phil in what promises to be another classic Life on Mars moment.
With the end of filming now in sight, there’s huge anticpation among fans about the contents of the new series There’s also feverish speculation about the fate of modern day detective Sam Tyler, played by John Simm, mysteriously transported back to the seventies after an accident beside the Mancunian Way.
Life on Mars can be watched on several levels, from straight Back To The Future meets The Sweeney crime drama to a much deeper viewing experience, with possible clues to what is happening to Sam scattered in each episode.
Is Sam in a coma imagining the whole thing, or is he really back living in 1973? Several sites have sprung up on the web to discuss the series and everything surrounding it, including The Railway Arms and Life in 1973.
My lips must remain sealed for now, but other storylines in the second series include a spate of bombings in the city, which Gene immediately blames on the IRA.
Sam is astonished to meet his modern day mentor and inspiration, Chief Insp Glenn Fletcher, played by Outlaws actor Ray Emmet Brown, but as a fresh-faced new seventies recruit, facing the racist attitudes of his new colleages.
Pirates of the Caribbean star Kevin McNally plays Gene’s own mentor Supt Harry Woolf and Hustle’s Marc Warren – as you’ve never seen him before – is sleazy Manchester casino owner Tony Crane, another ghost from Sam’s “future past”.
The first series, acclaimed by viewers as one of the top TV dramas of recent years, is currently being screened on BBC America to rave reviews. Ally McBeal creator David E Kelley is also working on a brand new US version for American TV network ABC.
No decision will be taken on a possible third UK series until next year. One other option is a final two-part special. Phil told me: “I’m not even thinking about it. I’m just going to finish filming this one and let the powers that be decide.”
Executive producer Claire Parker says: “The boys are back with a kick and a punch. Series two of Life on Mars is even darker and more surprising than before and still liberally sprinkled with humour and more of Gene Hunt’s ‘insightful’ words of wisdom!
“Whatever the audience thinks they know will be challenged and we will certainly still want to keep the audience guessing. There will be more revelations that will help Sam to work out why he is in 1973, but there will also be some shocking surprises that will rock Sam’s world, both in 1973 and 2006.”
Click here for lots more on Life On Mars.
Read more about “unlikely sex symbol” Phil here.