Rolling back the years.. and sleeves

As Gene Hunt returns to our screens, dust off the 80s and let your memories rise from the ashes

THUNDERING around the sprung wooden floor, the noise of the skaters' wheels was almost drowned out by George Michael's Wham Rap. The air was heavy with Silvikrin, Silk Cut and teenage hormones as under the glitterball and flashing lights, ra-ra skirts flounced, leg warmers were artfully positioned and roller-boot laces tightened.

It's Edinburgh, it's the early 1980s and Coasters in Tollcross is the only place to be – if you're under 18. After 9pm, though, the skates would be packed away and the neon-clad nightclub, Outer Limits, would take over – a club where the words style and taste were never uttered over a Pina Colada.

Clothes were bright enough to make your eyes water; shades of cerise pink, jade green and royal blue flashed everywhere – but mostly on Chelsea boot clad feet. Jeans were Saspirilla stretch, ties were leather and shiny suits were worn with rolled-up sleeves.

For today's generation of 30-40 somethings, Coasters/Outer Limits, the Bermuda Triangle, Styx in George Street and Bobby McGees in Rose Street are the stuff memories are made of. Memories that will be dragged up all over again when tonight the follow-up to the successful detective drama Life on Mars is screened on BBC1.

Ashes to Ashes sees the return of DCI Gene Hunt, although this time it's London in 1981 and his methods of policing are as out of date as his 1973 Ford Cortina (which has been replaced by a bright red Audi Quattro). But while the original series seemed a real step back to a time of platforms and flares, Ashes to Ashes seems somehow more touchable. Perhaps it's because 80s fashions have made a reappearance on the catwalks, but from DC Chris Skelton's skinny leather belt and tie to DI Alex Drake's bubble perm, the 80s don't seem that long ago.

"They really don't seem too far away – although that might have something to do with some of the fashions being back in style," laughs Forth DJ Grant Stott. "I used to DJ in Coasters – although I was never great on skates – and then after 9pm we'd clean up and get ready for Outer Limits.

"Mind you it went on fire in 1985, which forced my mum to tell me to get a sensible job, so I joined the police – I could well have ended up like Gene Hunt. You always wore a suit up town on a Saturday night then, and you always had to dance to the whole of New Order's 12in Blue Monday, otherwise you weren't cool."

Stott, now 40, also DJ'd at the legendary Amphitheatre nightclub in Lothian Road, which could hold 1500 shiny suits on its Greek temple dancefloor – all greeted at the door by toga-wearing staff.

"It was over-the-top 80s camp at its very best. What was the old Caley cinema's silver screen was turned into a huge computer screen which relayed various computer-generated images," he recalls.

In vogue shopping destinations at the time included What Every Woman Wants on South Bridge, Razzle Dazzle and Chelsea Girl in Princes Street and Goldbergs in Tollcross.

"And Tammy Girl," laughs former model Sarah Davidson, managing director of Thistle Street's designer boutique Jane Davidson. "That was the place I always wanted to go. I remember they had a height chart and if you were over a certain height you couldn't shop there any more, and because I was tall I outgrew it pretty quickly – I was devastated. I used to wear a lot of jumpsuits with matching legwarmers, wristbands and headbands in neon colours – lovely."

Sandy Alexander agrees – although jokes there may be a warehouse with shoes from the 80s he never managed to sell which he could maybe make a fortune on now. The founder of Schuh, which opened in North Bridge Arcade in November 1981, remembers that when it came to footwear, it was the brighter the better.

"There was nothing happening in the shoe market, so myself and a friend, Mike Docherty, decided to open a shoe store. Everyone thought we were mad, but, apart from traditional shoe shops like Clarks, there was nothing else.

"I'd like to think we were inspired businessmen, but the way the shop took off was sheer luck. I would go to London to get factories to make up shoes in as many colours as possible and they would fly out the door."

Schuh made a turnover of 30,000 in its first year – these days it's 120 million. Sandy, who at 57 is now a non-executive director, adds: "It was great knowing that when you went to Buster Browns or Cinderella's, loads of people would be wearing your shoes."

The 80s were also times of sporting achievement and political change. The Labour Party took over the former district council in 1984 and the regional council in 1986 – the same year the ill-fated Commonwealth Games came to town for a second time.

Former council leader Donald Anderson recalls: "The early 80s weren't a great time for Edinburgh. Life was pretty horrible for a lot of people then. There was endemic mass unemployment, the start of the sink estates and serious urban decay. Later, hard drugs began to take their toll.

"Edinburgh was a pretty sleepy provincial town then – not as dynamic a place as it is today. But there was a lot of great music at that time – I remember going to see a Two Tone gig in Tiffany's in St Stephen Street with Madness, The Specials and The Selecter.

"Shopping-wise, I went to Smiths Menswear in Hunter Square and Cowan Tailoring on North Bridge, and the Green Tree and Sneaky Pete's in the Cowgate were regular haunts."

At the slightly more glamorous end of 80s life was Real Radio's Jay Crawford. He was at Radio Forth then and his career meant rubbing shoulders with the pop stars and trendsetters of the time – like Adam Ant.

"He was a lovely guy, very down-to-earth, but we were disappointed that he wasn't dressed up or had any make-up on when he turned up," he laughs. "Mind you I wore a bit of eye-shadow myself in those days – but I was on stage a lot, that's my excuse.

"It was a great time, though. I went to the States for the first time, with the Scottish rock band Nazareth, and there was a feeling that you could do whatever you set your mind to.

"Buster Browns in Market Street was one of the places to go, as well as Mad Dogs in George Street. I took Phil Oakey of the Human League into Mad Dogs one night. What I remember most, though, was seeing a chain on his chest – his shirt was almost completely unbuttoned – and it was strung between two nipple rings. I may have had a mullet, but nipple piercing was a fashion even I wasn't prepared to follow."

Gene Hunt would agree.

&#149 Ashes to Ashes, BBC1, 9pm, tonight