With tonight’s première of Ashes to Ashes, the spin-off to Life on Mars, people have been talking about 1981 for a week or more, especially the UK press. There is talk of 1980s fashions making their way around and an increase in interest in the Audi Quattro, the car driven by Philip Glenister in the new series.
The new series, set in 1981, follows a similar pattern to the original: police ofﬁcer DI Alex Drake (Keeley Hawes) is hit in the head with a bullet and wakes up 27 years earlier. She, as Sam Tyler did in Life on Mars, might wonder if she is mad, in a coma, or back in time, but like the rest of us, she is armed with knowledge of the Tyler case. She knows that Glenister’s Gene Hunt character is in her head and that the mind fashions conduits to the real world in 2008.
Co-creator Matthew Graham says the new series will explore more of the mythology of Hunt, whom Tyler saw in his visions of 1973 and which Drake encounters in the new series. There’s more, in other words, than we think.
However, whether the series will kick off 1980s fashion is another matter. Designers have been reviving 1980s fashions for a long time, pretty much since the 1980s themselves ended. Leggings and tights made a bit of a return a few years ago so elements of the ’80s have been around, perhaps not in a full-ﬂedged fashion. People were talking about an ’80s revival for a while, in the hope that eventually, time will prove them right.
Trends cannot generally be manufactured, and a single TV series, even if it is a hit, won’t normally be able to do much to the path that fashion tends to tread. Grease, with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, might have revived the 1950s’ look brieﬂy in the 1970s, but it never successfully bucked the Studio 54–disco look; people also talked about the revival of the Jacqueline Kennedy style, after an exhibition at the Met and a few designers attempting it, but it didn’t really deﬁne fashion in the early 2000s. These are fads, not long-term trends.
The only way Ashes to Ashes can be credited with a great 1980s revival is if the decade’s trends had been bubbling under. They have to some extent, but I don’t think they have reached that critical mass that will allow the series to make us all think as though we should dress like Sheena Easton or Don Johnson. That’s the judgement call here: has critical mass been reached allowing Ashes to Ashes to take us to the tipping point, where the 1980s are so in vogue?
Some of us might trundle through op shops, but we’ll be waiting a while before designers are churning out new clothes that take us back to when Charles and Di got married, I suspect.
There is some optimism out there. If we are tied to the United States in terms of a global mood, then there is optimism linked to the change of president. If we are tied to Red China, then there are the Olympics. There may be a mortgage crisis, but not enough to set everyone into “rose-coloured glasses” mode and to look back to simpler times.
The Audi Quattro, however, is a similar proposition. (Heterosexual) men have less fashion consciousness in general, but we love our cars. The Quattro, with its boxy looks, speak of a practicality and strength that contrast the fussiness of modern car design. However, no design college will suddenly switch gears and begin creating razor-edged shapes—at least not in the style of the Quattro. So, we might ﬁnd ourselves Googling more about the original Audi Quattro—the ur-Quattro—and some of us might even buy one to relive our memories of the 1980s.
I’m going to adore the new series, starting on BBC1 tonight. I felt that 16 episodes of Life on Mars weren’t enough for me and I was caught up in the mystery, chatting each week to viewers on just what my theories were surrounding Sam Tyler’s predicament. I will probably do something similarly with Ashes to Ashes. But I won’t be dusting off pastel jackets and my ultra-thin ties for a while yet.
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