The BBC time travel cop show Life on Mars returns to our screens tonight. I loved the first series and I'm really looking forward to this one - in fact, I can't remember the last time I looked forward to the start of a new series so much.
I am a fan of the show, but there is one thing about it that really annoys me - well, two things actually. The second thing is more of a complaint about the consequence of the show than a complaint about the show itself.
My main gripe is that the cop, Sam Tyler, who finds himself transported from the 21st century back to 1973 is always portrayed as the one who makes the breakthrough and cracks the investigation through his "superior" knowledge of policing while the 70's cops are generally portrayed as the ignorant heavies whose knowledge of policing extends to being able to use their fists effectively.
The trouble is, this is not how it would be. The police in the seventies did not have access to the forensic science and computer technology they have today and had to rely almost entirely on solid detective work rather than scientific evidence or a search on the Internet. Each individual detective built up a network of informants to provide intelligence and managed them themselves (it's done by committee these days). Without that network and without the grounding in the methods of detection that each detective had in those days, Sam Tyler would literally not have a clue. Instead of being the one teaching the seventies police, he would be the one learning - and benefiting - from the experience of his colleagues.
The simple fact is that detection rates for crimes today are considerably lower than they were in the seventies. Despite all the advances in technology and science the "Sam Tylers" of the modern police are considerably less effective than their seventies counterparts.
I'm sure there will be some cynics who dismiss this and put it down to the fact that police used to "fit up" criminals for crimes they did not commit. I don't think, personally, that would make much difference. For a start, when they did "fit up" someone it would always be someone thoroughly deserving of being "fitted up" - a known criminal who had escaped justice for years and finally got their comeuppance. The other point is, as anyone who follows the adventures of PC Copperfield knows, the modern police use equally underhand methods to distort detection rates.
My other gripe relates to the cars in the show. I'm a lover of classic cars and especially early seventies cars which mark the last breed of human designed vehicles before computers took over completely and turned them into look-a-like blandmobiles. In particular I love the Mk 3 Cortina which came out at a time when a young Stan was just really starting to like cars. The distinctive "coke-bottle" shape, the blend of curves and angles and the US influenced interior really had an impact on me and I've wanted to own one ever since.
For the last 5-6 years I've been trying to find a good, usable Mk3 2000 GXL that I can run without much effort and is reasonably priced. Mk3 Cortinas are probably the most unloved of Cortinas and, although they are usually cheap, finding good ones is not easy.
Just before the start of the first series of Life on Mars I thought I'd finally tracked one down. An almost mint 1972 Mk3 2000 GXL with the early dash and finished in bronze with a vinyl roof. The owner was expecting to sell in the next few months to fund a purchase of a Lotus Cortina, was asking a very reasonable price and said I could have first refusal. When he finally came to sell, Life on Mars had been and gone and the price has risen by £2000.
I had to decline and it's all thanks to that bloody 2000E in the show.