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Ashes to Ashes won’t suddenly kick off ’80s revival


February 7, 2008/2.58

Ashes to Ashes: Keeley Hawes and Philip Glenister 
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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10 thoughts on ‘Ashes to Ashes won’t suddenly kick off ’80s revival

  1. Only a few more minutes to go. I’ve been pretty psyched up about it, too. I’ve had a few concerns about the era and whether it would be so self-aware that it winds up being a parody of Life on Mars but the reports from those who are in it say that it has a distinct, unique direction. I look forward to it and: never argue with the Gene Genie!

  2. Fair enough, Poetryman69. What was funny was that 10 years ago we thought the ’70s were ghastly. Now that dislike has shifted to the ’80s. It is probably a human thing to dislike fashions of 20 years ago.

  3. It won’t kick off a revival because the 80s revival has been going for a decade already. Look at video games and listen to music. Just like during the 90s, the 70s were so cool.

  4. That is true, Peter—it’s basically what I said in the post but you raise a good point about video games and music. I think it’s been going on since 1990!

  5. The 1950s look was rampant in the 1970s, with the Fonz, Grease, Oh Boy! revived, etc. I was a 1950s teddy boy in the 1970s and there were lots of us about.

    Indeed, I have a newspaper article from 1970 about the blossoming 50s revival. The 70s had fabulous revivals – including 1930s platforms, and late 1960s flares clung on and on.

    The “Studio 54” look? Never saw much of that in the UK.

  6. Chris, excellent points, and Nat: I think you are right!
       Right now we are laughing a lot at the 1980s’ look but this will pass. For some reason the 1970s are thought of as more stylish right now (due to societal parallels) but in the ’80s and ’90s we couldn’t bear the thought of that decade!
       Nat, any thoughts on how the ’00s will be remembered?

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