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.

Pub?

Pub.

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

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Comments

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  • rate this
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    Comment number 1.

    Thanks for the insights.

    I can't wait to see this third series story unfold.

    And luckliy I AM off to the Pub tonight!

    Cheers, daveac

  • rate this
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    Comment number 2.

    Thanks for sharing and for giving birth, raising and complete this marvelous series. It's the best Tv-series ever!

    I'm from Norway and I love your work. Good luck with tomorrows show.

    I can't wait for the dvd release :-)

  • rate this
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    Comment number 3.

    Role on 9pm cant wait to see the third and last series. Sorry its finishing but better on a high.
    Thank you to to the writers for a real great series.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 4.

    What will BBC One show now this is finished? I think they will just nick Newswipe from BBC4

  • rate this
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    Comment number 5.

    Dear Points Of View ; Amazing writing,fabulous casting and brilliant music.A2A and LOM are worth the licence fee on their own. Cant wait to see series 3.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 6.

    Good to see Ashes to Ashes back but yet again very disappointing picture quality on BBC HD. To top it all it was anounced that the next episode will be in 2 weeks time on BBC HD because of the Golf. This scheduling is totaly unacceptable. How can the BBC expect to build up the HD audience by messing us about like this. Why does the BBC waist money on producing something in HD only to discourage viewers watching it in HD.

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    Comment number 7.

    it was great to see A2A back, especially in HD!! but trevorjharris is right; why the hell would the schedulers do this to us A2A fans? is 3.2 going to be shown a week late on HD or not at all ala Mad Men? if the HD channel is going to be a week behind BBC1 then it means i (and many others) will not be able to talk to any of our friends or family members, or watch any other tv show, listen to any radio show, read any newspapers or magazines or look at any related websites for fear of having it spoilt!

    if you're just not showing it at all on HD then it seems pointless to have shot it that way. honestly, the people behind the HD channel (i'm looking at YOU Danielle) have absolutely no regard for their viewers!

    A2A is a series, designed to be watched in sequence. the golf is a one-off event which doesn't even benefit from HD treatment.

    the people behind A2A should demand the BBC simulcast it on the HD channel. they seem, after all, to care about their fans. the BBC however couldn't give a toss about the people who pay their wages.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 8.

    I agree - the whole way in which BBC HD is run appears to be a perfect example of how to show contempt for your audience. Not just the picture quality, but scheduling issues like this. And it's the shows that suffer - I could easily have missed the fact that it hadn't series-linked to next week. Hence I won't bother risking to record it on HD again (I rarely watch anything live these days). Not that it makes much difference anyway on BBC HD.

    But great to have A2A back, can't wait to see how it concludes.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 9.

    Firstly I enjoyed Ashes to Ashes and it's now back on track with Gean & the gang in full flow

    #post 7 the golf is a one-off event which doesn't even benefit from HD treatment.

    I can't agree with that statement - here's an image (not a screen grag) from last year:-
    http://s182.photobucket.com/albums/x202/dac100/avpictures/?action=view&current=masters01.jpg

    Of course I not sure how good the HD picture will be at this reduced bit-rate.

    As to Ashes to Ashes it does seem daft to start a series and then skip a week - it really would help if now Channel 5 are not taking up their HD slot - we could have two BBC HD channels - whether that's BBC 1 HD & BBC 2 HD or the current BBC HD (mixed channel) and BBC Sports HD

    Cheers, daveac

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    Comment number 10.

    but do you really need HD to see a ball being knocked about some grass? be honest, A2A deserves the HD treatment (and timeslot) more than the golf does.

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    Comment number 11.

    I wanted to pick up the comments 6 through to 10 from trevorjharris, heilanner, marquee and daveac.

    There are a significant number of people - based on previous years' viewing - who are very keen to see "a ball being knocked about some grass" from Augusta, particularly since HD allows you to see the ball as it flies through the air, and to appreciate the differences between the rough, the fairway and the green.

    We would much rather be in a position to maintain a simulcast of Ashes to Ashes with BBC One throughout the run - but with commitments to the US Masters we have had to identify the first available post-watershed slot for episode two that is affected by our live golf coverage. That happens to be Monday (12th) at 9pm (as the golf runs through the weekend) and so that is when Ashes to Ashes will be available in HD that week.

    One HD channel bringing content from across the BBC's channels is never going to avoid these kind of conflicts - we do our best to manage them, and of course I'm sorry that for some that creates "unacceptable" scheduling. I believe that to be preferable - personally - to making and broadcasting less content in HD.

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    Comment number 12.

    Thanks for replying Danielle :) You say that "a significant number of" people will want to watch the golf? i'll be interested to see how the viewing figures compare to those of Ashes To Ashes!!! i have a feeling i know which show will win.

    you also say that you'd prefer to have scheduling which your PAYING audience find unacceptable? that's a very strange attitude for the head of a channel. surely you should be doing everything possible to make the people who pay your wages happy?

    you may prefer one channel (making people angry that they cannot see the shows they love as someone at HD head office has decided something else should be shown in it's place), but methinks you may be in the minority here. it's been made abundantly clear both on the old HD blogs and on various other sites such as Digital Spy that what the paying public want is simulcast channels. we don't care if it means upscaling non-HD shows. in fact, we WANT upscaling of non-HD shows!!!

  • rate this
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    Comment number 13.

    I understand the BBC has dedicated channels for various genre, Danielle, and hasn't it always been the problem that sport and SF/Drama are FORCED to clash like this?

    WHY the hodgepodge of competing stuff?

    I remember, as a child, missing out on a lot of my favourite shows because 80s BBC was incapable of juggling a decent schedule and maintaining consistency. It upset me then because I didn't understand it.

    It upsets me now because I see no progress - even with your much vaunted & trumpeted (plus over-indulgent/showy 'cool' idents) expansion, sadly now being sullied by Murdoch & Son - whom I despise.

    You have to have the capacity for consistency for ALL licence payers or you'll lose the public's faith - and we don't really need you in this format anyway.

    If you are going to be inconsistent, fine, a larger corporation will take over distributing all your output in HD from very large servers, I imagine very much like iplayer & on demand do now, but at transmission time onwards - and for a better fee than the £150 a year I currently pay you and only use for Doctor Who, Ashes, and the Football that terrible, odious man hasn't stolen from the Great British public - i.e. 90% of it.

    I despise Murdoch, but he'll bring in HDDTV before Virgin unless you have better vision, and do you want me to break a lifetime promise at 41?

    I won't, but you should sort yourselves out and do your jobs properly for decent, hard-working licence payers.

    I must add that all this 'reality' stuff is utter BOSH! and a cheap, cowardly solution that is a shameful indictment of our times and an insult to all fields of British TV production, as is imported nonsense like 'Lost' (Channel 5, I know, but take my point please).

    'Hallo, Spaceboy' please!

    Dx

  • rate this
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    Comment number 14.

    Matthew, my thanks for an entertaining Blog and a wonderful TV show!

    Danielle, in the light of the recent scheduling comments (#6-13) though, wouldn't now be a good time for a new Blog from you revealing the BBC's plans for its HD future. I'm assuming that you do have a plan and that it doesn't involve having just one, all-purpose, HD channel in perpetuity.

    Whilst you can't please everyone all of the time it's worth considering that you could make us all a little less upset if you reveal how you intend trying to please more of us more of the time, in due course.

    Back to topic, I was away for A2A last week so I'm really looking forward to seeing it in HD for the first time next Monday (and, of course, I'm really hoping that the PQ (and surround sound?) will meet my expectations).

  • rate this
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    Comment number 15.

    To those moaning about the lack of an Ashes to Ashes simulcast, have you seen the quality of Ashes to Ashes HD?? Its awful. Hardly any difference to the SD version at all - infact not sure how BBD HD are getting away showing it when they claim there channel is all HD content...

    As for the Golf, it really can look fantastic in HD when its on the right channel. Its just a shame the BBC have got the rights to it.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 16.

    @ 14, I wouldnt get too excited if I was you. To call it HD is a bit of a joke really.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 17.

    I also would like to thank Matthew Graham for a truly different, quality bit of work. A2A is right up there in the list of the very best material the BBC have ever shown.

    My only gripe with this latest series is the picture quality is tragic, watched it on BBC1 (before I realised it was also on HD), and it was well below the std I would have expected, poor definition, smudging, and general lack of clarity.

    then saw it was also on HD, so watched that version, and to he honest, it was also quite poor, marginally better with static shots, but once again, very hit and miss once the camera starts to move at speed.

    Is this really how you intended your work to be shown?



  • rate this
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    Comment number 18.

    @12

    You may be surprised. Last year The Masters reached number three in the BBC HD ratings. That's based on the average across the whole transmission. If the 'peak' was used it would have been number one.

    With all the publicity, the first episode of Ashes to Ashes on BBC1, hardly set the world alight, ratings wise.

    Personally, I'd rather The Masters was on Sky, but at least BBC do give their HD viewers the chance to see it too.

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    Comment number 19.

    @ 18 derek500 wrote:

    You may be surprised. Last year The Masters reached number three in the BBC HD ratings. That's based on the average across the whole transmission. If the 'peak' was used it would have been number one.

    Though that may be an indication of how weak the rest of the BBC HD programming is, not how appealing the masters is... if the only thing it has to compete with in the ratings is the 47th repeat of planet earth, it wouldn't be hard.

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    Comment number 20.

    It is not only Ashes to Ashes which has been affected. No HD Antiques Roadshow is available today.

    If the BBC wants to cover live events such as Golf it needs another HD channel. My view is that it should simulcast BBC 1 and use a second channel to fill in the rest. The BBC has plenty of transponder space on satellite and even has a spare HD channel on Freeview HD.

    The BBC has just spent over 1 billion pounds on refurbishing Broadcasting House. The BBC has been critisised by parliment for the over spend on this project which was partly due to accomadating another overseas channel. The BBC needs to change its priorities and put more money into HD in the UK.

    @Darren Phillips

    I don't understand your antagonism to Murdoch. First he only has a minority interest in Sky. If it wasn't for Sky we would not have an HD television in the UK.

 

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