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We're the Sweeney son, and we haven't had any dinner. You've kept us waiting, so unless you want a kicking, you tell us where those photographs are!
—DI Jack Regan
A classic British Cop Show from the 1970s featuring Cowboy Cop Inspector Jack Regan (John Thaw) and his sidekick Sergeant George Carter (Dennis Waterman) of the Metropolitan Police Flying Squad (Rhyming slang: "Sweeney Todd" = "Flying Squad", hence the title), an elite detective unit able to be stationed at any location where an armed robbery is likely.
The characters were rough, hard-drinking and, by modern standards, highly sexist. Regan, while over forty, greying and divorced, was successful with women as part of his macho image (although his sex life became a plot point sometimes). Carter was married and a bit more stable and reliable than his "Guv'nor". In fact, Regan's "Guv'nor", Superintendent Haskins, felt Carter should be reassigned because Regan was a bad influence on him.
British television cop shows had been undergoing a steady evolution from the light-hearted Dixon of Dock Green to the relatively gritty Z Cars. The Sweeney took this to the next level, with an unprecedented level of violence, cynicism, and bad language (albeit that it was still PG-rated; "bastard" was as bad as it got). There was at least one car chase, fist fight or gunfight per episode. Unlike most British policemen, Regan and Carter were often armed, but the squad frequently took down criminal gangs in brutal hand-to-hand battles fought with pick-axe handles, iron bars, fists and boots. Unlike the almost-contemporary Starsky and Hutch the violent action did not have a James Bond-movie feel to it, being instead down-and-dirty, and sometimes quite shocking. Gunfire was seldom non-lethal and people who got hurt stayed hurt. If a car crashed and burned, the people inside didn't climb out as in The A-Team, either!
Detective work was mainly a matter of asking informants, many of whom lived in fear, or of following people, or simply "knowing the manor" so well that the heroes could just guess who was the most likely suspect. Not much Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot stuff happened, but it was often quite close to real police work.
And perhaps most significant of all, not all suspects were caught.
Blatantly parodied in The Invisibles, where Jack and George of Division X are Carter and Regan to the life. Explained by saying that the invisibles created their cover identities from old '70s cop shows. Their boss Mr Crowley is a Shout-Out to George Cowley of The Professionals, another British police drama of the time. (Their fellow agent Mister Six, meanwhile, is a Shout-Out to Jason King of Department S.)
Gene Hunt of Life On Mars and Ashes to Ashes is a fairly obvious Shout-Out to Jack Regan and his ilk. (One is tempted to call him an Affectionate Parody, but he'd call one a poof for saying so. He'd call one a poof for saying "one" instead of "him" anyway.) Gerry Standing, Dennis Waterman's character in New Tricks, is another Affectionate Parody of what the characters from The Sweeney (George in particular) might look like thirty-odd years down the track.
The show was recorded entirely with film, and the production had a heavy reliance on location shooting, both of which were very unusual features at the time. Although it was extremely popular, a combination of high production costs and creator burnout meant that it only lasted for four series. Nonetheless it was very influential, directly inspiring ITV's successful The Professionals and the BBC's relatively unpopular Target.
Reportedly getting the Hollywood film treatment some time soon.
There were fewer obvious tropes in this series than in some cop shows, since it tried hard to avoid being corny, but some that occurred were:
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: The pilot movie Regan ended with Regan beating a confession out of a suspect for the murder of an undercover police man....and then threatening to do him for not paying his car tax.
- Bang Bang BANG
- Bar Brawl: Often! Once involved two police units who hadn't recognised each other.
- Brian Blessed played the villain in the first episode. Managed to avoid being a Large Ham for once, delivering a menacing portrayal of a vicious gangster who "May have had elocution lessons, but is still as rough as the inside of a coal-bucket."
- Cowboy Cop: Regan on a good day. Carter and pretty much everyone else on the squad.
- Da Chief: D.S. Haskins, and above him, "The Commander".
- Fingertip Drug Analysis
- Good Cop, Bad Cop: degenerating into Bad Cop, Worse Cop and even Bad Cop, Rabid Cop.
- Retroactive Recognition: frequently.
- The aforementioned Brian Blessed.
- Viewers of The Bill will say this when they see Christopher Ellison (aka DI Frank Burnside) and Andrew Paul (PC Dave Quinnan) pop up.
- Steven Pacey appears in one episode. Briefly.
- John Hurt and George Cole appear together in one episode.
- Lynda Bellingham (now of Loose Women) is another famous guest star who appeared in an episode.
- Mook Chivalry: Strictly averted; nobody fought fair on this show!
- The Movie: Two theatrically released films were made between seasons, both made by the same cast and crew as the television show.
- Perp Sweating: Lots of sweating, along with plenty of punching, kicking, and banging against walls.
- Rabid Cop: Regan on a bad day.
- Six Is Nine: The "6 with a screw missing turns into a 9" gag is used in a scene where a very respectable family are eating dinner when armed policemen crash into their home, and are just as surprised as they are because they were expecting to meet armed criminals. After the mistake is cleared up, the officers leave with apologies and the family calmly return to their meal. Moments later, a crash is heard in the distance, and the father comments that it sounds as though they've found number 9.
- Special Guest: Morecambe and Wise. (John Thaw and Dennis Waterman found it hard to keep a straight face around them; they also did a spoof of The Sweeney on their sketch programme.)
- Theme Song Assonance: the sWEEney, the sWEEney, dadadadadaaaaa, dadadada!