The 70s-est Things In Life On Mars

It’s not just the big hair, flapping flares and jolly police brutality that Sam Tyler has to contend with in the 1970s. It’s all this stuff as well…

Life on Mars


"Watch out, there's a thief about!" No, this isn't the opening to a terrible 70s sitcom, but a public information film Sam overhears shortly after waking up in 1973. The decade saw the rise of these eerie, often terrifying adverts, which used animation, dramatized sequences and jolting electronic sound effects to instill terror in adults and kids alike.

One of the most famous films featured a cartoon lad approached by a stranger in a park, and wisely rejecting the man's offer to "see some puppies". Another showed a shadowy, hooded figure - "the spirit of dark and lonely water" - watching a child almost drown. These films became iconic pop culture symbols of the 70s and 80s, and still provide shivers today.


Anyone who was a child in the 70s will come over all nostalgic when they see Sam's father flying a Thunderbird 2 toy. Although Thunderbirds is, technically speaking, a product of the 1960s, it feels every bit as 70s as space hoppers and black forest gateau. The most famous of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson's "Supermarionation" shows, which include Stingray and Captain Scarlet, Thunderbirds quickly became iconic for its catchphrase ("Thunderbirds Are Go!") and rousingly military-style theme song. Hearing that is enough to make anyone want to clamber aboard a rickety rocket and fight the bad guys.


We may be a nation of foodies these days, but this was most certainly not the case in 1973. Back then, some melon draped in ham was considered chic and sophisticated, and one of the go-to restaurants of the age was the Berni Inn. Mentioned by Gene Hunt as somewhere he likes to go when he fancies something a bit "different", the steakhouse chain had a menu groaning with 70s staples.

They included the ubiquitous prawn cocktail ("on a bed of crisp lettuce") and the awfully exotic chicken cordon bleu (fried chicken breast stuffed with cheese and ham). Berni Inns may seem vaguely embarrassing in the 21st Century, where even your nan is probably putting photos of Ethiopian dishes on her Facebook page, but they were the 70s equivalent of today's gastropubs. And the prawn cocktails were probably delicious.


Did you know that, in the early 70s, T.Rex were pretty much as big as the Beatles? The rock band had a string of Top 10 singles, including their landmark smash-hit, 20th Century Boy, and curly-maned singer Marc Bolan became a glam rock superstar into the bargain. Like many a musical icon before and since, Bolan died young, perishing in a car crash in 1977.

Being a fan of classic rock, Sam Tyler is stunned when he sees Bolan in a nightclub, chatting up a couple of ladies in a fantastically egotistical way. "If god were to appear in my room," Bolan says, "obviously I'd be in awe, but I don't think I'd be humbled." Sam can't resist stepping over to shake his hero's hand, and offer a bit of advice: "Drive carefully, OK? Especially in Minis."


Keep your eyes peeled when we get a glimpse of Sam's childhood home. You'll see a copy of Hotspur, a classic boys' magazine which dates right back to the 1930s. Packed with stories and comics, it was still a popular read in the 70s, and is fondly remembered alongside Bunty, The Topper and The Eagle - colourful and thrilling publications which were eagerly consumed in the days before kids had their attention spans ruined by laptops, tablets and games consoles.


What Lynx was to the 90s and Noughties, Hai Karate was to the 1970s. This "classic" aftershave - which plays a crucial part in a case investigated by Sam Tyler - was once liberally applied to the cheeks and necks of Britain's menfolk. And why was it called Hai Karate? Well, you'd apparently require martial arts skills to fend off all the women lured in by the scent. As one advert put it, "Use too much and you're asking for trouble, because just one whiff drives women wild - it makes men irresistible." The bottles even came with little instructions on self-defence, in case all the female attention got too much.


Back in the 70s, pubs were pubs. They were places for men (mainly men) to drink beer in a comforting fug of cigarette smoke. Not like today, where your average pub serves up Thai green curry and fancy cocktails while TVs blare in every corner. The difference hits home when Sam and Gene turn up in their local boozer with a television which Gene has "liberated" from some criminals ("Think of it as a tax on bad people"). Sam helpfully suggests hooking up the TV in the pub so people can watch the sport - a suggestion which makes the barman glare at him like he's suddenly talking Spanish. Sport? In a pub? Nonsense.