With the World Cup merely a month away, football fever’s set to grip the nation. It was a similar story 18 years ago, when all eyes were on Euro ‘96 - until England’s Gareth Southgate missed a penalty and Germany marched into the final. Philip Glenister remembers it well.
“I was working in Manchester doing a pilot for Granada called True Love around that time,” remembers the 51-year-old. “It was an exciting time, a feeling of change, politically. We all thought it was going to be marvellous.”
He recently returned to the city to film his latest project, From There To Here. Written by Peter Bowker (Eric And Ernie, Occupation), the three-part drama begins in June 1996 - on the day an IRA bomb destroyed much of Manchester city centre - and spans four years, including New Labour sweeping to power in 1997 and the Millennium celebrations of 2000.
“Peter’s a friend and neighbour of mine, funnily enough, and I’ve always been a huge admirer of his work,” says Glenister, who lives with his wife Beth and daughters Millie, 12, and Charlotte, nine, in south-west London.
“I think he’s one of our finest writers. So to get a script written by him, you know you’re in for something quite exciting. After the first episode, I read the second, then the third, and that’s always a sign there’s something pretty hot on the page.”
Glenister plays Daniel Cotton, a man who has the perfect life with his wife and two kids in Cheshire, where he runs a sweet factory with his father Samuel (Bernard Hill).
While Daniel’s viewed as the golden boy of the family, his brother Robbo (Steven Mackintosh) is seen as the black sheep; he runs a night club and is caught up in the rougher side of urban life. He’s also fallen out with their father.
“Daniel’s the appeaser really, he’s trying to bring the family together to improve the relationship between Samuel and Robbo,” explains Glenister.
Daniel arranges for them all to meet in a hotel. “We’ve got Euro ‘96 about to start and I want us to all sit down as father and sons, watch the football and bond, basically,” the actor adds.
But the trio are caught up in the blast and the near-death experience provokes changes in their lives that soon spin out of control.
Despite the immense size of the bomb, there were no fatalities, and as a result of the explosion, millions was spent on rejuvenating the city centre.
“Manchester’s been incredibly redeveloped and it’s a sophisticated and modern, functioning shopping centre. They’ve got John Lewis, Harvey Nics, all you need!”
The actor hadn’t been back to the city since Seventies-based police drama Life On Mars ended in 2007.
“What’s extraordinary is how much the city evolves and changes over time. It feels like my adoptive second city,” says Glenister, who became a household name playing politically incorrect detective Gene Hunt, a character he later reprised in Eighties-based Ashes To Ashes.
“It was quite funny walking around Manchester. There were a few double-takes,” he says. “It [getting recognised] doesn’t happen very often, thank goodness, but what makes me laugh is someone will go, ‘It’s Gene Hunt!’, as though you’re not there.”
He describes that particular role as “career changing”.
“I’m very proud of it, but as time goes on, it diminishes, and then a cracking script like this comes along. It’s a great part, a great cast and hopefully another thing that will remind people I do other things.”
In recent years, he’s appeared in Sky’s Mad Dogs, alongside his Life On Mars co-star John Simm, in the thriller Hidden, and he’s due to start filming the second series of Big School soon.
The comedy also stars David Walliams and Catherine Tate, and Glenister plays PE teacher Mr Gunn - “a horrible character, total sleaze, but it’s fun to play someone so grotesque,” he says, grinning. It’s also filmed in London, “so nice and local”.
Life as an actor is “a nomadic existence”, he says, half sighing. “You have periods when you’re working, it’s intense and the hours are long. An advantage, though, is you have periods when you’re not working, so you have stretches where you’re at home all the time, which after two weeks drives my wife mad, of course.”
He married Beth in 2006 and talks about his wife with pride.
“She runs a very good ship. She’s incredibly organised - thank God one of us is - and very meticulous. She deals with a lot and at the same time, has her own career, so I got lucky there!”
For the most part, he and the family can enjoy life in their leafy patch of London without being harassed by the press, but he recalls an incident in which he was forced to confront a paparazzo.
“It was the height of the Gene Hunt thing. The kids were pretty small and I thought I’d take them to the park. It was a bit sinister because this bloke kept following us around. I thought I’d lost him and then he rolled up so I went and had a word. He asked how I knew he was following us and I said, ‘Believe it or not, I play a detective!’”
While his first love is acting, Glenister recently turned presenter for the Channel 4 show For The Love Of Cars.
“The hardest part was talking to the camera. I’m trained to be in a room where the cameras don’t exist and suddenly you’re being asked to look down the lens, so that was tricky,” confesses the star, who was in his 20s when he decided to give acting a go.
He credits his former sister-in-law, the actress Amanda Redman, for helping him achieve his success.
“When my brother Robert was married to Amanda, I was in an am-dram group.
“ They came to see me and she said, ‘Have you thought about doing this professionally?’” he recalls.
Redman later helped him prepare for auditions.
“I’d never done Shakespeare, so she sort of trained me up. Now she runs a successful school in west London and always jokes I’m a prototype.”
He says he thought his former sister-in-law was “fantastic” in the recent ITV drama Not Like That, Like This, in which she played Tommy Cooper’s wife.
As for Shameless star David Threlfall, who played the late comic:
“He was extraordinary,” Glenister says, before pretending to be outraged. “Well, that’s the Bafta sewn up...”
lFrom There To Here is a three-part drama beginning on BBC One on Thursday, May 22.