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**This comment contains spoilers**
The Sweeney is not well known outside the UK but on the list of great British TV series it's up there alongside I, Claudius, Fawlty Towers and The Avengers. Mention The Sweeney to almost anyone in Britain and you will probably be greeted by a reply of 'Shut it!' or 'Get yer trousers on, you're nicked!' Both are lines from the show and have long since become much quoted catchphrases. Quite an accomplishment for a series that ended over 25 years ago.
So why is The Sweeney so great? Well, for a start it features two marvellous characters. The late John Thaw (of Inspector Morse fame) stars as Detective Inspector Jack Regan of Scotland Yard's famed 'Flying Squad' (so called because of their use of high performance squad cars to get them to the scene of major crimes). Routinely mixing with violent criminals, gangsters, informers, strippers and prostitutes in those parts of London tourists never get to see, Regan is a 24/7 copper with an ex-wife and an 8 yr old daughter he rarely sees. And he's nothing like Inspector Morse. At all.
Jack Regan is as hard as they come. He displays no hesitation in beating up villains, threatening suspects, or even, in the episode 'Queen's Pawn', organising a kidnapping(!) so as to put pressure on a suspect. For UK viewers accustomed to the traditional saintly image of the English policeman, Regan was a truly startling creation and Thaw's performance remains utterly convincing not least because, with his craggy features and gruff manner, Thaw never looks like some pretty-boy poseur trying to 'act hard'.
Of course every great star has to have a loyal sidekick with whom to share the good times and the bad and Regan's best mate also happens to be his second-in-command - Detective Sergeant George Carter, superbly played by Dennis Waterman. Although ready to use his fists when required Carter is initially a bit more reluctant to use Regan style methods (although the tragic death of his wife in the sensational second series episode 'Hit and Run' brings him closer to Regan) and the pair spend much of their time exchanging insults, chasing birds and smoking like chimneys whilst trying to drink every pub in the London area dry. The delightful on screen chemistry between Regan and Carter, (one that was mirrored off screen by Thaw and Waterman) is one of the main reasons viewers adore the show. For Regan and Carter feel like real working people caught up in the stresses and strains of increasing bureaucracy, long hours, an unsympathetic boss and a shrinking home life. Like all great popular drama, regardless of setting or era, Regan and Carter's attitude to life connected directly with the millions of viewers who tuned in every week to watch them.
The other key to the success of The Sweeney was the extraordinarily high standard of writing and direction on the show. The crew were much influenced by The French Connection and Dirty Harry and, in a revolutionary approach to TV production they used that documentary style; shooting entirely on location in and around the London suburb of Hammersmith using lightweight 16mm cameras and radio mikes on the actors for a raw documentary feel. Dialogue scenes were kept short and pace, action and humour emphasised. Even more boldly, the villains sometimes got away scott-free. The team also pushed the envelope in the depiction of violence. Excitingly choreographed fight scenes were a hallmark of The Sweeney right from the start and more than 25 years after it finished the brutality still has the power to take your breath away.
The fears and perceptions of crime harboured by the British public and the problems endemic in the police service were all superbly dramatised by a tight-knit group of some of Britain's top scriptwriters. These stories included police brutality ('Big Brother'), know nothing career climbers ('Taste of Fear'), personal involvement with villains ('Lady Luck'), European terrorism ('Faces'), police corruption ('Bad Apple') and hi-tech crime ('Tomorrow Man'). That all of these concerns are still major problems in British policing just goes to show how little the series has dated.
The Sweeney ultimately ran for four seasons, 53 episodes in all with two feature film spin offs, Sweeney! (1976) and Sweeney 2 (1978). A definitive DVD presentation of the show (immaculate digital restoration from the original film elements, commentaries, exhaustive extras, etc, etc) has recently been released in the UK and stands as testament to the show's continued popularity among viewers of all ages.
The rough, tough and downright dirty world of New Scotland Yard's heavy
mob - The Sweeney.
So-called because the Cockney rhyming slang for Flying Squad is The Sweeney (Sweeney Todd -- famous murderous London barber -- Flying Squad). The term "flying" because they came on the scene quickly after bank robberies or other "serious" crimes.
It doesn't get much better than this. It really doesn't. Around 1975 we didn't have video recorders so you made sure that you were sat down with your coffee for the ITV 9pm showing! The show's genus is in the acting and script -- as well as the real locations of South London. Tatty high rises, breakers yards (ideal for fighting!), smoky clubs/pubs and "the factory" the office that they worked from with its grey walls, round dial phones and worn out office equipment.
(This was actually modelled on the real Flying Squad office!)
Occasionally this would contrast with the middle class splendour of the super villain or mastermind who planned the central crime like a chess game.
John Thaw (as Jack Regan) was a genius of an actor, but always a tough guy at heart. Even when he put on a posh accent. In his younger days he was a bit of a bully and a tearaway, being a kind of "king of the teds" character. How he ever got in to acting is a long and unlikely story.
(I won't bore you with it.)
Dennis Waterman (as George Carter) was originally going to be only an occasional character and the whole show was going to focus on Regan - but the writers noticed that they made a team and the script was changed. The final line in the triangle was the (mostly) office bound Garfield Morgan (as Chief Insp. Frank Haskins) ) who was the voice of the reason that generally wanted "to go by the book."
(Regan never wanted to go by the book -- he "wanted results" any way he could get them!)
As the series progressed it got more adventurous and sometimes things went badly wrong. There was sometimes odd-ball comedy episodes. Unlike any other cop show before or since it was suggested that some of the criminals were behind bars for things they didn't do -- and the methods of Regan himself were bound to get him in to serious trouble (with the "brass") sooner rather than later.
Naturally The Sweeney did have its limits. Regan rarely was on the wrong track (even when evidence pointed another way - he always "had a hunch") and rarely did the cons lay down their weapons readily. Which I am sure they would in real life -- especially when the police had attack dogs and guns. It wasn't a show that was in full flight from a cheap thrill.
This show went all around Europe (I saw one episode in Spanish) but I doubt it would do well in America. Too sour and not enough happy endings.Happy memories which were not bountiful in the 1970's.
When it first hit the screens in the mid 70s, "The Sweeney" was the first in a line of gritty, violent British cop shows which also included such series as "The Professionals" and "Dempsey and Makepeace". "The Sweeney" was a radical departure from the comparative coziness and tranquility of long-established shows like "Z Cars" and "Dixon of Dock Green" and portrayed a London full of violent villains brandishing sawn-off shotguns, pick axe handles, sideburns and flared trousers being pursued and often violently brought to justice by John Thaw's no-nonsense Detective Inspector Jack Regan and his sidekick Detective Sergeant George Carter, played by Dennis Waterman. Punch-ups, gunfights and car wrecks abounded, Thaw and Waterman frequently getting blood and grime on their enormous, tasteless ties and winged shirt collars as they strove to uphold law and order on the funky streets of Seventies London. Sometimes they'd introduce themselves to their quarry with lines like "we're The Sweeney, son - and we haven't had our dinner yet" before piling in, fists flying, to make the arrest. Violent, politically incorrect and still great entertainment, even after all these years.
"The Sweeney" is one of the best, if not THE best, British Television
crime drama ever made.
The scripts, directors, producers and not forgetting the actors are all of the highest calibre especially Messrs. Thaw & Waterman with their great characterisations of Regan & Carter.
"The Sweeney" portrayed the real 'Flying Squad' as it apparently was in real life, and thus caused the controversy that it did in the mid-70's. The guys didn't always catch the villains either, so it never held that fantasy element like every other series of the time.
It was the seventies equipped with flared trousers, kipper ties, dodgy hairdos and moustaches along with Ford Cortinas and all. But, it is the most entertaining hour from the seventies produced in the most hard-hitting way.
There's A Pilot feature entitled "Regan", Four glorious TV series and 2 Award-Winning Feature Films - ENJOY!!!
I was amazed recently when watching a television programme on a debate about good TV and The Sweeney was completely slated!! The content in those episodes is as fresh today as it were then and the violent feel throughout most instalments has some how become more menacing as time as moved on. You see this series is about real Brut swilling Coppers who new exactly how to wear their bell bottoms. This series was about as good as it gets and I would go as far to say that after this and The Proffesionals latter police style programmes look plain. Dated maybe but like a fine rolls Royce...never out of fashion for those who are lucky enough to see one.
After a hard day at work, I like nothing better than to pour myself a large Scotch, settle down on the sofa, switch on the DVD player and tell the bird to shut it as I watch those diamond geezers from the flying squad getting all tooled up for another blag. This series is without a doubt an absolute classic and if you remember the seventies - this was essential viewing. John Thaw's Regan and Dennis Waterman's Carter were no nonsense coppers who went up against a London full of well dodgy villains. Sawn-off shotguns, pick axe handles, car chases, fights, flared trousers and sideburns galore as our heros battle and bring to justice the various blaggers operating on their manor while at the same time drowning themselves in booze, smoking like chimneys and chatting up the birds. Gloriously politically incorrect this was a series which we will sadly never see the like again. In a word, magnificent!
On promotional material for 70s US cop series Starsky and Hutch when it
was remade, Paul Michael Glaser commented that that series worked
because it was first about men, second about cops. The same applies for
The Sweeney. Regan and Carter are not perfect, they are not saints,
they are not superheroes. They do not solve every crime perfectly. That
is why we can relate to them. We watch them and see men like ourselves.
The setting is firmly in the Seventies, with all its period detail. But as with Starsky and Hutch, we see the relationship between men engaged in battle. The dated backdrops fall away and we see the same spirit behind it - an appeal to heroism in an age when this is lacking.
The series is over 30 years old but talks to men today. Therein lies its continued appeal - and success.
Ian and Troy Kennedy-Martin were the brothers who revolutionised crime
on British TV in the 1970s. While Troy was a far more political animal,
concentrated on commercial TV.
However, that doesn't make The Sweeney any less authentic. In fact, many ex-Flying Squad officers have commented on its authenticity, helped by the fact that the producers used to pay real policeman in used fivers as 'technical advisors'.
The Sweeney represents Scotland Yard's first proper attempt to stem the rise of violent robberies following the oil crisis and economic slump of the 1970s. It represents the time before the Police And Criminal Evidence Acts changed the face of policing for ever in Britain - a far more free-wheeling, corruption laden time.
Policing is shown as hard, tedious work where moral dilemmas must be confronted all the time and there are no sudden leaps in detection, just stress and danger.
Particularly impressive in the Sweeney are the number of times that firearms are used - this was really true in the Flying Squad - even back in the good old days...
"Get Your Trousers On-Your Nicked!", was the quote from this highly popular
series which ran from the 70's to the early 80's.
The late great John Thaw played Detective Inspector Jack Regan and was joined by Dennis Waterman as Detective Sergeant George Carter, they were both detectives for New Scotland Yard.
Don't look for too much character development in this show. It's all about car chases, fights, gunshots and the like. It was the perfect show for testosterone driven males like myself who were only interested in action. D.I. Regan and D.S. Carter were two tough sons of guns-they engaged in fistfights routinely and couldn't stop drinking. They took absolutely no notice of the rulebook and did whatever they pleased.
The 70's were a great time for action shows and this a fantastic show, well worth a serious look.
Don your kipper tie and bell bottoms, chug yer glass of scotch and
screech off in yer Mk1 Granada (ok, consul GT) and take a trip back to
the '70s. This series was Brilliant.
and the actual catchphrase is "we're the sweeney, son, and we haven't had any dinner." NOT "we haven't had out dinner yet." it's in the episode "ringer" with Ian Hendry and Brian "shouty bloke" Blessed.
John Thaw was born to play this role, I could not fault his performance at all;
I did start to wonder if a remake would be a good idea, but no, they don't make granadas any more. wouldn't be the same with a mondeo.
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