Magazine article The Spectator

Sweet Sounds of the Seventies

Magazine article The Spectator

Sweet Sounds of the Seventies

Article excerpt

Is there a more irritating figure in British public life than Richard Branson? The beard, the cuddly sweaters, the toothy grin, the self-advertisement, the torments of the damned involved in travelling on one of his trains or planes. No news story in recent weeks has cheered me up as much as the one about Branson injuring himself while jumping off the roof of a Las Vegas hotel in yet another of his ridiculous publicity stunts.

His wounds weren't serious but were enough to hurt his pride: the perfect result.

I travelled to New York and back with Virgin Atlantic last week. The food was disgusting, the service inattentive and the leg room in economy almost comically inadequate even for someone as short as I am.

A woman sitting across the aisle from me turned green and vomited copiously during the flight, and it seemed an entirely understandable response to flying steerage with the insufferable self-publicist.

But there was one aspect of the flight home that made it bearable. The rather nifty on-demand entertainment system may have had a rotten selection of films, but it featured some alluring TV programmes which the night job normally prevents me from watching. I watched several episodes of Ricky Gervais's cruel but brilliant Extras and caught up with Life on Mars, which I gather Mrs Spencer secretly watched with great pleasure while her poor husband was out labouring in the stalls.

The show stars John Simm as Sam Tyler, a 21st-century cop, who after a near-fatal car accident wakes up in the Manchester of 1973. Has he travelled back in time? Is he in a coma? Or has he gone mad?

Sam, still a cop in his new life, finds himself working under a brutal DCI, Gene Hunt, who relies on gut instinct rather than police procedures and isn't scared of bending the rules to get results. It's a terrific cop show, by turns quirky, touching, gripping and comic, and, if you missed it like me, you can catch up with it on DVD at HMV for a mere 20 quid. The relationship between Philip Glenister's unreconstructed Seventies rough diamond and Simm's politically correct, post-Macpherson new man is deliciously caught, and the show is now right up there in my personal pantheon alongside Minder and Morse.

But what puts the cherry on the cake is the show's setting in 1973. Rarely can the recent past have seemed more like a foreign country. Everyone smokes like industrial chimneys, drinks bitter rather than lager, while the clothes -- skinny leather jackets and naff patterned shirts with preposterous collars -- are a hoot. …

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