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Philip Glenister: Life in Harrow to Life on Mars

Dev Patel – who we looked at last week as part of our ongoing coverage of Harrow’s most famous modern faces – is not the only successful modern thespian to have come from the borough. Philip Glenister – actor of Life on Mars’ and Ashes to Ashes’ Gene Hunt, amongst numerous other popular roles – also grew up in Harrow, and, like Patel, the area can be seen to have left its mark on him too.

Glenister was born and raised in the borough, attending Hatch End High Comprehensive School – now called Hatch End High School. His time at the school, Glenister has since explained, came to influence his performance as DCI Gene Hunt in Life of Mars – what has perhaps been his most iconic role – with Glenister explaining how his time at school taught him how to talk tough, and adapt.

Indeed, Glenister’s childhood in the borough can be seen to have been quite different to what Dev Patel’s was. In an interview with The Daily Mail a few years ago, Glenister said, ‘At school, I was easily misled’ – going on to say how he would shoplift as a child on the streets, usually the likes of Airfix paint or football badges.

Glenister also grew up surrounded by drug-use, in the same interview explaining how two of his friends – one of whom he used to go to the pub with in Pinner – died from drug overdoses.

Glenister himself never took part – explaining that the deaths of his friends was more than enough to put him off – but nevertheless, his childhood was perhaps much more grounded in the realities of the borough (indeed, of London), than many of the previous famous figures we have looked at in these articles.

With this in mind, it’s perhaps easy to see why Glenister was able to pull off a character like Gene Hunt so convincingly.

This is all said, Glenister’s time in Harrow was not all so negative. ‘My home life was very suburban,’ Glenister has said, ‘We lived in a road that was a community, and my mum and dad’s closest friends were people they’d grown up with at school.’ Glenister’s father was a television director, a fact which, it seems, both he and his older brother Robert were inspired by.

Initially though, it was just his brother that chose to do this in acting – and since then Robert has gone to play a number of popular roles in the likes of Spooks and Hustle, and more recently in Ben Affleck’s film Live by Night.

‘My father was a television director and I always knew I wanted to be in the industry but I had thought my role was behind the camera as opposed to in front,’ Glenister explained on his personal website. ‘My brother Robert wanted to act from a very early age and there was always a part of me that said we couldn’t have two actors in the family because our parents would go mental.’

Initially, he worked as a runner for the Robert Stigwood Organisation, and eventually as a film publicist. Only when he saw his brother in a production about The Sex Pistols called Killing Time, did Glenister begin to consider that acting was a career path for him too. He was further encouraged by Robert who had seen Philip act and told him what he’d have to do to pursue it.

As Glenister has put it, ‘One thing led to another, like a domino effect, and before I knew it, I was at drama school’ – something which, he has said, was much like a ‘coming home’ feeling. Since then, Glenister has performed a number of roles and in a number of series – from Life on Mars to Mad Dogs to, most recently, the role of Reverend Anderson in Outcast; a horror drama show by Robert Kirkman, creator of The Walking Dead.

Whilst Glenister no longer lives in Harrow, instead residing in South London with his family, he can still be seen to carry his time in the borough with him – for one thing, he remains a supporter of Wealdstone FC. Yet more than this, Glenister can be seen to draw upon his experiences growing up when playing hard-boiled, tough-talking characters like Gene Hunt.

Clearly, whether at the top of our hill, the streets of Rayners Lane or the communities of Hatch End, Harrow has to offer a number of different, formative stories.

Did you know that Philip Glenister or his brother Robert grew up in Harrow? Do you have any other details to share? Be sure to comment below!    


Written by Harry Turner.

Image Credit: Getty Images