It's an unfair cop: Gene Hunt, the most defiantly un-PC PC on the block, is back

The desk is strewn with tell-tale signs that we're in the office of a real man's man. The keys to an Audi Quattro. A tumbler full of whisky. A pack of Players No 6. A picture of footballer Ray Wilkins. A Betamax tape of Escape to Victory. But the clincher is a mock-up of one of those old Wild West posters. It reads: "The maverick sheriff cleans up town."

That's right, we're taking a tour of the office of DCI Gene Hunt – played with rare panache by Philip Glenister – the maverick sheriff whose wilfully unreconstructed attempts to clean up town have turned him into one of the most popular of TV characters. He is the defiantly un-PC PC.

By any objective standards, Gene should be a loathsome figure. Across two series of Life on Mars and two of Ashes to Ashes (the second begins next week on BBC1) he has revealed himself as a dinosaur detective. He has no time for reading suspects their rights, breezily proclaiming that he has invented "the bruise-free groin slap".

When his by-the-book colleague Sam Tyler (John Simm), who had been transported back to the 1970s from the present day in Life on Mars, once berated him as "an overweight, over-the-hill, nicotine-stained, borderline-alcoholic homophobe with a superiority complex and an unhealthy obsession with male bonding," Gene retorted: "You make that sound like a bad thing."

In Ashes to Ashes, which is set in the early 1980s, Gene enjoys some equally sparky clashes with another right-on modern-day colleague, DI Alex Drake (Keeley Hawes). She has been sent back to 1982 from today and is constantly horrified by Gene's casual sexism. This is, after all, a bloke who, in 1973, declared in his characteristic, I'm-never-wrong tone: "As long as I've got a hole in my arse, there'll never be a female prime minister." He's the man political correctness forgot.

And yet, in spite of attitudes that would barely pass muster in the Stone Age, Gene is a hugely loved character. So why has this Neanderthal proved so ridiculously popular? "Gene is so well loved because he's gruff and difficult to please," says Hawes, 33. "He's the opposite of a New Man. People really like that. It's such a breath of fresh air. Someone who exhibits those old-fashioned ways in this PC era is very attractive. What more could you want?"

Glenister, who possesses a waspish wit, is in civvies today. He has swopped Gene's trademark naff coat and gloves for a jersey with a Richmond Golf Club logo on it. The actor admits to being taken aback by the extent to which Gene has struck a chord with people.

"It's amazing and fascinating how this character has become part of the public consciousness," he says. "But Gene certainly seems to resonate with viewers. I think he stands for a freedom of speech that is being eroded. There's too much red tape and an obsession with health and safety. Every little thing becomes an issue. A tiny bit of snow and the country grinds to a halt. One of the perks of this job is that I get to test-drive cars. I was supposed to test-drive a new Aston Martin DB9 in February, but unfortunately it got stuck in the snow. Not very James Bond, is it?"

Donning an air of Gene-like assertiveness, Glenister adds: "People are fed up with bureaucracy and the 'targets' culture this government has instituted. Let teachers be teachers and doctors be doctors. Stop telling everyone else what to do – that's a sign of someone who doesn't have a proper job. Get a life, Mr Secretary of State for Sod All!"

This fictional detective is immensely popular with real-life coppers. "The police love him because he represents a bygone era which they miss," reflects Glenister, who's married to the actress Beth Goddard and has two daughters. "I present an award every year at the Police Bravery Awards, and they all tell me they know someone just like Gene. There was a poll to see who should replace Sir Ian Blair at the Met, and a lot of people voted for Gene!"

Gene is also an unlikely sex symbol. Why? Hawes, who sports a 1980s poodle perm and white leather jacket in Ashes to Ashes, reckons that "women feel Gene would look after them. It takes such a lot to get a compliment out of Gene that if they ever did, these women would melt."

Glenister, 46, who's appeared in Demons, Cranford, Calendar Girls, State of Play, Hornblower, Clocking Off and Vanity Fair, treats Gene's heart-throb status with amused detachment. "It's a dirty job, but someone's got to be hot. If it's not going to be Alan Titchmarsh, it has to be Gene.

"I get invited to give speeches at a lot of weddings. If I get all these invitations to speak, how many must Stephen Fry get? I told one couple I couldn't make it, so they asked me to send a cardboard cut-out of myself with a button you could press to hear my speech. What was I going to say to them? 'Don't marry her, you're ruining your life, kid'? Maybe there's a business opportunity there..."

The actor is very protective of his alter ego. "Gene's a wonderful character to play. I feel very precious about him. He's been so good to me. He's like my child; I feel an overwhelming sense of responsibility towards him. I'm sure it gets up some producers' noses, but it's because I care."

The first series of Ashes to Ashes had an air of levity about it. This time, the show has a darker tone. The series, set in 1982, is played out against a backdrop of the zenith of Mrs Thatcher's power and the Falklands War. The overarching theme of the series is police corruption. And more is revealed about Alex's frantic attempts to return to the present day.

"Part of the fascination of Ashes to Ashes is the mystery of how Alex ended up in the 1980s," says Hawes, who has also starred in Mutual Friends, Under the Greenwood Tree, Tipping the Velvet and Our Mutual Friend. "The plot for this series is incredibly byzantine. We've actually been told why Alex is stuck in the past. All the hairs on the back of our necks stood up when we found out."

The first Ashes to Ashes enjoyed healthy ratings, but was not such a hit with the critics. Some disappointment was inevitable after the high expectations generated by Life on Mars, but it still attracted some 6.6 million viewers every week.

One of the allures of Ashes to Ashes is the saga of Gene and Alex's "will they, won't they?" relationship. "It's such fun," Hawes says. "I can't say if anything happens between them. But I really like that element."

I ask Glenister what effect Gene Hunt has had on his career. "I was doing OK before Gene, but he has moved me on to the next stage. It happens to a lot of actors. For instance, Doctor Who has elevated David Tennant to Planet Success."

Glenister's certainly getting more offers. "You have to learn to say no. But you also have to be wary. There comes a point where people think you can't do anything else but Gene. I got sent a script where the main character was a poor man's version of Gene with none of the charm or charisma. He was just a one-dimensional policeman."

'Ashes to Ashes' starts on BBC1 on 20 April

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Artist Nathan Sawaya stands with his sculpture 'Yellow' at the Art of Brick Exhibition

art
Arts and Entertainment
'Strictly Come Dancing' attracted 6.53 million viewers on Friday
tv
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant plays Detective Emmett Carver in the US version on Broadchurch

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor goes undercover at Coal Hill School in 'The Caretaker'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ni , Rock of Rah, Vanuatu: The Ni live on one of the smallest islands of Vanuatu; Nelson flew five hours from Sydney to capture the 'isolation forged by their remoteness'
photographyJimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style
Arts and Entertainment
David Byrne
musicDavid Byrne describes how the notorious First Lady's high life dazzled him out of a career low
Arts and Entertainment
Sergeant pfeffer: Beatles in 1963
booksA song-by-song survey of the Beatles’ lyrics
Arts and Entertainment
music'I didn't even know who I was'
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl was left in a conundrum with too much talent and too few seats during the six-chair challenge stage
tvReview: It was tension central at boot camp as the ex-Girls Aloud singer whittled down the hopefuls
Arts and Entertainment
Kalen Hollomon's Anna Wintour collage

art
Arts and Entertainment

TV Grace Dent on TV
Arts and Entertainment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

music
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer is believed to be playing a zombie wife in Patient Zero

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Gatiss says Benedict Cumberbatch oozes sex appeal with his 'Byronic looks' and Sherlock coat
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Clothing items bearing the badge have become popular among music aficionados
musicAuthorities rule 'clenched fist' logo cannot be copyrighted
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson will star in Seth MacFarlane's highly-anticipated Ted 2

film
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike in 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The 44-year-old insisted there had been “no fallings out” with the other members of the band
music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
    Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

    Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

    Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
    Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

    Education, education, education

    TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
    It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

    It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

    So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
    This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

    Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

    Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
    We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

    Inside the E15 'occupation'

    We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
    Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

    Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

    Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
    Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

    Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

    The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
    Witches: A history of misogyny

    Witches: A history of misogyny

    The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
    Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

    Meet the most powerful woman in US television

    Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
    'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

    Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

    Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style