There is a select group of motor vehicles that became as much associated with a television programme, as the human stars; from the mighty Wolseleys of Justice in Gideon’s Way, to the Ford Zephyr 6 Mk. IIs and Mk. IIIs of Z-Cars.
So, on 2nd January 1975, ITV viewers saw Ford PR fleet Consul GT, registration NHK 295 M, pursue a well-worn Jaguar S-Type in the opening credits of a new series called The Sweeney. As most readers already know, Ian Kennedy Martin approached Euston Films with the idea for a detective series provisionally entitled The Outcasts, and centred on a Detective Inspector fighting crime and red tape. From the outset, Kennedy Martin envisaged John Thaw in the role, not least because he was ‘such a marvellous character actor; he was going to make Regan sympathetic, come hell or high water’.
“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.”
Detective Inspector Regan made his first screen appearance in the eponymous Armchair Theatre play transmitted on the 4th June 1974. Seven months later, Ringer showcased a senior officer who treated low-life with weary contempt – ‘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’.
It is Regan’s task to patrol the grim streets in his Consul GT squad car, constantly wondering why he persists in a career that has prematurely aged him. For some, he was the British equivalent of Dirty Harry, but a closer template was possibly Stanley Baker’s driven and emotional Inspector Martineau of Hell is a City. It is quite bizarre to consider that Regan operated in the same London served by Sergeant George Dixon (who retired as late as 1976), but the two characters did have one key element in common…. Both officers swore to protect the public, but with Regan, it is at the cost of his health – physical and mental.
And perhaps that it is why NHK 295 M is still remembered after 45 years. Asides from the incredible stunt work by Peter Brayham and his team – most famously in Stoppo Driver – was the concept of the (very) tarnished knight in his “Copper Brown” Consul GT. In autumn of last year, it emerged from decades of restoration to star in the Lancaster Insurance Classic Motor Show – where it was almost instantly surrounded by gentlemen of a certain age adopting DI Regan scowls. Guv’nor.
Film Historian Andrew Roberts MA PhD FRSA