45 Years of The Sweeney – Vehicles and Villains

January 2, 2020

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

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Comments:24

  1. John Thaw Reply
    20/01/03

    When will you get around to releasing series 2, 3 & 4 on Blu Ray? According to the Andrew Pixley booklet supplied with the Series 1 Blu Ray, they were “coming soon”. That was nearly 8 years ago. The fact that the series 1 blu ray sold out and you have written this article demonstrates there is still a market for this.
    Anyway, here’s hoping.

  2. Glenn B Reply
    20/01/03

    Everyone’s BEGGING for more Blu Ray Sweeney Series!?

  3. M Pereira Reply
    20/01/03

    When is the complete series coming out on bluray ?

  4. James Reply
    20/01/03

    When is series 1 blu ray going back on sale please and when will we see series 2-4 on blu ray?

  5. Andrew Denyer Reply
    20/01/03

    When are we going to see Series 2-4 on blu-ray? The cover insert for the blu-ray release of Regan (released in 2011) advertises all four series of The Sweeney as “Coming Soon to Blu-ray”, but over 8 years later we’re still waiting for Series 2-4 following the release of Series 1 in 2012…

    • Simon Reply
      20/01/06

      It is all rather odd. We did get The Professionals all five series, in 4 releases, on Blu-ray in fairly quick succession between circa 2014-16 all restored, extras and viewing notes books, but no more Sweeney, apart from the treat of the two Sweeney films last year. The Sweeney Blu-ray (Series 1) is no longer stocked by Network and is advertised on the internet for £75 to £100. I do enjoy the restored HD film & TV releases of the 1960-70s period, specially when there is a good amount of outdoor location filming, which The Sweeney has plenty of. The first series on BD looks great on a HD TV or projector screen and is the next best thing to a time machine. Maybe Network are holding off the release and are going to bring it out in UHD/4K 🙂

  6. Francis North Reply
    20/01/03

    This begs the question where is the rest of the series on blu ray!

  7. Aaron Reply
    20/01/03

    Rather than offering an unecessarry retrospective of The Sweeney, shouldn’t Network finish the excellent work they started donkeys years ago and give us Series 2,3, and 4 on Bluray???

    • Simon Mentha Reply
      20/01/03

      I second Aaron (and third, fourth…)
      Please, please, please can we have the rest on Blu-ray! I’ve eked out the (also excellent) Professionals for too long…

    • Doug Reply
      20/01/03

      Great feature but as has already been mentioned, when will you complete the bluray releases you said were coming soon some years ago?

  8. Frank Kemble Reply
    20/01/03

    Agree with Aaron, would be great to see the rest of the series on blu-ray….
    Series one looked stunning!

  9. Aaron Reply
    20/01/03

    … and they should proof read before they publish things.
    (“In the eponymous Armchair Theatre play…” Armchair Cinema!!!)

  10. Ulrich Reply
    20/01/03

    Well, I wouldn’t say that The Sweeney retrospective is uneccessary, but I do aggree with Aaron on one point: please release seasons 2-4 on Blu Ray! And how about Danger Man and The Saint? That would really make my day. Happy New Year and please continue your excellent work.

  11. Ryan Reply
    20/01/03

    I too would love to see the rest of The Sweeney released on Bluray, the first series was a fantastic product from Network. Can we at least get some idea of when (or if) we could expect it?

  12. Jay Reply
    20/01/03

    Hows about doing the complete series on Blu-Ray?

  13. Steve Sullivan Reply
    20/01/04

    Network are great in the series they release and their superb world-class BD restorations which are clearly presented with a deep love of the material (eg, the restored Thames idents preceding each episodes of The World at War). I grew up in London (Putney) in the 70s and this familiar jingle was almost a part of the family. I had wanted a job with Thames Television but alas did not possess the necessary academic qualifications to become a VT editor but I still have Thames’s glossy Annual Account for the year they sent me! But sometimes, and please forgive me Network, I am frustrated with their secrecy about non-releases, such as why they stopped The Sweeney on BD after series 1. They also decline to comment on why they will not apparently do a deal with the BBC in a BD release of series such as Roads to Freedom (Daniel Massey), and Target (starring the ever-watchable Patrick Mower) in the BBC’s answer to The Sweeney which I thought was an excellent hard hitting, gritty series. I had recorded some of this series using my first VHS deck (a Ferguson Videostar) during the series first and only broadcast (to my knowledge) but alas recorded over them as I wasn’t earning much back then and a 3 hour cassette cost about £4 (in 1979’s money).
    I was playing the two Sweeney films (on Network’s superb BD restorations) over Christmas thinking how superbly produced the films were when we still had freedom of speech, but also how much our society has been changed by our politicians and the blight called political correctness of which I am sure readers will guess I am not a fan.
    Yet again I will ask NETWORK – do you have any plans to release the remaining The Sweeney series on fully restored BD, and if not, why not? Why keep your viewing public in suspense?

    • Simon Reply
      20/01/07

      I agree with you about the quality of Network’s restoration work, which is the bench mark in the trade and all the extra things they do, just like these articles that appear on their website. I personally will upgrade from DVD to Blu-ray because the quality is so much more detailed and real. I have bought some of Network’s releases which I would not have done if they were non Network releases. However, I have held off buying the Sweeney DVDs as I have been waiting for the Blu-rays. I have fond memories of Putney in the 1970s, visiting family and I enjoyed seeing Putney, Barnes, Roehampton and the back of the Arndale Centre in Wandsworth in The Sweeney 2 Blu-ray. In my opinion, the most important thing is the quality presentation of the actual content, followed by subtitles, commentaries, documentaries, behind the scenes notes books etc, which in the case of the Sweeney I would pay extra for without hesitation. Also, like you, I do like Thames TV indents at the start of every episode which adds to the atmosphere and if Network were to push the boat with extras, maybe a period episode of Shaw Taylor’s Police 5, for the Thames area, involving a Sweeney style bank raid or cash in transit robbery could be included.

      I have the same feelings about political correctness/limitations of freedom of speech which are now present. It is great to see when things were more relaxed, for example, Insp. Regan and Sgt. Carter could be down the boozer, having a liquid lunch and not worrying about being bothered by the pinned striped governor from the ivory tower of New Scotland Yard on the smartphone. As for politicians (Number 2s) and where we are at now with mass surveillance and thought control, I would highly recommend Network’s Blu-ray of Patrick McGoohan’s 1967 visionary series The Prisoner.

  14. Rob W Reply
    20/01/04

    Have to echo the previous posts, Networks first crowd-funding as you are concerned there is no demand for the remaining 3 series?

  15. Cymon Reply
    20/01/04

    Yes, I would also love to see all 4 series of The Sweeney on blu ray.
    Please would you at least let people know if it is likely, or not, to happen so at least they know one way or the other
    Thanks

    • Nigel Phelan Reply
      20/01/04

      Regarding The Sweeney – it was revealed at the ITC event that HD versions for series 2-4 have not been done. The restored dvd set from Network would indicate that restoration of the sources has been done as the picture quality is much better but they not gone beyond series 1 with the HD scans. It’s unthinkable that the rest of the series will not get a Network Bluray release at some point during their current Fremantle contract however I think Network are trying to work out how to market it. Clearly a series at a time for £37.99 was too pricey but as I assume they still want to include the bonus features the question is how to do that and keep the sets cheap enough or just do a basic bonus featureless Bluray edition that mirrors the dvd set. Only time will tell

  16. Nigel Phelan Reply
    20/01/04

    Secrecy about releases is common among all labels as it ensures we get to know about it once it’s certain. It seems obvious the reason The Sweeney Blurays are overdue is because series 1 sales were disappointing. I did buy it but the RRP was a tad high and waited for the sales. If enough do that then it won’t continue. Apart from a handful of episodes on BSB in 1990 the BBC series Target has never appeared anywhere else ever. No UK Gold, no video – nothing. Union tv deals made 20 years ago ensure that actors can no longer block repeats on channels like Drama / Gold except in the most unusual of circumstances. However, the writers and creators of a series can sometimes stand in the way depending on the deal they have and the rumour mill suggests this is what happened. If the truth were known then whoever was standing in the way would get endless hassle which is why trade secrets like that are rarely revealed.

  17. Hugh Neilson Reply
    20/01/05

    Nice feature, and I must echo the other guys – Having season 1 and the movies on BD in wonderful, reference quality just makes one hungry for the rest!

    I also have both “complete” DVD sets, one for the extras and one for the improved quality … so I am quite keen.

    How about a limited edition BD release of season 2, in the same format as season 1, subscription pre-order only … keep it out of the sales … and see how it goes? I think many of us would be willing to go a little bit “over the odds” to own such a release.

    PS – Target would be nice, “Queen’s Pardon” was a tremendous piece of drama as I recall.
    PPS brilliant job on the Python box … awesome release!

    H

  18. David Barber Reply
    20/01/06

    Sweeney! and Sweeney 2 looked crystal clear and sharp on blu-ray, much better than the old DVDs. If the rest of the series were released on HD, I’d love to see extras such as the companion books, rare interviews with John and Dennis and the audio commentaries recorded by Waterman and the late Garfield Morgan for the Umbrella sets. They could perhaps also buy the rights from the BBC for a one-off play Dennis did with Jan Francis back in 1977. After all on the Network set, they included that Morecambe & Wise Christmas Special.

  19. Simon Reply
    20/01/07

    Watching the clip, in the article, The Sweeney The Complete First Series Blu-Ray, I have never noticed the lady at the burger van (1 min 10 secs) with a hot dog bun and the mustard goes down the front of her raincoat in two splodges. She should have brought her wetsuit!

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