Ashes To Ashes: From beginning to The End

Thursday 1 April 2010, 11:07

Matthew Graham Matthew Graham

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Roehampton. Wednesday, 10 February. 10pm.

"This is the end - beautiful friend... "

Jim Morrison and The Doors there folks. The end is always beautiful to a writer. It means you've done it. It's finished. Story is told. Switch off the computer and go to the pub.

So am I forlorn, perched on a camera box on the edge of set on a freezing cold night in Roehampton, south west London as director David Drury shoots the last ever close up of Gene Hunt? No, I'm not. Sorry. Je ne regret rien as they say in parts of Somerset. The story is told. I think two of my toes have fallen off inside my boots and the icy camera box has put my bum under local anaesthetic but I feel... well... satisfied.

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It is a hard but acceptable reality that shows will run and run not until the race is won but until the network blows the whistle and calls the event off. Usually between series. With Ashes we set ourselves the task of telling a three year story. This meant running over the line even if the cheering crowds wanted the race to carry on.

It may also have meant panting to the finish whilst the stadium cleared out early. Don't know why I'm sounding so cocksure - that may still happen. Stay in the stadium folks! It's neck and neck on the final straight, I swear!

Where did this story start? Not in Blackpool with Tony Jordan and Ashley Pharoah. For me, it started with Uncle John. He wasn't a real uncle; he was a drinking mate of my dad's, the kind you were made to call "uncle" in the 70s. He wore a camel-hair coat and smelt of fags and bitter and High Karate. He played darts and would say things like "Be a good boy Matty and pass uncle's Panatellas off the table."

In my world of boyhood fears and fantasies he was a rock of self-assurance, smelling of crafty pints and one hundred-and-eighty and masculine camaraderie. He was a god. And like all gods, I knew he would live forever. And that was Gene Hunt.

He wasn't called Gene Hunt for many years but when Tony, Ash and I were discussing our 70s cop show - Ford Granada - I realised there might be a context for Uncle John. Uncle John with his coat, his slip-ons, his fags, his beer-breath, his dart-throwing arm... and this time with a gun and a fast car too.

Go get 'em Uncle John!

Keeley Hawes as DI Alex Drake

And so there was Life On Mars. Tone, Ash, Matty - three soap opera oiks who met on EastEnders and decided to write a show about coma-cops falling into episodes of The Sweeney. And Uncle John had become Gene Hunt. And Gene Hunt had become ruddy iconic. Like the Colossus Of Rhodes with a beer-gut bestriding the land.

So now we reach the middle of the story. Mars ends. But there are still questions. Is Sam dead? What is this world? Who is Gene? Will Ray ever shave off that 'tache?

Ashes To Ashes was our response to a question from the BBC: Is there any more Gene Hunt? But honestly, we were thinking about Gene and the 80s whilst we were finishing Mars. Because if the 70s forged him, the 80s were only ever going to betray him. In an age of crass, shallow opportunism, Gene was going to be cast adrift. A dinosaur in a rapidly changing world. And THAT'S drama.

And whereas the 70s were mythical to us because we had been kids then, the 80s were ironically more knowing, more grown up, because we were. Not that we started that way. We had Alex Drake - our gorgeous, confident, intelligent police psychiatrist (I mean psychologist - although it's the same thing). Shot in the head and back in time surrounded by characters created by Sam Tyler. Why?

A new mystery started to unfold, with this feisty, smart-mouth woman going nose-to-nose with the Guv. And as soon as Keeley squared up to Phil, we had to put on our sunglasses before the crackling of sexual energy blinded us.

Philip Glenister as Gene Hunt aims a gun

Sitting here in the cold on my camera box, I smile as I recall that lighting test - the first time Phil and Keeley played a scene. Keeley - vulnerable yet defiant. Phil - domineering yet wary. And she reaches out to feel his heartbeat. To see if Gene can be real. And the script calls for him to do the same. And Phil goes for it. They have met as actors only 10 minutes ago yet he reaches out and grabs her right breast with one large hand, uttering the elegiac line "Fandabbydozey."

And then they both fall into each other, giggling like kids. And we're all giggling. But with relief. There's chemistry. And we need chemistry to sustain us through three series.

And so we set sail. Series one - frothy, arch, silly and fun. Yes, fun. Some thought too much fun. But it's the 80s, it's the Quattro, it's New Romantics. Come ON. What, you want Ibsen? Then go see Ibsen, cos we're having fun over here dancing to Adam And The Ants.

Then series two - darker, shadier. Alex now feeling consumed by this world and by her growing fear of, yet attraction to Gene. And Super Mac trailing corruption in his wake. Culminating in Gene threatening publicly to kill Alex himself if she crosses him again. And then shooting her - accidentally - he swears accidentally. And Alex slipping into a coma within her coma and finding herself back home with Gene leering at her from every hospital monitor - on the run for her attempted murder - and shouting at her to WAKE UP!

And so to series three - where the two worlds of Mars and Ashes begin to collide. Where the stakes have never been higher. The dark is rising now. There's still plenty of fun but it's the kind of fun one has in defiance of the cold wind blowing through. And why are we bringing it all to an end? Because a story needs an end. A journey needs a destination. And this show has been a journey for all of us.

In true filming style, we shot the last ever scenes in the story last week. God, our cast were on fire. I mean they were outstanding. And now, tonight, we're ending on a scene from episode seven. Mood is good. Champagne is cracked and waiting for toasts as soon as David shouts "Wrap."

What will I miss most? Writing a show where one can hop from comedy, to action, to pathos, to supernatural, to romance - all in one episode. The freedom, the space to evolve a tale in the way that only television can do.

Because, whatever I write next, I know this is the big story of my career. And I thank you for listening to it. Am I sad? Nope. This story has a start, a middle and an end.

That's a wrap.

The End.



Matthew Graham is co-creator, co-writer and co-executive producer of Ashes To Ashes

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    Comment number 21.

    "If it wasn't for Sky we would not have an HD television in the UK."

    Given that the Belgians had started using the same satellite system to broadcast HDTV (in 2004), it wasn't the most challenging task in the world for Sky to follow suit in 2006.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    loving the series - Ashes To Ashes is such a brilliant show as was Life on Mars. Have to say I am really worried that it may be heading towards an ending like the US version of Life on Mars - which was quite frankly - pants. Keeping evrything crossed that it isn't the same coz that would be a major dissapointment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    I understood what the storyline of the final episode was but am very disappointed in the BBC. What a cop out, this could have been a classic episode but it should be relegated to the catacombs until the writers return from their digit removal seminars and do an ending worthy of the rest of the series.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Hi I'm K - I had an accident in 2010 and woke up in ??? ...... wait a minute ..... well actually it was on the 22.05.2010 when the cold hard rush of reality hit me suddenly , like a rush of alkies heading for the bar for last orders - there will be no more Ashes to Ashes !! Noooo. Oh BooHoo.

    So seriously is that correct ? As D.C.I Hunt would say " who's going to collar all the scum-de-la-scum now then ? ". Please don't leave us in this barren limbo land of 2010 - we want more retro/ David Bowie + other 80's hits [ I'll even settle for 90's?? ]

    Excellent acting / excellent storyline / [ some say not as good as LOM ] not me - it was all good ! And what's this about USA involvement ? That would really be a kiss of death as far as I'm concerned - Remember Red Dwarf / Cracker ????

    RIP LOM + A2A you will be sadly missed. Now where is that pub ? - errmm Railway Arms wasn't it ??

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Ashes to Ashes and Life on Mars has been the best thing on TV since Edge of Darkness !! i have only just been able to watch the last episode of Life on Mars for the second time ! i dont know how long it will be until i can watch the last Ashes again, I am not ashamed to say after Fridays last Ashes i didnt sleep all question in my head,this was the best one hour i have spent ever! i didn't want them all to be dead and i wanted Alex Back ! ah well its only fiction isnt it ??

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Disbelief was well and truly suspended some considerable time ago so the ending could have gone anywhere and I would have bought it. That said, I thought the last episode worked extremely well and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Never have I been absorbed into a TV series as I have with both Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes.

    The script is simply "genius" and you can almost feel the chemistry between the characters. The whole set is just perfectly matched.

    I seriously feel however that the BBC should somehow extend this maybe even a *movie* version? maybe I am being too hopeful but this was just an incredibly well scripted series.

    A big thanks to all those that made this series possible. The DVD box sets will remain cherished for years to come.....

    A big thank you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Dear Mr Graham, thank you thank you thank you. And thank you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Hi I am writing from the French alps where my wife and I have watched all the episodes from Life on Mars to Ashes to ashes. As we cannot watch the show in english we bought all the DVDS. We saw the last episode yesterday.
    We enjoyed it enormously and think it is really brilliant from start to finish.

    It is the very best British Tv show I have ever seen, and I have seen many in England, Sweden and France where we now live.
    This is what makes the difference between American shows and British ones:
    Flair, great ideas and dialogues, a sense of humour and very attaching character and no need for a load of special effects.

    Thank you ever so much to the writers, the fantastic actors: you gave us may hours of excitement, joy and happiness.
    and please if anybody can transfer our comments to the writers, the crew and actors so that they know that they have huge fans in France.
    Maybe we'll meet one day in a pub. Not the railway arms I hope.
    Best wishes.


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