BBC Life On Mars: Christmas Crime Dimes.

Set in December 1973, Manchester.

Plot: A murdered shopping mall grotto Father Christmas holds links to a dodgy jewellery market stall run by Doug Lipton using couriers when selling the hooky items as a job lot. He uses the real Santa's helpers as a decoy to shift the diamonds using code words when the kids hand their so called presents to the accomplices, after talking to children and handing out presents during shifts.

Thin winter sun found its way into the gloomy confines of the bedsit.

The air was foggy from the smell of last night's steak, cooked over the gas stove and seasoned with herbs that had taken the occupant all day to track down.

A bottle of Chianti had been sunk but the Detective Inspector, whose home this was, had abandoned a second bottle halfway through when the booze had exacerbated his loneliness and melancholia to unbearable proportions.

When that happened there was nothing left to do but run and hide inside sleep.

For surely; he was already in the deepest of sleeps.

Yet as he opened his eyes and struggled awake in a tangle of bed sheets, Sam Tyler was reminded once again that here he was in 1973.

The TV emitted a piercing whine, the test card screen showing a hollow spot where a certain little girl ought to be.

Sam rolled over. There she was: Test Card Girl. She was smiling coyly and gliding towards him with a sprig of mistletoe in her tiny hand.

Sam pushed himself further up the bed - something in her smile was disturbing him even more than usual.

And that smell! What was it? Rich, scented and burnt. Test Card Girl peered over him, holding the mistletoe overhead.

And then she screamed full blast into his face, causing Sam to flinch and clutch at his covers.


The streets were bordered by corrugated iron and barbed wire, a beleaguered part of Manchester.

The Ford Cortina Mk III tore up back alleys and slewed to a tyre-shredding stop. Sam jolted against his seat belt - he was the only person in the car who bothered to wear one. Noddy Holder bellowed again from the dashboard radio: "It's CHRIIIIIISTMAAAAAASSSSS!"

DCI Gene Hunt climbs out; a festive Panatela clenched between his teeth.

He strode inside the filthy lock-up to where DS Ray Carling and DC Chris Skelton were waiting.

Sam pulled his leather jacket to his body and followed. Why did the December wind seem so much colder here in '73?

Chris and Ray were guarding a body. "It's Father Christmas," Chris informed them. "Dead as Brucie Lee. Shot in the knackers. Unlike Bruce Lee," he added pointlessly.

"Now that's just plain nasty," growled Gene, nudging the red-and-white-clad corpse with the toe of his patent leather tasselled loafer. "Okay boys, round up the usual Christmas pixies."

Sam examined the body and grimaced at the treacly blood congealed around the gun wound.

"Do we have an ID, Ray?"

"Red hood, big white beard, last seen ho-ho-hoing down the precinct in a flying sleigh. How much ID d'you want, Boss?"

Sam shrugged. "Well, he must've had something in his sack that someone wanted pretty badly."

"An Action Man with grippy hands," said Chris, who did not appear to be joking.

"Whatever it was, someone was happy to blow his baubles off to get it," said Gene. "Any witnesses?"

Ray shook his head and blinked heavily - he appeared to be having trouble focusing for sustained periods. Sam was suspicious. "Ray, have you been drinking? It's not even ten."

"Oh come on, it's Christmas," snorted Ray.

"It's Chriiiiiistmaaaasassssss!" shrieked Chris.

"And everybody's having fun, Sammy boy, so zip it," intoned Gene.

He was being lax about CID's behaviour this Christmas and perhaps, Sam reflected, was wise to do so.

The three-day week was biting as hard as the winter wind, they were subsisting on woeful wage cuts and no amount of Gene exhorting them to do it for the Queen made any of them feel cheerier about working unpaid shifts.

Sam sifted through the rubbish surrounding the body. Gene swept up one of the papers.

"Space Probe Pioneer 10 Reaches Jupiter. What's the bleeding point? There's nothing out there."

"I don't know," muttered Sam to himself. "I'm beginning to think there's life on other planets. I'm living on one now."


"Hold on," barked Sam, holding up what appeared to be a shard of glass. He tossed it to Gene who gave it a cursory eyeballing. It wasn't glass. Not by a long chalk.

"Well grease me up with brandy butter and drop me down Larry Grayson's chimney," breathed Gene, turning the diamond in his fingers.

"You're spoiling me Samantha - all I wanted was socks and Old Spice."

"It's a quality stone," Sam pointed out. Ray nodded blearily.

"Bet old Santa had a secret stash. Someone plugged him and had it away with 'em."

Gene flipped the diamond, caught it and jammed it into his pocket.

"Right then. Dougie Lipton."

Sam squinted. "Who?"

"Dopey Dougie the dodgy diamonds dealer. Hooky ice is his line and rather fortuitously he is scared s******* of moi. Hop in the motor lads, we're dropping round Dougie's for a spot of sherry."

A loafer crashed the door in.

"Merry Christmas, Avon calling," Gene growled as he pushed through the doorway and into Dougie's flat like, a bear in a camel coat.

From a corner portable, Leo Sayer was singing that the show must go on, although Sam heartily hoped that this show would end. Dougie was trying to make his escape through the window.

Gene grabbed one white hairy leg and Sam the other. Together they hauled Dougie Lipton back into the room.

Dougie struggled to make another break for it but a strong hand in a string-backed leather driving glove clamped around his testicular zone had inspired him to stay put.

"I ain't saying nowt, copper!" Dougie protested. "I want a brief!"

"As luck would have it, I am qualified to give legal advice," said Gene. He squeezed Dougie's groin like a satsuma. Dougie responded with a series of Bee Gee noises.

"That's enough, Guv," advised Sam.

"No, this is better than charades." Gene was just warming up.

"Nuts. You gotta have nuts at Christmas time. Ray, get the nutcrackers."

"Guv, I would remind you this is tantamount to torture."

"Tantamount?! That's no good, I want it to be the real thing." Gene squeezed harder. Dougie looked close to passing out. "I'll ... talk..."

Gene released him. "Dead Santa. Hooky diamonds. What's the SP?"

Dougie chewed his lip but spoke up at last. "Your Father Christmas . . . real name Gary Keeble."

"Well, well. Keeble wobbles and this one fell down."

"I've heard of him," remarked Ray. "He's just small tatties."

Dougie was warming to his theme.

"A mate of a mate's mate told me - big stash of stones in town and the blokes who've got 'em need to shift 'em quick. But they can't do it all at once, draws too much heat from the Law. Know what I mean?"

"Yes, we understand the concept," said Sam. "We're coppers."

"So they get this plan to sell the ice on job-lot using a courier in disguise. A courier who could carry three grand's worth of diamonds around without attracting any attention."

Sam's eyes lit up: "Santa! Keeble was the courier in disguise!"

Dougie nodded. "Keeble sat in this grotto in the shopping centre. Talked to the brats all day, right? Hands 'em prezzies.

"When one of the kids says he wants a diamond for Christmas then Keeble knew that's the code."

Gene raised an eyebrow. "The codeword for diamond was 'diamond'? In-bloody-genious."

Sam was drawing connections. "So he gives that kid the present with the diamonds in it and the kid takes it straight to the fence!"

Dougie grinned eagerly. "They could shift tons, right under your noses. Keeble got greedy, though, tried to keep a few for himself. T**t."

"So who's behind this?" demanded Sam. "We want names!"

"I don't know names! I swear!" Gene flexed a gloved hand - leather creaked.

"I swear, Mr Hunt!"

"Raymondo, nutcrackers."

"I'll end up like Keeble if I squeal!"

"He's right, Guv," said Sam, who could see the sense in a less bombastic approach. But then he always could.

"If he tells us then his life is worth spit and that means we are duty-bound to place him in some form of witness protection which currently, given the present economic climate, we do not have the sufficient funds for... "

"Shut up Rudolph, I lost interest after the words 'duty-bound'. Luckily for the good people of Gotham, the Gene-Genie has a plan."

"Well I wish it could be Christmas every day/When the kids start singing and the band begins to play ... Let the bells ring out for Christmas!"

At least Wizzard were enjoying themselves over the PA system of the Coldbay Shopping Centre.

Sam, on the other hand, felt coerced into a reckless, Boy's Own scheme that was likely to lose them the diamonds and get somebody killed. This was ridiculous even by Gene Hunt's giddy standards.

The only consolation was in the newly appointed DC assigned with him.

Annie Cartwright had a tight dark coat belted around her waist. Her hair sprung over her upturned collar.

She looked nervous, alert, keen and youthfully excited and this cocktail of feelings served to make her achingly attractive to Sam.

She shivered, as much from anticipation as from cold. He rubbed her arm, savouring the contact.

"Undercover operation Sammy boy," Gene had briefed them earlier. "You and wonder-boobs can act like a lovey-dovey couple out Christmas shopping. Posted on the ground floor. Hang about near Mothercare.

"You're carrying enough weight, sweetheart, to pass for up the duff."

Sam had been ready to defend her but Annie had stopped him with a quick look. This was water off a duck's back to her. Sam was always reminding himself that Annie was a product of this society.

Gene's remarks were no surprise; they simply came with the territory.

Gene had rumbled on: "Ray, on the balcony overlooking the concourse. You'll be packing heat so lay off the giggle-juice a bit, right? Don't want shaky hands."

"Christopher, you will have the singular honour of working directly with me."

"Fantastic," Chris had beamed then paused. "Uhh, what are we up to then, Guv?"

What they were up to seemed to Sam like utter madness. But then here they were, carrying it out.

In the middle of the shopping centre a lopsided grotto had been hastily assembled.

Little more than a tinsel-fringed pile held together with Sellotape, Juicy Fruits and wishful thinking. Outside the grotto, in green bodice, curly shoes and droopy hat with bells, waited Chris.

He was gradually warming to the role of Santa's chief elf and had been chatting happily to children all afternoon.

From within the grotto came a burst of frightened crying and a little girl in a Magic Roundabout coat rushed out in tears.

She was followed by Santa himself, a shambolic mound of red felt and tatty white trims, a grey beard looking like road-kill across his stubbly chin, a Player's No6 smouldering between his fingers.

This was DCI Father Christmas, on duty, undercover and ready to finger a mob of murderous diamond smugglers.

The next child was about to go in with his mummy. Gene held them both at bay. "You might wanna give the grotto a minute to clear love. Bit rank in there. A dodgy Lapland curry."

"It's going to be a disaster," moaned Sam.

Annie shrugged. "We've got no choice now. Don't worry, I'll protect you."

He caught her eye and grinned. But this was no game. The stakes were high. The danger was real. When the killers of Gary Keeble turned up looking for the stash they might well have them in custody and be back in time for Crackerjack.

But if there was just one hitch and guns were drawn...

Sam's worst-case scenario was broken by the overpowering smell that had haunted him in his bedsit that morning. Sweet, sickly but with an overlying burning.

It was filling his nostrils and clearly Annie couldn't smell it. What the hell was it?

Ray's voice crackled over the radio. "North of the entrance." Annie wrinkled her face. "Bogeys? That sounds a bit disgusting."

And then she clocked what Ray had spotted from the balcony: two men carrying presents heading across the concourse towards the grotto.

One of them looked like Burt Reynolds after a particularly disastrous bout of dental surgery - the other looked like Bruce Forsyth's gone to the-bad younger brother.

"This is it," hissed Sam into his radio. "All units stay alert. Low key, right"

From his grotto, Gene looked across at Sam and made a gesture no Father Christmas should ever make and retreated through his silver tinsel curtain.

Burt and Brucie made a beeline for the grotto and slipped inside. Sam felt his nerve-endings zinging.

He was acutely aware of everything - the gun under his jacket, the warmth of Annie beside him and the rapid pounding of her heart.

Ray was sloshed and in possession of a Magnum on the balcony.

Chris was lurking among the woolly-hatted shoppers and balaclava-covered kids, every one of them a potential target should this sting go belly-up.

It was worryingly quiet inside the grotto.

Chris was nodding to a nine-year old boy. "Oh yeah, the gripping hands. Just come out. You know if you buy the submarine, you get an Action Man free. Ask Santa when you see him. It works great in the bath. The submarine, not Santa"

Sam began to move forward across the concourse. Something was wrong. It was too quiet in the grotto. He should be in there. In fact he never should have allowed a reckless op like this to be implemented.

"Sam?" Annie was keeping pace with him. His concern was infectious.

Chris was standing up, having chatted with the boy. He was sweating. Ray was moving along the balcony railings, hand slipping under his jacket.

Sam made gestures to them both to keep cool, at which point great manly bellows erupted from behind the tinsel curtain.

The grotto shook and lurched to the side before falling apart altogether.

Brucie came crashing through its frost-decked walls, carried by the force of a blow to the chin. He landed senseless at Sam's feet.

Santa Hunt was now revealed, standing firm amid a ruin of tinsel and wrapping paper, locked in a struggle with the snaggle-toothed Burt Reynolds.

They scraped and snarled over possession of the villain's handgun.

Shoppers screamed. Children saw Santa fighting over a gun and were instantly shattered emotionally.

Ray drew his revolver but with the panicky crowds and a gallon of Watney's Red Barrel inside him, a clear shot was hopeless.

"No shooting!" bellowed Sam as he rushed towards Gene's aid. But as if to issue a cosmic challenge to Sam's determination, Burt Reynolds's gun went off.

A harsh smack of noise and Sam felt the heat of the bullet zip past his ear.

He launched himself into the fray, bringing Burt down hard on the concrete floor. Gene took the chance to deliver two powerful blows to Burt's nose which broke like it was made of biscuit.

Burt's eyes rolled up into their sockets as he lost consciousness. Panting, Sam and Gene exchanged looks.

"There you go Doris, textbook."

Sam's rebuke caught in his throat. Chris had seen it too and his mouth was slack with shock. Ray was bellowing something from high above. It was something about an ambulance now.

Annie was sprawled across the floor, felled instantly where the bullet found her. And Sam felt an almost physical punch to his heart as he knew in that second that she was dead.