James Ruppert: Time Travel, 'Spencer Haze', The BBC and me

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Tune into BBC1 on Mondays at 9pm and you'll catch the drama Life on Mars. If you like '70s cars and styles, as I do, you'll love it. The critics seem to agree that, with the motors, the no-nonsense Sweeney behaviour, the clothes, and the modern cop in a retro world, it is at least a bit different from the dire Midsomer Murders.

I should be pleased, but instead I'm just a tad bitter. You see, this prime-time programme slot should be filled by a drama called Spencer Haze with my name below the "devised by..., script by..., executive producer..." credits.

Spencer Haze started as a graphic comic-strip on Channel 4's motoring website www.4car.co.uk. Spencer Haze, as the titles went, "was a man running out of time and that time was 1973", coincidentally the same as Life on Mars. Beaten up and left for dead in a Docklands warehouse freezer, this private detective is electrocuted back into life in the year 2000. This graphic novel ran for several months and got a decent cult following before the money ran out. Spencer was even reviewed favourably by The Independent who described him as "an un-PC superhero with a Zapata 'tache and flares".

I thought it was more interesting to put a bloke from 1973 into 2000 rather than the other way around, so that is one difference between Spencer and Mars. Also, you can't hope to recreate the original, brilliantSweeney, so why try? A real fish out of water is going to be Jack Regan, with the dress code of Jason King unleashed in our time and trying to cope with old cars morphing into new ones - which are devices used extensively in Mars.

In 2001, I decided to turn the comic strip into a television script. I sent it to loads of production companies, but also it wound up in the hands of several BBC executives. The corporation is so labyrinthine that finding the right person was a problem, so out of the half dozen acknowledgements is a rejection that says it won't work and anyway there are too many cars in it. Yet that's why people like the new Mars show. It is the cars everyone remembers. This all could be put down to coincidence, of course...

If the past is supposed to be another country, then, as the title of this programme suggests, 1973 is another planet. As I remember, it was full of industrial strife, fantastically varied music and dubious wallpaper. Indeed, I love the era so much I've actually retro-fitted a droopy 'tache to my face, sought out a huge Panasonic music centre and play only period vinyl, preferably prog-rock, on it. The one thing I don't do is drive a car from 1973, because they are rubbish.

It is sad but true that what makes watching old episodes of The Sweeney, The Avengers, Department S and Jason King such fun is the street scenes. All the cars you see, with a few exceptions like my dad's Audi, are made in England. Yet what is wrong with Life on Mars is that, however many clever angles they use, or Leyland lorries they park in front of modern architecture, it can never look like 1973.

Spencer Haze never made that mistake, nor would his series have incurred huge production costs. He is not proud, and he is still for hire.

motoring@independent.co.uk

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