Character Feature: Gene Hunt

Welcome to the first edition of a new feature for this blog where I focus on my favourite characters and discuss why I feel they are incredible creations.

Warning: There may be spoilers in the following article

Gene: “They reckon you’ve got concussion but I couldn’t give a tart’s furry cup if half your brains are falling out… don’t ever waltz into my kingdom acting king of the jungle.”

Sam: “Who the hell are you?”

Gene: “Gene Hunt – your DCI and it’s 1973. Almost dinner time. I’m having hoops!”

Sam Tyler and Alex Drake may have been the stars of Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes respectively but it was their DCI Gene Hunt that stole both shows. In a television world saturated with crime dramas and the modern police methods of forensic science, interview techniques and psychological profiling, he is a throwback to another time.


Appeared in: BBC drama series’ Life on Mars about a modern day Detective named Sam Tyler (played by John Simm) who following a road accident, wakes up in 1973. Hunt also appeared in spin-off Ashes to Ashes in which Keeley Hawes’ character Alex Drake is shot, slips into a coma and wakes up in 1981.

Portrayed by: Philip Glenister in both series

General character: with his politically incorrect one-liners, gruff demeanour and slightly unethical approach to policing, Gene Hunt is a copper you most definitely do not want to get on the wrong side of. He is misogynistic…

There will never be a woman prime minister as long as I have a hole in my arse!

Alex Drake: This requires a cognitive interview procedure.
Gene Hunt: We’re fresh out of cognitives. What say we just talk to her?
Alex Drake: I don’t think she’ll open up with a man present.
Gene Hunt: Plenty of women have opened up to me without so much as a shandy down their necks.

Y’see, this is why birds and CID don’t mix. Give a bloke a gun, it’s a dream come true. Give a girl one, and she moans it doesn’t go with her dress! Now start behaving like a detective and show some balls.

When I need advice from a lobotomised Essex girl, I will ask for it!

He doesn’t suffer fools gladly…

I once punched a bloke for speaking French.

Sam Tyler: Excuse me sir, can you go back behind the cordon, please.
Hugo Barton: Hugo Barton. I’m a reporter from the Gazette.
Gene Hunt: Oh, terrific. [shouts at the hostage taker] Oi! We’ve got another one for you!

The art of interrogating a villain is all about the carrot and the stick. Shove a carrot up his arse and ram it home with a stick. Job-n-finish. Just make sure you wash your hands before handling food products.

He doesn’t get Sam and Alex’s style of policing…

Sam Tyler: I think we need to explore whether this attempted murder was a hate crime.
Gene Hunt: What as opposed to one of those I-really-really-like-you sort of murders?

Sam Tyler: It’s called surveillance.
Gene Hunt: Doesn’t sound very manly.

Alex Drake: What was the estimated time of death?
Gene Hunt: Probably about thirty seconds after they had their throats unzipped.

And for perhaps the first couple of episodes of Life on Mars we see him exactly how Sam sees him: an oafish, misogynistic, brash, small-minded, bigot who spends more time in the pub than at his desk. A man not afraid to use unsavoury methods to get criminals them to confess… but only if he is sure they are guilty and they deserve the harsh treatment. And that is the cause of most of the early friction. Yet…

The complexities of character: Despite all of the above, he is an honourable character. To Gene Hunt, there is nothing more disgusting than a bent copper. When he discovers that such a person exists within his CID in Ashes to Ashes, he is full of disdain. When it turns out that it is Chris Skelton – taking backhanders to dispose of evidence – he is distraught and takes it as a personal failure. Though he he refuses Skelton’s resignation and demands he redeem himself, he ostracises a key member of his team for a time; later he would use Skelton to infiltrate the network. So, despite that he would use every trick in the book to bring down somebody who knows to be guilty, even perhaps illegal activities, it is born out of a strong sense of duty to his job in CID. He falsifies evidence but in a twisted way, it is only to ensure a deserving “scumbag” is put away. He never uses dubious tactics for personal gain such as money or promise of a promotion. His personal philosophy is that there is a fine line between being a copper and a criminal.

Gene Hunt as a good old-fashioned manly man does not open up very well. He keeps his emotions in check and firmly on the exterior. He says what he means and he means what he says. Yet, there are occasional hints of a soft side. During Ashes to Ashes he speaks of Sam Tyler in glowing terms, describing him as a very good personal friend and as one of the best coppers he’d ever met. Sam has gone from a big girl’s blouse to bullet-proof best mate.

We discover in a touching conversation that his father was an abusive alcoholic and that his brother died of a drug overdose. The sense of duty and personal loss in bringing “scumbags” to justice is most likely his greatest justification for his sometimes dubious actions. Scumbags deserve what they get and if you have to break the rules then so be it.

There is a subtle change between the Gene of Life on Mars and of Ashes to Ashes. In the latter, he is less aggressive and more professional. I’m not entirely convinced that this is a change simply of the social differences between policing in the 1970s to the 1980s; it could be simply that Sam Tyler – the “great jessie” – softened him up. It could also be that in Drake he has met his match. She is no sweet, harmless Annie Cartwright and she’s certainly no ditzy Shaz. She will stand up to him and she is highly educated. Deep down, he knows that she has more brains than Chris Skelton and Ray Carling put together.

Despite their clashes, Gene genuinely seems to care about Drake. He gives her all sorts of nicknames, the most repeated of all is “bollyknickers” (after Bollinger champagne). He pokes fun at her, gets annoyed at her modern policing methods, scoffs at her education and repeatedly calls her a “toffee nosed tart”. Yet he trusts her to bring her in on the Police corruption thread of the second season. There does, at times, seem to be genuine affection between the pair despite his reservations in Life on Mars of having “birds” in CID.

When he accidently shoots Drake in the second season (and she seemingly wakes up in the modern day), it is his face she sees on the monitors screaming for her to wake up. At the start of the third season he does manage to wake her up, he berates her for “jumping in front of his shooter” but there is clearly relief in his voice and not just because she is the only one who can confirm that he hadn’t intended to shoot her.

We save the biggest revelation of his character for the end. The final episode is one of the finest pieces of television that I have ever seen. Keeley Hawes and Philip Glenister put on the performance of a lifetime as the big secret is revealed. Throughout the series, we witness clips of a body being dug up in some scrub in the countryside. We are led to believe that this is Tyler’s body and that Hunt killed him; this is certainly what Drake has started to believe. There are unanswered questions about Tyler’s disappearance and Drake, ever looking for a way home, is convinced that discovering Tyler’s fate is her key.

SPOILERThis is Hunt’s body. He was a young uniform officer sent to investigate a burglary at a farmhouse on Coronation Day in 1953 and his body was dumped in a shallow grave. This world is a form of limbo and Gene Hunt has assumed the role of a shepherd helping deceased coppers move on into the afterlife. Yet something has gone wrong and some cannot come to terms with their deaths and remain in limbo. Ray Carling committed suicide after the death of a partner and Chris Skelton was ordered to his death by an over-zealous commanding officer.

Summary: Despite the appearance of being a short-fused and misogynistic knuckle-dragger, Gene Hunt is a complex character. He has a sense of honour to good policing despite that his methods are sometimes unethical. He says what he thinks and thinks what he says. You can’t help but laugh at some of his un-PC ways or the sharp, witty ways in which he deals with people who annoy him but he is the sort of copper that perhaps we could do with sometimes.

2 thoughts on “Character Feature: Gene Hunt

  1. jennieflower

    Gene Hunt is definitely an iconic character but Philip Glenister is such a great actor as well. I recently watched Mad Dogs and both him and John Simm were great in that. Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes are so original and a very worthwhile spend of the license fee. Love the first character feature, can’t wait to see how you top this?!

    1. mgm75

      I’ve not seen Mad Dogs, but I would love to see it! Problem is I do not have Sky so I’m going to have to try to rent the DVDs or something.

      Thanks for your kind comments; I hope to give it a good shot at topping this every month. I’m busting with ideas and it has so far been an interesting way of looking at a character from multiple angles, at face value and how they change over time.

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