IF The Railway Arms is Heaven, I’m staying away from lifts and taking the stairs from now on.
The emotional last ever episode of Ashes To Ashes appears to have had a powerful effect on the majority of the watching audience.
There have been lots of tears and sleepless nights as fans continue to digest the brilliance of those final 60 minutes.
So I’m guessing a few people may like to read the edited transcript of my interview with co-creator Matthew Graham, when he was able to talk freely for the first time about the Mars and Ashes Genieverse.
I first saw the Ashes farewell around 10 days before it was screened on Friday night, have so far watched it nine times and it’s still whirring around in my brain.
The hugely positive reaction from viewers is a much deserved reward for all the work the Ashes team put into this final series.
I spoke to Matthew three days before the last episode (which he wrote) was broadcast and then again just hours before all was finally revealed.
By then the level of speculation in some quarters had reached fever pitch, indicated left for a change of lane and taken the exit marked Hysteria City.
Writers, cast and crew knew they had created something very special and given it their all. But could it deliver in the face of such a huge weight of expectation?
“The level of speculation now has just got so intense, you do get worried actually,” Matthew told me.
“You do think, ‘Well what they’re coming up with is so convoluted that whatever they see is just going to seem rather basic by comparison.’”
By this time one newspaper had already printed a very large spoiler photo of Gene and Alex’s kiss in the final minutes, which was then picked up by another.
And pictures of the shot-up Audi Quattro were about to appear in two other papers.
If you looked closely at BBC trailers for the final episode, you could also see the wrecked Quattro and a glimpse of the stars above CID as Jim Keats went beserk.
But, thankfully, production company Kudos got to 9pm on Friday with the secret of the basic bigger mystery still intact, albeit guessable if you’d spotted the clues and made the connections.
Every time I’ve spoken to Matthew – and co-creator Ashley Pharoah – I’ve been struck by just how much work they’ve put in to maintaining the logic of Gene’s world.
Along with the careful, intelligent crafting of each scene in a TV landscape where drama budgets have been cut and there is never enough time in a relentless filming schedule.
It’s fabulous that the end of Ashes To Ashes is already being regarded as a modern television classic loved by millions.
Of course it’s also fine to criticise or be disappointed – if that’s how you felt about it.
But never lose sight of the fact that this was the ending Matthew and Ashley wanted for the shows they created and put 13 years of their lives into.
And let me assure you they really do have answers about everything that was important to these classic dramas.
So here, as promised, is that edited transcript of my latest interview with Matthew.
As stated before, this is not an attempt to totally unpeel the onion or, despite the title of this blog, give definitive answers. Just Matthew’s take on his own show.
Other views and interpretations are available.
If you haven’t done so already, you may first wish to check out my article for The Guardian here which went online at 10pm on Friday.
Plus my previous blog – Ashes To Ashes: The End – posted minutes after the closing credits.
Along with the many links at the very bottom of this blog.
1. It’s an emotional, powerful, ending which really connects to your heart, brain and soul?
“It is strange, isn’t it? Also I guess we very rarely finish a show in television terms and say goodbye to a group of people. It can happen at the end of comedies, like Blackadder, where you really know that you are saying goodbye. And, yes, it is quite emotional.
“My biggest fear was that people would think – this was something we tried to police ourselves on all the time – we were straying out of our remit into the Torchwood remit or a Doctor Who remit, where it all became gods and devils and fantasy and stars and space and portals into other dimensions. I was worried. I’m always worried. I was worried in Mars when we did it, that once we start putting that stuff front and centre, that it’s in danger of undermining the show.”
2. But the clues have been seeded throughout the series. So many may have a good idea of where it is heading, without knowing yet what actually happens in the final episode? So it flows rather than arrives as a huge shock?
“Once I saw that people weren’t laughing at the stars that we were putting into episode two, then I thought, ‘Well, OK, people do seem to be prepared to go along with this. And, of course, at the end of the day everyone knows that this show has another worldly aspect to it. So I think the danger would have been to not do any of that and then short change everyone.”
3. How do you and Ashley view the conclusion?
“The place that Alex finds herself in is the same place that Sam found himself in and it is a plane between a Heaven and Earth, really. When we discussed the philosophy behind it we decided that, seeing as how the cosmos was infinite, everybody who dies can afford to go to some kind of purgatory plane that is relevant and significant to them. So we just like the idea, it tickled us, the idea that coppers with issues would go to a place designed for coppers. And a coppers’ paradise surely has to be The Sweeney, or The French Connection if you’re an American. And so we thought, ‘Well, OK, that’s the place where you’ve got all the freedoms and therefore you’ve got all the chances to make all the big mistakes that could lead you to Hell but all the good decisions that would lead you to Heaven. And that maybe there’s a place where the cast of Casualty will end up. If they’re all killed in plane crash, they’ll end up in Dr Kildare or something.’ And that just tickled us. That was kind of right back from the beginning, right back from Life On Mars.
“And what we decided was – we do imagine that a coma patient hangs between life and death. So it felt OK and not breaking the rules of that kind of logic to have Sam, who is in a coma, and Alex, who has been in a coma up until the beginning of series three, in that place.”
4. But you are very careful never to spell it out on screen?
“No. I never wanted anyone to say, ‘So I’m dead?’ As long as nobody said, ‘I’m dead. You’re dead. We’re all dead.’ I just wanted to avoid that. I thought somehow that would burst the bubble a bit, really.”
5. It became clear to me in the second half of this final series that Keats was either Satan’s gatekeeper to Hell of the Devil himself – and Gene is a kind of archangel saving souls?
“That’s right. It seems funny to say that Ashley and I slightly differ because it sound like it’s fact and we’re differing on it, rather than the fact that we made it. But I always wrote Keats as literally being the Anti-Christ and Ashley always thought ot him not as that, because he said, ‘Why would the Anti-Christ bother with little Ray and little Shaz and little Chris?’ And I said, ‘Well, why does a blues singer get stopped by the devil on a crossroads and asked to sell his soul to be able to play the blues?’ The devil does seem to pick on individuals in lonely places. He doesn’t go after big swathes of the big people, he tends to pick on the little people. So we kind of differ on what we wanted Keats to be, really.
“But we were both agreed that Gene, as far as we know, isn’t appointed by anyone. Gene has done this for himself. Now that probably means he is appointed or he has been given the cosmic blessing by God, because he’s re-invented himself and he’s certainly built a world for himself that is very potent and real and that draws others in. So you assume that he’s not operating completely on his own or without help. But Gene doesn’t know he’s doing that. And this was a conversation we genuinely had back in the days of Life On Mars – does Gene go off into rooms on his own and talk to God? And does God say (deep voice), ‘Well done Gene. But you were a bit hard on them today.’ We decided – no, he couldn’t do that. He just obeys some animal spiritual instinct inside him.”
6. Gene and Alex’s ultimate fates – were they always set in stone?
“We always knew Alex wasn’t coming back. There were only three endings. One, she wakes up, and we didn’t think anyone would want that, because we didn’t want that with Sam. We want them to live in that world with Gene and Ray. So we didn’t think that was going to be a happy ending. The other was, she wakes up and then chooses to go back again. Well, we did that in Life On Mars. So there really was only one option left, which is that she dies. We just thought that was also going to be the most emotional. And it kind of then implies that it’s a bit less of a fairytale. I think if she could flit about and go home when she wanted to, when it suited us, I think it would then feel slightly too much like Alice In Wonderland. Whereas in this, it is Alice In Wonderland but Alice doesn’t get to go home.”
7. You were on location for The Railway Arms scene in the final minutes? Were you worried about someone photographing what you were filming?
“That was actually a pub that we found in south London. (The Horseshoe Inn near London Bridge in Camberwell) They’d obviously re-dressed it and put The Railway Arms signs up and everything. It’s a fantastic little pub. And they just took down their pub sign and we put up all our stuff.
“We did it in the middle of the night. We were a bit worried about people seeing it. But we were tucked away near a railway bridge. It really was a sort of Railway Arms. And it was a freezing cold night, it was absolutely freezing. I think it got down to minus nine or minus ten. So no-one was out on the streets which just played into our hands.”
8. Just how difficult has it been keeping the big secret?
“It’s been hard. Even my family didn’t know. My family only watched episode eight on Saturday night (six days before it was screened) and they didn’t know. I don’t tell them anything. So they know nothing in advance. Yes, it is hard. The cast don’t seem to say anything. And I think,, to be honest, because bits and pieces of the detail of the mystery have changed and evolved. Things do change around you. So the cast are, I think, sometimes a bit wary about saying something that turns out later to be wrong.”
9. What did your family think when they watched the final episode?
“My son loved it. He said, ‘I loved the bit where Keats just becomes like a fox.’ My daughter was in bits, in pieces. My wife loved it but she was so tense, she wasn’t laughing at any of the jokes. She was just staring at the screen. And at the end she said the thing she found stressful was that it wasn’t fitting into the theories she had constructed and she was trying to make it do that in her mind. So when they didn’t do the things she expected, she just wouldn’t let it wash over her. So she had to watch it a second time in a more relaxed state of mind and then she enjoyed it a lot more.”
10. Jim Keats (Daniel Mays) was originally only supposed to be in one episode?
“Keats was a very late addition. Keats didn’t exist until well into re-writes on episode one, two or three drafts in before we thought maybe Keats should stick around. He was just a character in episode one.”
11. Danny has been brilliant throughout this series, but is stunning in the final episode?
“It’s pretty intense. At the read through for episode one, I sat down with him and I said – he knew, we told him he was basically going to be the Devil. And I said, ‘But you’re going to have to really play on and off the subs‘ bench for five episodes. For five episodes, you’re little more than a pen-pushing joke. You’re quite scary at times and you’re going to seethe and you’re going to give Gene funny glowering looks, But you’re going to be the butt of all his jokes. And then by the time we get to about episodes five or six, you’re going to start taking some control.’ And I said, ‘I promise you, in episode eight you’re just going to beat the **** out of Gene Hunt and you’re going to push all the walls down and reveal the cosmos.‘ And he just went, ‘Great, fantastic, I can wait.‘ So he was just brilliant, Danny, absolutely brilliant. And he gave it a believability. I don’t think many actors would have been able to pull that role off, put it that way.”
12. Also award-winning performances from Phil, Keeley and the rest of the cast who seemed to have further raised their game in this third series?
“I think we all did because we knew we were coming to the end. The first series was made on a big rush of, ‘Ooh, we’re doing something new and it’s exciting.‘ And the second series, although I’m really proud of the second series, for everyone it was the hardest one to make, it was the least enjoyable. Partly because we’d had a bit of a kicking on the first series from some areas and so a couple of the cast were feeling bruised. Keeley was worried that she’d done something wrong, which she really hadn’t. And we wondered whether we’d overplayed the lightness of the first series. Even though we’d always intended the show to get darker as each series went on, we worried that maybe we’d had a bit too much fun in series one.
“And we knew with series two we weren’t even going to end it. It was going to be ongoing. So there was a sense of, ‘Oh my God, even when we finish this one we’ve got to do a whole another one after that.‘ That was quite tough. But coming to the third series there was just this real momentum of – we’ve got an end in sight, we’re going to get to the end. And that was just really exciting. The cast really enjoyed themselves this time, really got behind it. And we had fantstic directors. We’ve always had good directors on the show but we’ve had on this series directors that have really worked so well with the cast and that’s made a huge difference.”
(I then mentioned director Jamie Payne, having just seen a preview DVD of his new drama U Be Dead for ITV1) “Jamie Payne was fantastic. He did five and six. He was brilliant. And David Drury, who topped and tailed the first and the last block. David is a guy who spends time talking to the actors before shooting a scene, really getting under their skin as well. He was just absolutely terrific.”
13. What was your reaction when you first saw the final episode on screen?
“I was worried by the fantasy being so front and centre. And, of course, with the sound being rough and there being no visual effects, when Danny kicks the office down and then stands on the desk and whoops, he’s just doing it in CID and looking up at the sky and saying, ‘Isn’t it beautiful?‘ And you’re thinking, ‘God, has this suddenly become something else? Has it started to slip into just pure fantasy?‘ Which is an odd thing to say, because it is a fantasy, but it’s not The Sweeney. It’s not even a pastiche of The Sweeney now, it’s like something else. So I was a bit worried about it, even though everybody had done it brilliantly, had done exactly what I’d written. I was just a bit like, ‘Maybe I’ve made a big mistake?‘ And then as we really started to chip away at it and work at it in the cutting room, it just started to really come alive. And I began to think, ‘Oh, actually, I think this is really going to work well.‘ But it’s good to feel like that. I felt like that with Life On Mars. The first episode of Life On Mars, Ash and I watched and went, ‘What the hell is this?‘ It all looked good, it was well made. It was just – we don’t know what it is. Is it supposed to be funny, is it supposed to be like Twin Peaks, is it supposed to be miserable and dark like something that Lars von Trier might cook up? And then we realised that maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe it’s because it’s unusual and it’s new.”
14. Keats was loosely based on someone you went to school with?
“Yes. It’s funny because when I created the character, he wasn’t. But Danny looked a little like a kid I went to school with. So I started to find myself writing and I started to think…this kid was a real swot but he was violent as well. He was a strange mixture. He was clever and a complete loner. And he was the only kid I ever met who never seemed to bully to get recognition from anyone else. He seemed to bully for private enjoyment, which I always thought was really suspicious. And, yeah, poor Danny just happens to look a little bit like him. I wonder if that kid will watch it and think, ‘Yeah, that’s me.’”
15. I always assumed there was never any chance of John Simm coming back as Sam Tyler for the finale?
“We never asked him. Partly because we were worried…there was originally a version where John came back. It was never scripted but storylined. There was a version where John was going to come out of The Railway Arms instead of Nelson. And I really liked it. Everyone seemed to really like it, we were all quite happy and quite excited about it. And then we suddenly thought that it would steal all of Keeley’s thunder, it would undermine Ashes as a show and also he’s supposed to be dead, so he should just have gone by now, he should just be in Heaven. He can’t flit. It suddenly made him seem like a superhero, he could go from Heaven to purgatory and back again. So we decided not to do that and we decided not to ask John anyway, in case John said yes and then later said no, which, bless him, he could do.
“So then – of course I couldn’t quite let it go – I thought maybe I’d do a scene at the end with Gene sitting at his desk and he’s drinking and he’s looking through the Mercedes brochure to replace his car. And the phone rings and he picks it up and something is said. You hear Sam’s voice, or you don’t but you know Gene’s talking to Sam. And then I thought, ‘No, there’s no point in doing that. That’s just a trick.’ So we got rid of that and that’s when I thought, well instead we’ll put a new young Sam turning up at the end in a white jacket and mouthing off and we’ll take it right back round to episode one again.”
16. Nelson has always been the spirit guide in more ways than one. So it’s right that he is the character to welcome them into The Railway Arms?
“Yeah, you’re right. And once you put Nelson in there, you think, ‘Oh no, that makes much more sense.’ He’s the spirit guide, the ferryman or what have you.”
17. Was it always the plan to put more focus on Ray, Chris and Shaz, or did it evolve because of the performances of Dean, Marshall and Montsy?
“It wasn’t an idea that we had a long time ago but I think probably somewhere during series two. One of the things that happened during series two was that Dean came to see me and said, ‘I wish we had more to do sometimes.’ I think he felt, and I think he was right actually, that sometimes there would be a bit of a focus on Ray or on Chris but then suddenly it would just stop and it would be three episodes of Alex and Gene. And what could seem like an actor moaning because he’s not got enough lines actually wasn’t really. It was quite a perceptive thing. So we thought, ‘We need to push them more and we need to use them more.’ And the temptation to use Chris and Ray as just comic foils – I think that was probably a mistake that we made in series one. So by the time we came to series three we thought – if we’re going to push the afterlife thing, then let’s have Ray, Chris and Shaz…they’ve always been dead, they were always part of that world, but we weren’t going to focus on them quite so individually. And then we thought it might be really good to. And they’ve risen to that. We’ve given them really good stuff and they’ve been absolutely brilliant in this series.”
18. I manage to hold it together each time I watch the final episode – until Ray goes up to Gene outside The Railway Arms and tells him: “You are and always will be, The Guv.” Then I’m gone in floods of tears.
“I know! It’s so sad, because that’s all he’s ever wanted, really.”
19. Influences on the series. Paradise Lost – you gave Ray the middle name of Milton?
“Yes, there is a bit of that going on in there. When I write the Jim / Gene stuff, that was the stuff I was in some ways most interested in because you’ve got two men, one of whom (Gene Hunt) doesn’t know what he represents and the other (Jim Keats) who absolutely does know what he represents but doesn’t want to say it and wants to trick the other one by pretending to be less powerful than he is. Yes, obviously, that’s quite a biblical or theological state of play and I loved writing those scenes, in some ways the most. And certainly in all the scripts, even the ones that we weren’t writing, they were the scenes that I’d go back over a little bit with the writers and say, ‘Can we just look at those together and see if we can punch those up?’ To find an almost modern version of a Milton-esque poetry to it, the way they talk and particularly the way Keats talks.”
20. Although the religious overtones are clear, again you never spell it out. Are either you or Ashley religious?
“Ashley is very not religious. I have had a much more religious upbringing. Unlike Ashley I do believe in a God and I do believe that this isn’t it, this isn’t the end. But Ashley’s more hard-nosed and pragmatic about that.”
21. Alice In Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, Narnia? Fans debated the meaning of Alex’s ruby red shoes / slippers. But the red shoes were just a joke, weren’t they?
“Yes. That’s just a joke. That wasn’t even us. We didn’t even come up with that. That was Rosie Hackett, the costume designer. She thought it would just be a good joke to have her wearing ruby slippers.”
22. I laughed a lot at the Star Wars joke in the final episode – the Police Review magazine in a rack labelled: “The Force Is Strong.”
“These are just like little asides. That’s the other thing, people mustn’t lose sight of the fact it is supposed to be fun. So sometimes there are things in there which we don’t tie up and yet we probably could have spent more time trying to tie them up. But why? They’re just fun little things.”
23. Was Thordy in episode six just as he appeared, a fantasist thrown into the mix?
“Thordy was actually the idea of James Payne, the writer of episode six. He liked the idea of a guy who had seen Sam and Sam had been losing it maybe at that point and really talking about what was going on in his mind, offloading or maybe he’d been conned by Thordy to reveal more. And Thordy was just using it to screw with Alex’s mind because if Thordy’s a fantasist then he’d really be into anybody who shared fantasies. I always hoped we would have time to put a bit more of that into that episode. I love Thordy, I think he’s great but I just wish we’d explained a bit more about him, so that we knew at the end that he was a pure fantasist and that he’d been ripping off Sam’s theories about himself. Because otherwise I think what happens is people think Thordy is going to be really important later and then they might feel that is something we just didn’t do.”
24. Superb use of audio / sound / background music (Edmund Butt) again in this series – including the subtle use of the word “soul”.
“It’s trying to put that stuff in without making it too obvious. Ash has always said that he never wanted the ending to be unguessable because that would be a cheat. And so all the afterlife stuff is kind of seeded in. And Gene throughout Ashes has cradled dying coppers. In series two he cradled two dying coppers. So those kind of things are all there to be taken as clues. We didn’t want anything to come out too much out of left field, except maybe that Gene’s actually a kid. We thought that was quite a fun to suddenly throw at people.”
25. Other characters like Arthur Layton and Evan – people still agonise over who Layton was on the phone to?
“They do. And I’m like, ‘If it was that important do you think we’d have just not mentioned it for a series and a half?’ We’d have touched on it. The Layton and Evan stuff was just a series one thing, really. Layton was just the guy who shot her and it was just cute that he was the guy that she had to get hold of. Obviously that’s part of her journey, that she was trying to lay some demons to rest. And what bigger demon to lay to rest first than the guy who’s put you there in the first place. So it seemed like the natural thing that she’d face Layton in episode one.
“Evan was going to play a bigger role but it became too complicated. It turned it into a time travel show. We were going to have a bigger thing throughout the whole trilogy, of Evan in 2008 versus Evan in the early 1980s. But it started to feel too much like Back To The Future, so we shelved that idea in the end. And it became very complicated and it got in the way.”
26. The chessboard ceiling in CID intrigued people for all sorts of different reasons?
“The chessboard was Stevie Herbert, the designer’s, idea actually. But once she’d put it up we were all like, ‘Wow, that’s just fantastic.’ It just happens to have a metaphysical look to it. Originally what I was going to do in episode eight – in some ways this is weirder than the stars – Gene was going to smash all the doors down and knock the walls down. We were actually going to knock our set down and you would be able to see film lights behind, like the Truman Show. He was just going to kick it all to pieces and he was going to say, ‘Look, it’s not even a real police station. It’s just all pretend.’ And we all really liked it but then we thought, actually that might be a post-modern step too far. So we went for the stars.”
27. The episode six scene in a field with Ray, Chris and Shaz passing the parcel. Were we originally due to see more of that?
“Again, that was James Payne’s idea. It was a bit weird to me. It wasn’t quite sure I got it myself but he really liked it and so we were like, ‘OK, God, you can have it, because if you can’t come on to a show like this and have some weird stuff in your episode then…
“I think what the box was supposed to be, it was actually alluding to the significance of the box that contained the photo. That was what the intention was. But what happened was, we only used a tiny amount of it because when we looked at it on the rushes it just looked a bit odd, a bit Monty Python. It didn’t quite look scary enough, because it was just in a field, so they cut it very briefly. But I think originally they were passing a box around that was going to be the tin box that Alex gets off Thordy or finds in Gene’s office at the end.”
28. The “Lancashire” farmhouse with the weather vane where young Gene was shot dead on Coronation Day 1953 and then buried in a shallow grave beside the scarecrow on a hill. Gene had forgotten that he was once that “skinny lad”.
“I think he really starts to remember as Alex begins to dig out that body. I was there when they were filming that scene and I remember Phil and Keeley were a bit unsure about how to play the scene because of things like that. Phil wasn’t sure how much the character really should know at that point. Keeley wasn’t sure how to play against that because, obviously if Phil was unsure then Keeley was playing against it, so she was a bit unsure. So we had to have one of those decamps where we went and sat in a corner with the director and we all talked about it. And I said, ‘The best way I think of playing it, myself, is as she uncovers the body, she’s uncovering your memory.’ So by the time he looks at that ID card, he’s 80 per cent there to remembering. And then that final image just hammers it home.”
29. Phil’s mouth half hangs as Alex is uncovering the grave. Not seen that expression before. Amazing acting.
“It’s interesting, isn’t it? He does a couple of new expressions out of the box for the last episode. They’re quite surprising, aren’t they? Because he suddenly looks genuinely vulnerable.”
(Matthew told me that the farmouse is actually Stockers Farm, near Rickmansworth in Hertfordshire, used for many film and TV productions, including 1970s ITV childrens’ classic The Aventures Of Black Beauty and shows like Spooks, plus scenes in big screen films like Withnail And I and Children Of Men.
I then remembered that I had spent a rainy autumn day there in 2006 on location with Hustle, conducting damp interviews with Jaime Murray, Marc Warren, Ashley Walters and Phil’s older brother Robert Glenister)
“It is two miles from where I grew up. It’s quite a famous farm!”
30. Any significance in the choice of name – Farringfield Green?
“Sometimes these things come about for really mundane reasons. It was almost a mistake. It was supposed to be somewhere closer to Hyde and I think it was Ash who had to find it for episode seven. And he wrote it down wrong. They tried to phone and say, ‘Is it this place or this place?’ And in the end they just went, ‘Oh, he must have meant Farringfield Green,’ and they went for Farringfield Green. But he actually meant this other place. Then we all forgot about it, which is very disappointing because I think sometimes fans think that we’re just super-beady about everything. And sometimes we’re just not. Sometimes we’re just rubbish! So suddenly it was Farringfield Green.”
31. Was 9:06 – the time of Alex’s death in her modern hospital bed, shown first in episode one of the final series – chosen for any reason other than it looked good on a digital clock?
“No, 9:06 was a random decision, although it turns out, according to my mother, that that was the time I was born. And she told me I’d already known this. She said to me, ‘You did know that. I’ve told you before that was the time.’ So I’m working on the assumption that I picked it subconsciously. I was like, ‘Mmm, that’s intriguing.’ Because I just plucked it out of the air. It was like, Tuesday morning, sit down at the computer, oh yeah, Alex…9:06. It was just like that.
“The moment of it plunging to black and then Gene slapping her awake, that’s literally the moment. It was a bit of a conundrum how to do it, because you want to mark it but you also don’t want it to seem so significant that everyone goes, ‘Oh, she’s just died.’”
32. Did you take any more souvenirs from the set this time?
“I’m the very proud owner of Sam’s grave, his headstone from the end of Life On Mars – ‘Here Lies Sam Tyler’ – and we have that at the top of the stairs. And now sitting alongside the grave are a pair of snakeskin boots. So I’m very proud of that. And also absolutely beautifully Kudos, incredibly kindly, got an original cartoon of all the gang crowded round The Guv. It’s absolutely beautiful.”
33. Phil was quite canny on set during the last days of filming when answering questions about the fate of the Quattro. I know there were at least two cars. Obviously one was shot up and wrecked. But has one survived?
“I think one of them belonged to somebody. The other one, of course, has been blown to pieces. Ashley, who seems to like taking the really big stuff, has got The Railway Arms prop sign that they built for the end and he’s also about to take possession of a Quattro door with bullet holes in it. So he’s got some of the really big chunky stuff. I’ve got the slighty more esoteric stuff, the grave and the boots.”
34. The mural in Luigis? Phil and Keeley told me that no-one had taken it as it was too big. Perhaps donate it to a TV museum?
“It’s enormous, Ian. Everyone was really excited about it until they realised it’s the size of a building. It’s enormous. It’s gone into storage. It would be quite nice to donate it to Bradford Museum of Film & Television or something like that. That would be quite nice.”
35. You will, of course, be watching the final episode again “live” on Friday night?
“Yes, we’ve got a few people over to the house. Simon Crawford Collins and Jane Featherstone (exec producers for Kudos) are going to come down and Howard (Burch) our fantastic producer and Ashley is going to come over. We’re going to have some cold beef salad and some champagne and just raise a glass to it.”
36. Have you been surprised by any famous fans who’ve got in touch?
“I don’t know about famous fans that I’ve been surprised by but I’m certainly amazed by the age range. I’m still amazed that children love it and that girls find it romantic, this big hulking great bloke in a dated suit, that could be anything even closely resembling a sex symbol. I find that kind of baffling but fun. It’s great but I just don’t understand it. And then the other end of the spectrum, I went to a party in my village the other week and there were some pretty elderly people who tottered up and said, ‘We’d never miss Ashes To Ashes.’ And I think, ‘Wow, that’s amazing.’ I don’t know of many shows, certainly not in this kind of genre that have that kind of broad range.
“I suppose people take from it what they want. I know my mum doesn’t really have a clue what’s going on. So she just ignores all the fantasy stuff and watches Gene. Not so much this series, she’s a bit more getting it this series. But in the past she’s gone, ‘I don’t know what’s happening but I like watching Gene and Alex.’ I think you just take from it whatever you choose.”
37. It’s a highly satisfactory emotional ending which answers most of the questions. But you’ve still left enough ambiguity for the online fan forums to go on for years?
“I think that’s good though, isn’t it? If I could give them any sort of advice, I’d tell you what I’d say to the fans is don’t jump to anything – to watch it and then leave it for a bit and then think about it. Because I’ve always felt that with the ending of TV shows that I’ve really loved, is that you can draw conclusions too quickly, can’t you, from the last episode? You need sometimes for it to sort of bed in and have a think about it before you decide whether or not it’s the ending you wanted. Now the show’s come to an end it’s good to be a bit more candid anyway. I’ve got no dirt to dish. But it’s good to talk honestly now about how you feel about it.”
“I’ve been keeping away mostly from the press. Not from talking to them but from reading stuff because I just tend to. I don’t mind someone saying they don’t like it. It’s when they try and then belittle it and make it seem as though it’s rubbish. I know Ashes isn’t rubbish. It’ll be nice to finish it off and hopefully it’ll do well.
“We’ve got nothing left to fight for now. The show’s done. Someone said to me, ‘What do you think your ratings will be?’ I said, ‘I don’t care, we’re not coming back!” Everyone who wants to watch it will presumably watch it or tape it. So it’s fine.”
(In the event, around six million in the UK watched the final episode on a hot Friday night, a figure which will rise to over seven million once time-lapse viewing is taken into account. Those figures do not include those who watch the episode via the BBC iPlayer or those who somehow mananged to see it just hours later in America, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina and many more countries across the world)
38. Was the ghost copper / young Gene Hunt’s 1953 epaulette number 6620 chosen at random?
“Wasn’t there some fan speculation about whether it was a Bible reference? It’s really interesting because sometimes if you randomly take some numbers and make it a biblical reference, it’s amazing how often it comes up as something that feels very significant.
“We had to come up with a number that didn’t refer to a real dead copper. The number has to be accurate to the 1950s and there is obviously a chance that the number would be the genuine epaulette number of a serving police officer who presumably had either long retired or was likely to be no longer with us. I think I came up with a number and then we had to get it checked and they came back with, ‘No, these are the numbers you can use.’ Because my original number was actually the number of an officer who had served.”
39. I seem to recall you have already given Gene Hunt a middle name?
“I gave him the middle name of Stephen. I also gave Ray that middle name of Milton. I did a Supermac letter (on the BBC Ashes website) in series two, I think, and I named him Stephen. I wanted to give him a name that he himself would find a little bit poncey. Alex hasn’t got a middle name and Chris hasn’t. I think it was just Ray and Gene.”
40. No question of the Mars and Ashes characters ever returning to TV?
“No. Although if Hollywood came calling…” (laughs)
The appearance of Dixon Of Dock Green after the end titles was a final masterstroke.
PC George Dixon (Jack Warner) was shot and killed by criminal Tom Riley (Dirk Bogarde) in classic 1950 British film The Blue Lamp.
But the east London bobby was brought back to life for a BBC TV series which ran from 1955 (two years after Gene was shot dead) to 1976.
So perhaps like Fenchurch East CID, he was really in a coppers’ purgatory all the time…
The black and white footage also served the same purpose as Test Card Girl switching off our TVs at the end of Life On Mars.
As Matthew explained: “That’s right. It’s exactly that. It’s a sort of, ‘Well it all turned out in the end. Everyone’s alright. Don’t worry about it. Go off and have your supper.’”
Dixon Of Dock Green came ahead of later 1960s British cop shows like Z Cars and Softly Softly, both of which featured episodes directed by Philip Glenister’s father John.
There has been speculation today that Matthew and Ashley wanted to finish with perhaps one or two 90-minute specials.
I may be wrong, but I think that might be a wires crossed reference to the two 90-minute specials that John Simm and Philip Glenister originally offered to make instead of a full third series of Life On Mars.
As with much television drama, the final episode of Ashes was too long and had to be cut down. In this case it was said to be around 20 minutes “over” with material that just could not be squeezed into a BBC1 60 minute slot.
The series three DVD box set is out in July, along with a separate box set of all three series of Ashes – though I don’t believe either will include the extra 20 mins.
It depends, of course, on the views of the writers, producer and director.
But it would be nice to think that a “director’s cut” of the last ever episode might be offered as a special treat for fans on BBC1, BBC4 or wherever, perhaps at Christmas?
So that’s a takedown. Job done. Pub.
Personally, I like to believe that Gene will one day pop back to The Railway Arms to see Alex, Sam, Annie, Ray, Chris and Shaz.
Don’t forget that he asked Sam to save him a pint and told Ray, “And get one in for me and all…”
Heartfelt thanks to the writers, cast, crew and production teams of Life On Mars and Ashes To Ashes for welcoming me into Gene’s world over the last five years.
Sparing time to talk on countless occasions while busy creating some of the very best television I have ever seen.
If anything surpasses it in the future, then I’ll know I really have died and gone to Heaven.
Hopefully Nelson has saved me a seat within sight of the pickled eggs jar.
My final thanks go to every single one of you for reading these blogs.
You are and always will be…
Matthew Graham Guardian interview
Update: Rick Karr’s podcast interview with Marshall Lancaster, me and others
Mars To Ashes: The Writers Talk
Recent Ashes To Ashes interviews in the Manchester Evening News
Philip Glenister Official Site
Dixon Of Dock Green Theme Tune (audio)