Hunt for the Shilling

When BBC’s Life on Mars did not feature Gene Hunt complaining about the newly decimal pound, I found myself complaining about that, recently. It just seemed to fit for a curmudgeon, who was in his 40s when it happened, to bitch about decimalisation, as well as the EU and all that. Maybe he was just too busy keeping Manchester’s streets clean, though.

That’s one of ’em.

However, there’s been a new-ish development which warrants a follow-up to the old article. In season two’s episode two, which I have come around to re-watch recently, Hunt’s team go undercover in a post office as tellers and such in order to nick the bloody bastids who keep robbing places. In a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it sweep, DC Skelton says to the frail old woman at the counter “Oh, I know Luv, I miss the shilling, too.” in a rather mollifying way.

This short establishing shot betrays Life on Mars‘ audience, because in 2007, when the second season premiered, the viewers were far more likely to hear pensioners and octogenarians think fondly of the shilling than they were 40-somethings who, in 2007, hardly even knew the shilling in the first place. As a matter of fact, when Europe (or larger parts of it, anyway) made the change to the Euro back in the day, I found old folks were accepting the new currency much more readily. Most who I had to deal with in my, admittedly limited, professional capacity, were even quite eager to jump on the train and go with the time. They prided themselves of paying with new the currency when it was still permissible to pay with both new and old for paying.

Having Gene and his team complain about decimal currency might have needlessly bogged down the dialogues. Having Gene beat up perps makes him a relic but also shows his hands-on approach and what coppers could and would regularly get away with in the old time, thereby driving the central conflict between the two main protagonists. Including an octogenarian complaining about the demise of the shilling acknowledges the reality of the time while giving modern audiences a better way of relating to that, all the while serving as a nice little joke to boot. In the case of old money and Life on Mars, it is having your cake and eating it, too.

All that being said, a quick mention of the decimal pound in something akin to Gene’s epic rant in season two episode six, which I will include in full at the end of this sentence, might have really added something to the character, you great… soft… sissy… girly… nancy… French… bender… Man United supporting… POOF!


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