One of the most influential and popular crime drama shows from England
is The Sweeney. Airing from 1975-1978, this was the first
British TV show to portray the police as real people, flaws and all.
Prior to this series, cops were always sterling and upright and their bosses
were kind and intelligent and always doing what was best for the public
good. This series changes that. The main characters will bend
the law on occasion to get their man, and the upper management is more
interested in managing interdepartmental politics than actually bringing
crooks to justice. Now all 13 episodes of this ground breaking series
is available in a nice four disc set. Though the show is a little
dated, and we've all seen programs that take this theme even farther, it
is still worth checking out.
The Sweeney is Cockney rhyming slang for Scotland Yard's elite crime
fighting force, the Flying Squad. (Sweeny Todd = Flying Squad)1
This group of officers is charged with handling the big, high profile crimes.
They tackle the mobsters and criminal outfits. The show focuses on
Detective Inspector Jack Regan (John Thaw), a tough no-nonsense cop who
takes his job very seriously. He hates the idea of a criminal getting
away with his crime and will often break the rules to see that justice
is done. A heavy drinker and smoker, Regan goes by his gut instinct,
and that always prove to be more reliable than anything else.
partner is Detective Sergeant George Carter (Dennis Waterman). A
younger man, Carter's wife thinks Regan is a bad influence and will only
retard her husband's climb up the departmental ladder. This causes
some friction, but the two are always willing to do what it takes to nab
Chief Inspector Frank Haskins (Garfield Morgan) has the thankless job
of being Regan's boss. While he likes the man's success record, Regan
has cause a bit of friction with other departments and is something of
a loose cannon. Haskins sometimes runs interference for Regan, but
more often is the one coming down on him for not doing things by the book.
It is easy to see how fresh and original this show would have seen in
1975. Regan goes behind his bosses back and even breaks the law in
order to bring criminals to justice. He is divorced, doesn't have
much of a life outside of his work, and makes mistakes now and again.
These things just didn't happen in police dramas. Though Regan's
character drives the show, the scripts are very good too and don't insult
the viewers intelligence. They don't have someone fill in every detail
of a plan or repeat what has already transpired. Because of this
some episodes can be a bit confusing if viewers don't pay attention, but
that's not necessarily a bad thing. One aspect of the show that helps
make it unique is the way many episodes end abruptly. Once a criminal
has fallen for a trap, they don't always show the arrest. Knowing
that it's coming is enough.
endings aren't always happy either. Sometimes the crook gets away,
and other times the cost of catching the villain is high. One particularly
memorable ending, I won't identify the episode (if you'd rather not read
this, skip to the next paragraph), had Regan discovering that a criminal
had committed a crime in order to get the money for a life-saving operation
for his daughter. The problem is that the crook knew that he'd be
caught, so he gave the loot to a friend. This friend didn't get the
operation for the daughter though. He took the money and disappeared,
leaving the young girl to slowly die. Pretty deep stuff, especially
The direction is cutting edge for the time too. Handheld cameras
are used during action scenes to make it appear more realistic, and odd
camera angles and positions are used to accent the scenes. At the
time this must have seemed fresh and attention-grabbing.
That leads me to the main problem with the show; it's dated. Not
only do the fashions and horrid theme music date the show, but the scripts
and camera work do too. We've all seen the good cop fighting against
his superiors time and time again. It's so prevalent in crime dramas
that it has almost become a cliché. Regan's tough-talking,
tough-drinking, tough-smoking, persona also seems a bit hokey now, and
the whole premise of the older cop/younger cop fighting the administration
was so reminiscent of T. J. Hooker (which came a decade after this
show) that it's hard not to compare the two. (This show is much
There is a problem with this set too. It does present the first
season in its entirety, but it does not include the made-for-TV movie that
was that caused the series to be made. This film, simply titled Regan,
presumably introduces the characters and sets up the premise, something
that is skipping in the first episodes and makes the beginning of this
season a bit confusing.
This four disc set contains all 13 episodes from the first season of
The Sweeney. They come in a unique style of packaging that
I really like. The discs are housed in a two page 'book' which comes with
a slipcase. Each page of the book has a leaf inset that pivots out,
and each side of the leaves has a DVD clipped to it. The whole thing
is illustrated, inside and out, with images from the show.
The show has a stereo soundtrack in English, but there wasn't much separation.
Being a show form the 70's, there isn't a lot of dynamic range, and the
gun fire and action scenes don't sound that forceful. The dialog
is usually easy to hear, though some of the Cockney accents are hard for
this Yank to understand. Unfortunately there were no subtitles for
the show. That would have really helped in some of the fast-talking
The 4:3 image is just so-so. This show hasn't been restored, but
it comes from a nicely preserved master. The colors have faded a
bit, and there are some spots here and there, but the picture is generally
clear and not too soft. Digitally there is some aliasing, especially
in the background, but that's about the extent of the problems.
are some nice extras included with this set. There are commentary
tracks with various actors, directors, and writers accompanying five episodes.
Unfortunately star John Thaw died in 2002 and therefore doesn't appear.
There are also video introductions on seven shows where a supporting character
(often appearing only in that episode) reminisces about getting the job
and working with the cast.
There is also an interview with the show's creator, Ian Kennedy-Martin
that runs 12-minutes. He discusses how he started at the BBC, the
genesis of the show, the casting etc. It was a nice monolog that
was fairly interesting.
Lastly there is a twelve-minute featurette entitled The London Beat.
This looks at three popular UK police shows; Callan, The Bill, and,
not surprisingly, The Sweeney. It was a nice if brief overview
of the three shows. There is also a photo gallery.
This edgy drama from the mid 70's is still very entertaining, but it
has aged a bit. While the scripts are generally strong, the characters
are people that we've all seen before in other dramas. While that's
not a fault of the show, how can you blame it for being imitated so often,
it no longer feels like a cutting edge program. It also takes a while
to get into the feel of the show, possibly because of the omission of the
TV movie that was the series inspiration. I also found the program
dragging a bit in the middle of a few episodes, thought the endings were
always worth waiting for. In any case, if you're a fan of the show,
it is definitely worth picking up. If you've never seen it before
however, I think it would make a better rental.
1) Useless etymological note:
Cockney rhyming slang originated in London's East Side among the working
lower class. It is a sort of code, a way to communicate with peers
while not giving away the meaning to outsiders. It involves replacing
a single word with a pair of words (or more) that rhyme. Often the
rhyming word in the pair will be dropped to make the meaning even more
opaque. The term "bread" to refer to money has its origins in cockney
slang: "Bread and honey" would replace "money" and that was shortened
to just "bread". Other examples include china (plate) = mate, apples
(and pears) = stairs, Mickey (Mouse) = House. So the
phrase "Me china fell down the apples at me Mickey" translates to "My friend
fell down the stairs at my house."