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Suburban Swingers
Written by: Ashley Pharoah
Director: Richard Clark
Antagonists: Roger Twilling
Previous episode: The Bombing
Next episode: The Kidnapping

The fourth episode of the second series of the British time travel police procedural television series, Life on Mars, was first broadcast on 13 March 2007. The episode, known erroneously as "Suburban Swingers", was produced by Kudos Film & Television for BBC One.


The body of a young woman is found in wasteland. The investigation takes the team to suburbia, where a local car dealer is throwing private parties, employing make-up girls from a local company to “help out” when the wife-swapping begins. Posing as married couple Tony and Cherie Blair, Sam and Annie Cartwright infiltrate one of the parties, only to discover that it isn't as simple as they think.

Detailed Plot Summary[]

Young Sam Tyler lies sick in his room clutching his teddy. A young woman in red, Sam’s Auntie Heather, peeps in at him and smiles. She comforts Sammie and leans down to kiss him, and everything blurs. Then we see the adult Sam Tyler waking up in his bed-sit. He switches on the TV, hoping for a message, but gets nothing.

Kids are playing on some waste land when Sam and DCI Gene Hunt arrive in the Cortina. One of the girls, a Tourette’s sufferer swearing a blue streak, has found a body. DC Chris Skelton and DS Ray Carling show them a dead woman in her twenties. Sam examines the body and smells something familiar on the woman’s hair.

At the morgue, Ray quizzes Chris about a girl he’s met. Gene and Ray discuss how far Chris can expect to go on the first date. Ray figures “inside downstairs” with the help of some Pernod and black. The pathologist reports the woman died of a blow to the head and probably wasn’t raped. He also found a red flower clutched in the dead woman’s hand.

Back at the station, Gene recounts the five-year-old case of “Manc the Knife”, a rapist and murderer CID finally caught and put away and who died in prison two years before. A visibly upset WDC Annie Cartwright enters with another detective who explains that Annie lost a young suspect when he groped her breast and ran off. Gene angrily refocuses attention on himself, recalling that the killer had put a crushed geranium in every victim’s hand, and that if they got the wrong man five years ago, there’s a killer still on the loose. But there’s still time to go the pub first.

Sam offers to walk Annie home, but asserting her independence, she declines.

Walking down the street, Sam sees a woman suddenly thrown out of a red and white sports car. In a pub, Sam tries to get information from the girl (Denise Williams) but she is deliberately unhelpful. Sam gets drinks at the bar, but returns to an empty table.

Back at the station, Sam explains to Gene that he recognized the murder victim’s perfume (and Denise’s) because his Aunty Heather used it. She was a Beauvoir Lady, a door-to-door cosmetics sales lady. Gene gives him two hours to find a connection.

Chris and Sam are making phone inquiries. Chris tells Gene and Ray that his date didn’t go well. WPC Phyllis Dobbs interrupts to say a man called to report his wife missing, and that she’s a Beauvior Lady. Later, in the morgue, the lady’s husband identifies her body.

Sam and Annie sit in a car outside the Beauvoir building. He talks fondly about his Auntie Heather. Suddenly he hears her voice on the radio, but it disappears. As the Beauvoir Ladies come out of the building, Sam spots Denise, but she turns and runs. Annie gives chase and firmly holds her.

Back at the station, Annie and Sam interrogate Denise, but she refuses to answer out of fear. After Sam shows her a picture of Sandra Trotman’s body, Denise tells about wife-swapping parties she attended with the dead girl. They would serve drinks and “help out” if needed. The host became quite fond of Sandra, but when Denise asked him about her, he threw her out of the car.

Outside a car dealership, Sam briefs Gene on Roger Twilling, local businessman and host of discreet sex parties. Gene is sceptical that Twilling is the type of brutal murderer they’re looking for, but agrees to pull him in. Sam doesn’t think that will work, and, later in the pub, proposes surveillance. Gene doesn’t think it’s very manly, but Sam insists it’s the way of the future. Meanwhile, Chris reports that his date didn’t go exactly to plan. Having over-indulged on the Pernod and black himself, Chris was sick all over his date, much to Gene and Ray’s amusement.

Later, while Sam is jogging, he hears a public phone ringing. He answers it and hears his Auntie Heather’s voice, but the line goes dead. Back at his bed-sit, he tries unsuccessfully to communicate with his television.

Next day at the station, Sam is tinkering with a radio when Chris asks him for dating advice (the girl he threw up on gave him another chance). A little annoyed at being interrupted, Sam tells Chris to be himself and treat the girl with respect. Tittering from behind Sam, and the tinny sound of Annie singing, reveals that Ray and the boys have bugged the ladies’ toilet.

Sam comes to Gene telling him that the pathologist from the old murder case bought a car from Roger Twilling and that Twilling may have thereby learned details of the “flower of death” enabling him to copy the murders. That night, CID break into Twilling’s dealership to plant a bug. Despite such silliness as hiding from “the law” when a police car drives by, they manage to complete the mission.

Crammed in a van later, the team hear Twilling and his wife talking. Not much concrete is heard, but the couple mention a tennis club, and Sam proposes going under cover. To pose as a couple, Sam and Annie rehearse their background story, with a little flirting thrown in.

At the tennis club, Annie chats with Roger Twilling as the rest of the team watch from the van. Sam joins Annie, and “Tony” and “Cherie Blair” accept a dinner party invitation from the Twillings.

At the party, while Annie chats to Roger, Sam does some snooping upstairs. Just after finding a Beauvoir uniform in a bedroom closet, Carol Twilling comes in. Sam covers by saying he was looking for her. Downstairs, Annie and Twilling have been discussing the “amazing parties” they have, and the “Blairs” seem to have made it on the guest list.

Back at the station, Sam seems irritated and warns Annie about the danger they will be in. Phyllis enters to say that Denise’s mother has come to report her daughter missing. Sam and Gene interview Mrs. Williams and Sam vows to find Denise.

Annie and Sam arrive at the wife-swapping party. Sam again reminds Annie of the danger of the situation, and gives her the code word if they have to leave: Santana.

After a bit of dinner (served by young ladies in togas) the evening’s entertainment gets under way. The men put their keys in a bowl and the ladies take off their dresses. Annie is last, and starts to remove her top when Gene barges in with a young woman. Thinking fast, Sam introduces “Gordon Brown”. Twilling is angry, but leaves the room with the other guests to vote whether Gene can stay. Meanwhile, Gene explains to Sam that he came because the radio stopped working. Twilling and his guests decide that “Gordon” can stay.

Everyone pairs off, Annie with Roger Twilling and Sam with Carol Twillling. Upstairs with Carol, Sam undresses slowly, gently probing for information about her husband and their parties. Sam hears Annie shouting from another room and he and Gene burst in to see Annie standing over Twilling and brandishing a whip. Much to Annie’s irritation, since she was getting useful information out of him, Sam and Gene decide to pull him in.

Back at the station, Twilling, with his solicitor, is questioned about the murdered girls, but every answer is “no comment”. When the solicitor threatens to tell the papers about three detectives attending a swapping party, Twilling gets the upper hand.

In the cells, Carol also refuses to give anything away. Walking away, Sam spots his Auntie Heather among the Beauvoir ladies there for questioning, and calls out to her. Heather is repulsed by what she sees as a cheap chat-up line, and Sam is near tears as she leaves.

Feeling defeated, Sam and Gene mope at Sam’s desk. Annie walks in and tells them that she put a radio transmitter in Twilling’s car and they all hear Denise’s voice begging to be released. They race to Twilling’s house, but he again claims to know nothing, although he reveals that he was in love with one of the murdered girls. Nothing adds up until they suddenly hear Carol’s voice on the radio. When they hear a girl’s voice uttering swear words, they realize that it’s the Tourette’s girl who found the first body and race back to the waste land.

Sam pulls up beside a caravan and rushes in to pull Carol off Denise as she tries to suffocate the younger woman with a pillow. Annie frog-marches Carol away as Sam comforts Denise.

Later at the Railway Arms, Gene gives Annie the privilege of buying him a drink, and Ray asks him about the sex party. Gene responds in a way that is both biblical and filthy at the same time. Chris thanks Sam for his advice and reports that his date went well. Catching up with Annie outside the pub, Sam offers to walk her home, but she's off to meet some mates. They say goodnight as Sam struggles with his feelings.

Back home, Sam eats in front of the TV and sees his Auntie Heather as a presenter on a music show. She speaks to Sam, repeating her words from the beginning of the episode, then introduces another song.


Cultural references[]

  • Sam tells Gene that the young girl uttering offensive words has probably got Tourette's. Tourette’s syndrome is an inherited neuro-psychiatric disorder that starts in childhood, characterised by multiple physical (motor) tics and at least one vocal (phonic) tic. Coprolalia (the spontaneous utterance of socially objectionable or taboo words or phrases) is the most well known symptom of Tourette's (and popular with the arts and media), but only about 10% of Tourette's patients exhibit it.
  • Ray advises Chris to “get a pint of Pernod and black down her... do what you like to her after that.” Pernod and black is a mixed drink made with blackcurrant cordial and Pernod liqueur. The sweetness of the drink leads to it being labeled a ladies drink, and the high alcohol content of the liqueur no doubt explains its appeal to Ray as useful in relaxing the inhibitions of a date.
  • Gene explains that the killer he arrested five years before was nick-named “Manc the Knife”. This is a pun on “Mack the Knife”, a character (and a famous song) from the Bertold Brecht-Kurt Weill musical adaptation of The Beggar’s Opera, retitled The Three Penny Opera. “Manc” is a sometimes-affectionate, sometimes-derogatory nick-name for a person from Manchester. It is a short form of “Mancunian”.
  • Denise is seen smoking Kensitas cigarettes. This brand was first manufactured by the Gallaher tobacco company in the 1940s. Only sold in the UK,  today it is a largely forgotten brand of cigarettes. 
  • Denise tells Sam that Twilling is “a powerful man. He knows all sorts. Masons, coppers …” Freemasonry is an ancient fraternal organisation whose modern form took root in 17th century. Freemasonry now exists in various forms all over the world, with over a quarter of a million under the jurisdiction of the United Grand Lodge of England. It is a common misconception among many in the UK that Masonry is simply an “old boys club” of powerful men who protect each other at all costs. In fact, it is a system of morality based on belief in a supreme being, religious tolerance, truth, charity, and brotherly love.
  • During their stakeout of Twilling, Gene is seen pouring the remains of a Sherbet Fountain sweet packet into his mouth. Sherbet Fountains are a kind of confectionery popular in the United Kingdom produced by George Bassett & Co, commonly known as Bassetts. A simple sweet composed of a liquorice stick and a large tube of sherbet, the traditional method of consumption is to lick the liquorice stick and dunk it into the sherbet in order to coat it, thereby providing the consumer with a stick-load of sherbet that can be bitten or licked as desired. Usually, the content of sherbet in a Sherbet Fountain packet would outlast the lifetime of the liquorice stick provided, hence Gene's pragmatic means of finishing his by pouring it into his mouth. For the remainder of the stake-out scene, a notable amount of pinkish-white powder, the sherbet residue from his Fountain, is visible on his upper lip.
  • Roger Twilling lives in Chorlton. Chorlton-cum-Hardy is an affluent suburban area of the city of Manchester, England. It is known locally as Chorlton. It is situated about four miles southwest of Manchester city centre.
  • Sam spots Denise being thrown out of a red Lotus. The vehicle is a 1972 Lotus Elan Sprint convertible.
  • While placing a listening device in Roger Twilling’s premises, Sam says, “believe it or not, Guv, one day soon, something like this will bring down Richard Nixon.” Sam is referring to the Watergate scandal, often called, "the scandal that brought down a president," which was a series of revelations of unethical and illegal activity by top aides to President Richard Nixon. It started with the arrest of five men attempting to bug the Democratic National Party headquarters in the Watergate Hotel in Washington, DC in June 1972. By “this” Sam is probably not thinking of the botched attempt at bugging, but about the Oval Office recordings made by Nixon himself which became a focus of the scandal. Nixon did not resign until summer 1974, but Nelson was aware of Watergate in Series 1: Episode 4, and by summer 1973, Nixon’s closest advisers were either indicted, convicted, resigned, or fired. It seems odd therefore, that Gene finds it “hard to believe” bugging would bring down Nixon, as the scandal should have been well underway at the time of the episode.
  • After Chris passes gas in the van, Gene says, “What have you been eating? Pedigree Chum?” Pedigree Chum is a brand of dog food (it’s “chum” as in “friend”, not as in salmon or fish bait) made by Pedigree Pet Foods.
  • While undercover, Sam tells Twilling that he drives a “Rover, P6 V8.” The Rover Company is a former British car manufacturing company (founded as “Starley & Sutton Co. of Coventry” in 1878) which launched the Rover P6 in 1963. By 1973, Rover had been absorbed into the Leyland Motor Corporation (LMC), which in turn had merged with British Motor Holdings (BMH) and became the British Leyland Motor Corporation. The car that Sam and Annie arrive at the party in is a 1971 Rover 3500 V8 (Licence No. SDX 119J).
  • Decribing the party, Twilling says, “Oh, nothing fancy. Just some nicely chilled Blue Nun and a few vol-au-vents.” Blue Nun is a German wine brand launched by the company H. Sichel Söhne (Mainz) in 1923 with the 1921 vintage, and which between the 1950s and 1980s was probably the largest international wine brand. A vol-au-vent (from the French "flight in the wind", or "windblown”) is a culinary term meaning a small canapé—circular pieces of puff pastry with a small hole that accommodates various fillings, such as mushrooms, prawns, fruit, cheese, etc. It is thus named because of the lightness of its pastry. In the 1970s, these were the height of suburban sophistication.
  • Sam has to quickly reverse himself when he realizes he’s the only one at the party not thrilled with putting on a Santana album. Santana is a rock band based around guitarist Carlos Santana and founded in the late 1960s. Their first, self-titled album was a hit, and they had success with following albums, Abraxas and Santana III. By 1973, they had produced five albums, four of which were in the top 10 in the UK. By 2006, they were still performing and recording albums.
  • Twilling opines that the world is changing, saying, “My father thought he was lucky with a semi-detached and a packet of Woodbines.” Semi-detached housing consists of pairs of houses built side by side as units sharing a common wall and usually in such a way that each house's layout is a mirror image of its twin. Woodbine is a brand of cigarette made in England by W. D. & H. O. Wills (now Imperial Tobacco) since 1888. Noted for its strong unfiltered cigarettes, the brand was popular in the early 20th century, especially with soldiers during the World Wars.
  • Sam warns Annie about the danger they will be in, and she starts to sing, “anything you can do—” This is the first line of the song, "Anything You Can Do" composed by Irving Berlin for the 1946 Broadway musical, Annie Get Your Gun. The song is a spirited duet between Frank Butler and Annie Oakley as they attempt to outdo each other in increasingly complex tasks. The full line is, “Anything you can do, I can do better,” but Sam cuts Annie off before she finishes, worriedly telling her it’s not a competition.
  • Annie teasingly says to Sam, “hope you've got clean Y-fronts on, sir.” “Y-fronts” is a common British expression for briefs-type underwear. The term comes from the inverted Y-shape formed by the seams at the front of the underpants which—at least when men wore high-waisted trousers and braces—allow easy access when urinating.
  • Sam tells a guest at the party that his only trip to Spain was to Barcelona. “I went to see the Gaudí.” Antoni Gaudí i Cornet (1852–1926) was a Spanish Catalan architect and the best-known representative of Catalan Modernism. Gaudí's works are marked by a highly individual style and the vast majority of them are situated in the Catalan capital of Barcelona, including his magnum opus, the Sagrada Família.
  • Twilling explains a rumour that was around at the time of this episode: “The TUC have got Heath on the rack … but if Wilson gets back in, there's a secret plan for the armed forces to oust him and put Mountbatten in as head of state.” The Trades Union Congress (TUC) is a national trade union centre, a federation of trade unions in the United Kingdom, representing the majority of trade unions. “Heath” refers to Edward Heath (1916–2005), the then Conservative Prime Minister. “Wilson” is  Harold Wilson (1916–1995), then Labour leader of the opposition, and “Mountbatten” is Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma (1900–1979). It seems unlikely Mountbatten was intended to be head of state (which would have meant ousting the queen). If he were to be put in place of the prime minister, he would, of course, be head of government.
  • Sam and Annie adopt the noms-de-guerre of Tony and Cherie Blair when they go undercover, being the names of the British prime minister (Tony Blair, 1953–) and his wife (Cherie Blair, 1954–) from Sam's own time. When Gene Hunt gate-crashes the party, Sam hastily gives him the name "Gordon Brown", Tony Blair's chancellor of the exchequer and successor as prime minister. Needless to say, Brown's wife isn't called Suki.
  • During the key lottery, Gene says, “better than Mr & Mrs, this." Mr & Mrs is a television game show that originated in Canada in 1963, and which tested couples' knowledge of one another. The show aired for over twenty years in the UK, from 1973 onwards.
  • At the end of the program, Sam’s Auntie Heather appears as a presenter on TV. She identifies the song just sung as, "Twelfth Of Never". "The Twelfth of Never" is a popular song recorded by Johnny Mathis (1935–) and later by artists including Cliff Richard (1940–) and, more importantly here, by Donny Osmond (1957) in 1973, when it reached #1 on the UK charts in March. Heather then introduces Gilbert O’Sullivan and “Alone again (Naturally)”. Gilbert O'Sullivan (1946–) is an Irish-English singer-songwriter, best known for his early 1970s hits including "Alone Again (Naturally)", as well as "Clair" and "Get Down". The music magazine, Record Mirror, voted him the No. 1 UK male singer of 1972 and the song reached #3 on the singles UK charts.



Original broadcast[]

  • "Lay Down" - Strawbs
  • "I'm Ready" - Frankie Miller
  • "Court In The Act" - Lindisfarne
  • "Samba Pa Ti" - Santana
  • "Coz I Luv You" - Slade
  • "Aladdin Sane" - David Bowie
  • "Rock On" - T.Rex
  • "Alone Again (Naturally)" - Gilbert O'Sullivan

International version/DVD release[]

  • "The Story In Your Eyes" - The Moody Blues
  • "I'm Ready" - Frankie Miller
  • "Court In The Act" - Lindisfarne
  • "Samba Pa Ti" - Santana
  • "Coz I Luv You" - Slade
  • "Aladdin Sane" - David Bowie
  • "Rock On" - T.Rex
  • "Alone Again (Naturally)" - Gilbert O'Sullivan
Episodes of Life on Mars/Ashes to Ashes
Life on Mars:
Series 1 (2006): Episode 1   Episode 2   Episode 3   Episode 4   Episode 5   Episode 6   Episode 7   Episode 8
Series 2 (2007): Episode 1   Episode 2   Episode 3   Episode 4   Episode 5   Episode 6   Episode 7   Episode 8  
Ashes to Ashes:
Series 1 (2008): Episode 1   Episode 2   Episode 3   Episode 4   Episode 5   Episode 6   Episode 7   Episode 8  
Series 2 (2009): Episode 1   Episode 2   Episode 3   Episode 4   Episode 5   Episode 6   Episode 7   Episode 8  
Series 3 (2010): Episode 1   Episode 2   Episode 3   Episode 4   Episode 5   Episode 6   Episode 7   Episode 8  
Mini Episodes:
Fire Up the Quattro (2008)   Ashes to Ashes does Sport Relief (2010)