The Sweeney opening titles (series 1-3).
|Format||Police / Crime|
|Created by||Ian Kennedy Martin|
|Theme music composer||Harry South|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of series||4|
|No. of episodes||53|
|Producer(s)||Euston Films Ltd
|Running time||60 minutes|
|Original run||2 January 1975 – 28 December 1978|
The Sweeney is a British television police drama focusing on two members of the Flying Squad, a branch of the Metropolitan Police specialising in tackling armed robbery and violent crime in London. The programme's title derives from Cockney rhyming slang, in which the expression Sweeney Todd rhymes with (and stands for) 'Flying Squad'.
The programme, made entirely on film by Thames Television's film division, Euston Films, was originally aired on ITV between 1975 and 1978, starring John Thaw as Detective Inspector Jack Regan and Dennis Waterman as Detective Sergeant George Carter. Such was its popularity in the UK that it spawned two theatrically-released feature film spin-offs, Sweeney! and Sweeney 2.
Currently the original series is being broadcast on digital channel ITV4 in various time slots, and often with edited content to suit the timeslot, as well as additional editing due to the inclusion of an extra commercial break.
The series was created by writer Ian Kennedy Martin (brother of the better-known Troy Kennedy Martin), who contributed several episodes and wrote the second film. The programme was born out of a one-off drama, entitled Regan, which Ian Kennedy Martin wrote for Thames Television's Armchair Cinema series of one-offs in 1974.
From the very beginning, the show was seen as having series potential. After Regan scored highly in the ratings, work began on the development of the series proper. Ian Kennedy Martin's ideas for the series were for it to be partially studio-based, with more dialogue and less action; but producer Ted Childs disagreed with this, and Ian Kennedy Martin reluctantly parted company with the project. In the event it was shot almost entirely on location and entirely on film (which gave it a startling degree of realism), and had a heavy bias toward action sequences.
The writers were given strict guidelines to follow: "Each show will have an overall screen time (minus titles) of 48mins 40secs. Each film will open with a teaser of up to 3 minutes, which will be followed by the opening titles. The story will be played across three acts, each being no more than 19 minutes and no less than 8 minutes in length. Regan will appear in every episode, Carter in approximately 10 out of 13 episodes. In addition to these main characters, scripts should be based around three major speaking parts, with up to ten minor speaking parts."
The Sweeney was the first really modern police-based series on British television. Previously, most dramas featuring the police had shied away from showing 'coppers' as fallible human beings. The police in The Sweeney were a million miles away from those of the BBC's cosy world of Dixon of Dock Green, or even from the BBC's slightly more realistic Z Cars. They were brutal and violent in dealing with London's hardened criminals, and prone to cutting corners and bending laws. The series showed a somewhat more realistic side of the police which often had a disregard for authority, rules and the 'system', as long it got the job done. Until The Sweeney this had been a subject largely whitewashed by British television.
It was a fast-paced edge-of-your-seat action series, depicting the Squad's relentless battle against armed robbery; but it nevertheless included a substantial degree of humour.
For the time, it had a high degree of graphic on-screen violence and the episodes had a high number of on-screen deaths.
The main two characters were Detective Inspector Jack Regan and Detective Sergeant George Carter. Their superior officer was DCI Frank Haskins.
Detective Inspector John 'Jack' Regan (played by John Thaw) is the Flying Squad's chief thief-taker. He's a tough, no-nonsense copper who is often frustrated by Scotland Yard's red tape. Originally from Manchester (like John Thaw himself), he has been in London for several years, so his accent has modified somewhat, but traces of his Northern origins are still evident. He also refers to his Northern roots every now and again (his poor upbringing, his father's work on the Manchester Ship Canal) which brings mild ridicule from Londoner George Carter. A heavy drinker and smoker (comically, he is sometimes seen stealing other people's cigarettes), Regan also has some success with the ladies - although not as much as Carter. He can be seen as quick with his fists. He has an ex-wife, Kate, and a daughter, Susie; and in the last episode of the first series, Abduction, Susie is kidnapped.
Regan is a hard man, but he is human. He helps out an ex-informer whose son is kidnapped in Feet of Clay (Series 4); and his sympathetic pushing enables his boss Haskins to ask for help when his wife goes missing after a breakdown, in Victims (Series 4): it's Regan who finds her. Regan repeatedly bends the rules in order to achieve the desired result: for example, fabricating evidence and arranging for a criminal to be kidnapped in "Queen's Pawn", and illegally entering private properties and threatening to lie about being attacked by a prisoner in order to get information in "Regan". Despite this, he's unwilling to cheat for purely personal gain: he delivers a sharp put-down to a corrupt copper in "Bad Apple", and refuses to take a bribe in "Golden Fleece".
In the Squad, informality was everything. Everyone called DCI Haskins simply 'Haskins' (except to his face); and no one ever called Regan "Mister" - except the villains, or sometimes Carter when talking to Haskins. To the Squad he was always simply "the Guv'nor", or just "Guv". In turn, he invariably called Carter and the other Squad members by their first name. But off-duty he and George Carter were friends and drinking buddies, so in private Carter always called him Jack.
Regan was driven around in a Ford Consul GT, which was one of the most recognisable sights on television during the 1970s and still has cult status some 30 years later. Although he is seen driving various cars himself in the series, he always has a driver when using the Consul (and the similar Ford Granada models used in later stories), which served as a Squad car: when the Squad travelled they always went 'mob handed'. Jack did have his own car outside of the squad, in the series.. it was a blue Vauxhall Victor FC Estate and in the movie Sweeney 2 he had a blue Austin Maxi
We learn from numerous episodes that Detective Sergeant George Carter (played by Dennis Waterman) comes from South London; and Regan seeks him out in the pilot episode because of his knowledge of the South London area. His age is given in the episode "Hit and Run" as 26. In the series' timeline we learn that George had previously been in the Squad, but had quit for family reasons (cf. Regan and "Jigsaw"). George was married to Alison Carter, a school teacher, but is widowed in the episode "Hit And Run" when Alison is murdered by mistake by a gang of diamond smugglers. He's a former amateur boxer, as we see from the pilot "Regan", and is described as having professional boxing potential in the episode "Chalk and Cheese". Like his superior, he's fond of drinking, football, and - after the death of his wife - womanising. Carter isn't as violent or aggresive as Regan and usually plays the good cop.
Frank Haskins (played by Garfield Morgan), married with 3 children at boarding schools, is Jack Regan's immediate superior. Prior to the series timeline the character had done "National Service in the Signals Corps in a minor intelligence role" (as revealled in the episode "Stay Lucky, Eh?"). He is frequently seen at odds with Regan, preferring more conventional policing methods.
The main 'Haskins episodes' are "Golden Fleece", where he is set up to be the victim of a corruption enquiry, and "Victims", where his wife suffers a mental breakdown due to memories of a miscarriage. Although he appeared in the opening titles of every episode of the first three series, he did not appear in all of them.
The character was not present at the start of the fourth, final series, and his role was taken by other superiors such as Detective Chief Inspector Anderson, played by Richard Wilson and Detective Chief Superintendent Braithwaite played by Benjamin Whitrow. Haskins returned a few episodes into the fourth series. There are two versions of the fourth series opening credits - one without Haskins, and one with him.
In the early episodes the team has a variety of drivers including Len (Jack McKenzie) (the first 2 episodes) and Fred (in the episode "Jigsaw"). However, the episode "The Placer" in the first series introduces the character of Bill the driver (played by Tony Allen, who subsequently worked as wardrobe manager for many of John Thaw's later projects), and he remains a constant throughout the series, although he plays a peripheral, non-speaking role in most episodes.
Detective Sergeant Tom Daniels (John Alkin) is the most prominent member of the supporting Squad. Other members include Sergeant Kent, Detective Constable Thorpe, and DS Matthews in the first series, DC Jerry Burtonshaw (Nick Brimble) (Series 1-3), and DC Jellyneck (Series 4). Detective Chief Superintendent Maynon (Morris Perry) appears occasionally as a superior officer, and is seen as being more willing than Haskins to bend the rules in order to get a result in the episode "Queen's Pawn". With Haskins absent, a semi-regular superior officer named DCS Braithwaite (Benjamin Whitrow) appears in Series 4.
Other main characters include the close family of the three leads.
Regan's ex-wife Kate appears in the episode "Abduction", after previously featuring in the pilot; and his daughter Susie (Jennifer Thanisch) appears in several episodes, most notably "Abduction".
Carter's wife Alison (Stephanie Turner) is seen attempting to prise him away from the Squad in the episode "Jigsaw", while her hostility toward Regan is apparent in the episode "Abduction". She is murdered in a case of mistaken identity in the episode "Hit And Run". In the DVD commentary for "Abduction" it is mentioned that the reason for this was that the actress was asking for too much money to continue to appear in the series. Her death was convenient for the show, releasing Carter to play a more freewheeling role, 'on the pull'. Stephanie Turner went on to appear in Juliet Bravo, also devised and part-written by Ian Kennedy Martin.
Doreen Haskins plays a minor role in some episodes, although the penultimate episode "Victims" deals with her deteriorating mental health and returns to the theme of the job's impact on family life. One of Haskins' three children, Richard, also appears in that episode.
The filming of each episode normally took ten working days, shooting about five minutes of edited screen time per day. Because of this the number of different filming locations had to be restricted to ten, i.e. one location per day. At the Euston Films production office in Colet Court, there was a standing set of the Flying Squad offices, which provided an alternative option should the weather restrict a day's filming. Two days would normally be spent filming on the set, equalling 10 mins of any episode being set in the offices. Shooting took place through the summer, so exterior night shooting was expensive and was limited to 3 minutes of external night material in any episode.
Each episode had an eight and a half week production schedule: two weeks pre-production (for casting, finding locations etc), two weeks shooting, four weeks picture editing (the first two weeks of which overlapped with the shoot), two weeks sound editing, and two and a half days dubbing.
Most of the locations used for filming The Sweeney were in West London - in particular Chiswick, Shepherd's Bush, Hammersmith (where the Flying Squad's offices were based - referred-to as 'The Factory' by the characters), Fulham, Earl's Court, Kensington & Chelsea and Notting Hill districts, close to the Euston Films HQ at Colet Court in Hammersmith. However, other notable locations in London, the South East of England and further afield were also used for filming the show's episodes and included:
A pilot episode, "Regan", was made as part of the "Armchair Cinema" series and shown in 1974. In all, four series were made with Series One being broadcast between January and March 1975 and Series Two following between September and December of the same year. Series Three was broadcast between September and December 1976, with the final series being shown two years later in 1978. Two 90-minute feature films, "Sweeney!" and "Sweeney 2", were made in 1977 and 1978 respectively, between the third and fourth series.
The promotional episode shown to the press was "Thin Ice", which featured a relatively lightweight and somewhat humorous story, some comedy, and international locations.
Highlights of the first series were "Ringer", where the team were attempting to prevent a criminal being sprung from prison, "Jackpot", "Stoppo Driver", and "Abduction", in which Regan's daughter Susie was kidnapped, focussing on the strains which the job caused to family life. "Night Out" subtly illustrated the backgrounds and family lives of Regan and Carter; parallels are drawn between the unhappy situation of the main villain's family and Regan's own domestic situation.
The early episodes feature a great degree of hostility and mistrust between Regan and his superior, Haskins, who in one episode ("Ringer") attempts to separate Carter from Regan in order to help Carter's career.
The episode "Queen's Pawn" is a display of how Regan is willing to bend the rules in order to get a result, as he fabricates evidence, illegally opens private mail, and even arranges the kidnapping of one of the criminals in order to get the desired result.
All episodes were broadcast on ITV, Thursdays 9.00pm 
All Series 1 episodes were shot in 1974.
The episodes "Faces" and "Thou Shalt Not Kill" were among the highlights of the second series. In the former an anarchist group (which appears to be German-based, with echoes of the then contemporary Baader-Meinhof gang) is staging a number of robberies in order to raise funds for its cause. However, the group has been infiltrated by British intelligence, leading to complicated inter-departmental politics between the police and the security services. "Thou Shalt Not Kill" features a tense hostage situation inside a bank, with Haskins faced with the dilemma of whether to risk the hostages' lives by shooting the criminals.
Other highlights included a pair of tongue-in-cheek episodes, "Golden Fleece" and "Trojan Bus", featuring two cocky but likeable Australian villains, played by British actors Patrick Mower and George Layton; and the episode "Hit And Run", in which Carter's wife Alison is murdered.
All episodes were broadcast on ITV, Mondays 9.00pm
All Series 2 episodes were shot in 1975.
The episode "Taste Of Fear" introduced violent psychopathic criminal Tim Cook (George Sweeney), an army deserter whose experiences in Northern Ireland had left him embittered. Cook also appeared in the later episode "On The Run".
Other episodes explored different themes: "Tomorrow Man" focussed on the clash between traditional policing methods and newer more technological ways of solving crime, methods which, in the real world, have made crimes such as those depicted in The Sweeney - of villains in stocking masks carrying out wages snatches - seem anachronistic. "Bad Apple" dealt with police corruption, and here Regan, despite being seen to bend the rules in other episodes in order to achieve convictions (i.e. for legitimate motives), will not bend them for his own profit, and is shown to hold the deepest contempt for the corrupt officers.
All episodes were broadcast on ITV, Mondays 9.00pm
The following episodes were shot in 1975: Tomorrow Man, Visiting Fireman, Taste Of Fear, Sweet Smell Of Succession, Loving Arms and Lady Luck. The following episodes were shot in 1976: Selected Target, In From The Cold, Taste Of Fear, Bad Apple, May, Down To You Brother, Payoff and On The Run.
There was a two year gap between the third and fourth series while the team made two feature films (Sweeney! and Sweeney 2) to cash-in on the show's popularity with audiences.
For the fourth series the title sequence was changed, and a number of other changes were also made, with Haskins absent from a number of episodes. The final series has been criticised as the weakest. This falling off in quality led John Thaw and Dennis Waterman to the realisation that the show was in danger of running out of steam, and to take the decision to end it while it was still at the peak of its popularity.
The opening episode of the series, "Messenger of the Gods", divides fans, with some seeing it as wonderfully tongue in cheek and others viewing it as moronic comedy.
Other notable episodes include "Nightmare", which features a slightly experimental dream sequence as part of the plot. This is also the episode with the highest body count, and features another then-contemporary plot of two ex-IRA men committing a major crime in order to buy their way back into the organisation. "Bait" featured a strong performance by George Sewell, who had starred in The Sweeney's Euston Films forerunner series, Special Branch, as well as in the film Get Carter, which was a major influence on The Sweeney, and whose main character, Jack Carter, may have been the inspiration for the names of the two main Sweeney characters.
"Hearts And Minds", the last episode to be filmed, featured the popular comedians Morecambe and Wise, and was a quid pro quo for the appearance of Waterman and Thaw in a sketch in the 1976 Morecambe and Wise Christmas show on the BBC.
The final aired episode, "Jack or Knave", saw a slightly ambiguous ending, with the main character, Jack Regan, temporarily locked up after being implicated in a corruption scandal, of which he is finally exonerated. He then announces that he's had it with the Squad, and the series ends with him resigning in disgust.
The final scene left open the possibility of a further series, if the two stars could be talked into making it, but this was not to be. Both of them felt the high standards of the show could not be maintained over a fifth series.
All episodes were broadcast on ITV, Thursdays 9.00pm
The following episodes were shot in 1977: Messenger Of The Gods, Drag Act, Trust Red, Money Money Money, Feet Of Clay, One Of Your Own and Jack Or Knave. The following episodes were shot in 1978: Hard Men, Nightmare, Bait, The Bigger They Are, Hearts and Minds, Latin Lady and Victims.
Like many successful British TV series of the time, such as Porridge and Rising Damp, cinema versions of The Sweeney were made, featuring the same actors and characters. The two films were far more raw than the tv series, featuring levels of violence, sex and nudity that would not have been possible on television at the time.
A remake was announced in 2008 to be produced by DNA Films and to be directed by Nick Love and written by him and Ian Kennedy Martin, the original creator. It was planned for 2009 with Ray Winstone's name has been linked several times with the role of Regan, although not officially. It is not yet known whether the film would be set in the 1970s or in the present day. However, Fox Searchlight withdrew support a few weeks before filming was due to start, and the project now appears to be on indefinite hold.
A total of nine books were written and released in 1977 published by Futura Publications Ltd. 
The first three books were authored by Ian Kennedy Martin, the rest by Joe Balham. The plots of the books are not taken from any of the television episodes; overall, the tone of the books differ somewhat from the television series in that Regan is usually depicted as working alone, and his relationship with Carter is distinctly unfriendly.
As well as making John Thaw and Dennis Waterman big names, The Sweeney also had an impressive list of guest stars, including Diana Dors, Brian Blessed, John Hurt, Warren Mitchell, Roy Kinnear, George Cole (whom Waterman went on to star alongside in hit follow-up vehicle Minder) and Maureen Lipman, as well as the writers Lynda La Plante and Colin Welland. Morecambe and Wise appeared late on, in return for Thaw and Waterman appearing on their show. Many up and coming actors such as Karl Howman, Ray Winstone, John Challis, Andrew Paul and Hywel Bennett also appeared in the show during its run.
In the early 1980s the British comic Jackpot featured a strip called "The Teeny Sweeney" which was originally drawn by J Edward Oliver. A trio of schoolboys played at being plain-clothes policemen, with two of them looking like little versions of Regan and Carter. They even had "Flying Squad" written on the side of their cartie. Their attempts at being helpful however almost always ended in disaster.
The 1993 Comic Strip film Detectives on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown features a character introduced as "Shouting George from The Weeny" (played by Jim Broadbent). Despite the character's name, he is in fact a direct yet affectionate parody of Jack Regan.
A TV ad for the Nissan Almera car in the late 1990s had two characters similar to Carter and Regan racing through London to deal with a "bank job". A suspicious group of men have entered a bank dressed as painters. As 'Carter' races the car through the streets, 'Regan' keeps bellowing at him and others to "Shut it!"
At one stage 'Regan' shouts "Mark it!", which is slang for following a suspect, but in this case means "market" as 'Carter' drives erratically through a market place. 'Carter' tells 'Regan' to stop shouting — to which 'Regan' barks the reply "I can't!".
When they burst into the bank it turns out that the men are genuine painters and that 'Regan', their guv (or boss), is there to tell them that they have the wrong sort of white paint(!) 'Carter' says, "Think we'd better go back to the yard, guv, and get some more." "Shut up!" 
One of the painters talks in a squeaky-like voice and is called "Squealer", which is slang for informant.
(This ad was the follow up to a hugely popular one spoofing The Professionals a year or so previously.)
The complete series of The Sweeney was released by Network on 16 discs in 2005. The pilot episode "Regan" was also released on DVD in November 2005. Both films, Sweeney! and Sweeney 2 have also been released on DVD.
The 2007 18 Disc Network release contains all four series, the pilot and both of the spin-off films. Along with all this, the boxset contains exclusive extras.
Below is a list of all the extras of the boxset:
Commentary with Dennis Waterman, producer Ted Childs and director Tom Clegg
Commentaries with Dennis Waterman, Garfield Morgan, producer Ted Childs, writers Trevor Preston and Troy Kennedy-Martin, directors Tom Clegg and David Wickes and editor Chris Burt
Episode introductions by guest stars Warren Mitchell, Wanda Ventham, Prunella Gee, John Forgeham, Billy Murray, Tony Selby and Dudley Sutton
Episode introductions by guest stars Bill Maynard, Gwen Taylor, James Booth, Ken Hutchison and Lynda Bellingham
Series Four: 'The Electric Theatre Show' interviews with John Thaw, Dennis Waterman and Ted Childs 'This Is Your Life - John Thaw' extract 'This Is Your Life - Dennis Waterman' extract Series 4 textless titles with dual sound Episode introductions by guest stars James Warrior, George Sewell, Jenny Runacre, Nick Stringer, Gary Morecambe and Peter Wight 'Sweeney 2' film trailer with introduction by Ken Hutchison and James Warrior 'Sweeney 2' promotional gallery PDF Out-takes 'The Sweeney' 1978 Annual PDF Stills gallery Extract from 'Behind the Sunshine' PDF, recounting the making of 'Hearts and Minds'
'Sweeney!' and 'Sweeney 2':
Series one is now available as a Region 1 (North America) DVD, but there are no plans for any more in the US.
A soundtrack album "Shut it! The Music of The Sweeney" was released in 2001 and features much of the incidental music used in the programme as well as many classic pieces of dialogue.
The show was known for many memorable lines of dialogue which included:-