The Sweeney is by far the best TV series about British policing ever screened. It's gritty, hard-hitting (literally); packed with strong characters and tight plots; blessed with one of our great TV actors, and it set a very high bar for subsequent series to try to reach.
The Sweeney has very little of the gloss of American cops-n-robbers series. Instead it's set in the very grubby, very cheap offices of London's Flying Squad with rogue copper Jack Regan (John Thaw) and his regular crew. They break the rules, they beat up the bad guys, they take a pounding themselves. And they drive truly cool cars form the 1970s in some of the most unlikely chase scenes -- nearly always on the edge of losing control... much like Regan himself.
The early episodes of the first couple of series are the ones to treasure. If you're in any way offended by violent, bad-tempered behaviour, naked girlies and angry shouting, then don't watch. If you're gripped by the desperate situations that Regan gets himself in to, and compelled to see whether the Sweeney will come out on top this time (they don't always get their man, in fact they often fail when Regan cuts corners), then buy this set and sit back and enjoy. It's remarkable how much the writers could cram into 50 minutes, and how well it reflects the criminal underbelly of London at the time.
A whole genre of TV and film owes its birth to the Sweeney. Without this series there never would have been 'Lock, Stock...' or Layer Cake, never mind Life on Mars. The Sweeney set the tone and it has not been bettered.
The film-making of the 1970s has been massively surpassed in recent years, but the characters and plots of the Sweeney will reveal that even the best of current TV drama is pretty limp by comparison. OK, the series loses the plot somewhat in the last series, with flippant episodes which Thaw and Waterman almost play for laughs -- but when it's good, the Sweeney is unbeatable. And this set just about covers the ground (although you should try to catch the movies, too).
After all, it gave us grown men calling each other 'guv'nor' and 'skipper', driving old Jags and yelling 'SHUT IT'. That's a brilliant night in, innit?
Disc 1: Ringer, Jackpot, Thin Ice, Queen's Pawn
Disc 2: Jigsaw, Night Out, The Placer, Cover Story
Disc 3: Golden Boy, Stoppo Driver, Big Spender, Contact Breaker
Disc 4: Abduction, Chalk and Cheese, Faces, Supersnout
Disc 5: Big Brother, Hit and Run, Trap, Golden Fleece
Disc 6: Poppy, Stay Lucky Eh?, Thou Shalt Not Kill, I Want The Man
Disc 7: Country Boy, Trojan Bus, Selected Target, In From The Cold
Disc 8: Visiting Fireman (Full uncut Version), Tomorrow Man, Taste of Fear (Full uncut version), Bad Apple
Disc 9: May, Sweet Smell of Succession, Down To You Brother, Pay Off
Disc 10: Loving Arms, Lady Luck, On The Run, Messenger of the Gods
Disc 11: Hard Men, Drag Act, Trust Red, Nightmare
Disc 12: Money Money Money, Bait, The Bigger They Are, Feet of Clay
Disc 13: One of Your Own, Hearts and Minds, Latin Lady, Victims
Disc 14: Jack or Knave
A lot of the memories from your childhood/teens don't really stand up too well on revisitation, but having bought The Sweeney Box set for myself for Christmas, I've been watching a few episodes (I also picked up the pilot, Reagan, which is great too).
From the opening bars of the theme tune - Surely one of TV's best ever - the Sweeney on DVD is every bit as great as when I watched it as an impressionable teenager.
The scenes of London (the run-down, disused docklands in Reagan is a real eye-opener for anyone who knows the area now!) are great nostalgia and the wobbly suspensioned Granadas are fun too (so are the Austin 1100 panda cars), but the scripts, editing and pace are all excellent - Nothing flags in the 50 minutes of each episode (none of your stretch it out to 3 hour slots so beloved of today's TV cop shows) and there's always a resolution (of sorts).
Another great part of watching the Sweeney is to see so many well known (or just familiar) actors (TV and film) playing small parts (eg Villains, grasses, girlfriends). A few of the actors ham horribly, though, it must be said!
If you liked the Sweeney when it was out originally, you'll find it still stands up well to revisitation (even if the mid 70s were a crime against fashion and hairstyles!)and if you just enjoy TV cop shows, the Sweeney is a great example of how to keep it tight and taut and realistic, even today.
on 7 September 2010
Watching the Sweeney again after 30 years is like getting into a time machine and going back to the seventies, with their brown clothes, shaggy haircuts, and googly wallpaper. It's not glamorous like the police shows of today - it's gritty, it's ugly, and the actors are not good-looking, but they all do a fantastic job in creating riveting drama, much of which has become the cop cliches of a generation. It's almost amusing to watch, seeing them spout the lines that we all know and love, but you could never put in a police show today. Nothing is politically correct, everybody smokes, the leads are always grumpy, and not afraid to whine about it to whomever is nearby. Unlike American cop shows, the violence is realistic: they don't trade blows for five minutes with barely a scratch, but people get hurt, and sometimes the action is sudden and frightening. It's a classic programme, and well worth a modern viewing. "Life on Mars" of course harks back to this era, but with more humour.
Technically, the picture quality is excellent, and considering that it was made over 30 years ago, they have really put some effort into making sure the image is very clear, without scratching or distortion: digital remastering at its best. It is also good to see that they haven't tried to stretch the image or pander to the rectangular screens of today - the picture appears to fit the old-style television as an almost-square box in the middle of the viewing area, with black on each side. As far as I can tell, it uses only the original mono soundtrack, but the series is so good, you don't really notice and this is not really an issue.
The only complaint I have is that the complete series DVD box has all the episodes, but nothing else. There are no extras at all - not even liner notes in the plastic DVD cases. The two cinematic films are not included, there are no interviews with Dennis Waterman or other surviving members of the cast and crew, no commentaries, documentaries, or even still photos. This is quite a disappointment for an otherwise excellent box set, and why it loses one star in my rating.
on 5 January 2011
Of course it's entirely my own fault, but I purchased this thinking it was the complete "digitally remastered" series. Well, it isn't! It's what I now realise is known as the "Vanilla" series, ie just the bare bones without all the additional material.
So it seems that if you want the complete digitally remastered series with all the bells & whistles, the only option is to purchase each set individually. While accepting my own error, I do think Amazon could/should be more specific in highlighting differences between versions.
on 7 December 2008
This show is a classic police series and well worth purchasing. It is interesting that in Series 3 the sound effects people creep in with their weird and unnecessary sounds. The beauty of series from this era is that they are free from this nonsense. However, it seems that from about 1976 onward, these sound freaks start polluting the TV shows with a morass of sounds to show off their `versatility'. The Sweeney only suffers a little from this as it is not constant, but the history and gradual development of this irritating phenomenon is interesting until the present day when all dramas (and even documentaries) suffer from this din.
Buy it you will enjoy it despite this.
on 7 April 2014
Over the last few months, I have purchased various 'cop' series from the '70's and '80's (Dixon of Dock Green, Softly Softly Task Force and of course The Sweeney complete box set). Having gradually watched them all, and become quite square-eyed, The Sweeney box set has been a collection that I just could not put down and I found I had to limit myself to a maximum of 2 episodes per day. The problem was, after only the 2nd or 3rd episode, I very quickly reached the conclusion 'they just don't make 'em like this any more'. The casting was superb and the relationship between Regan, Carter and Haskins was always very well acted out. Regan and Carter had total respect for each other and were a great team. They had the occasional argument (Carter: "Why do I have to do it again?". Regan: "Because you're the sergeant and I'm the inspector!"). The great John Thaw (RIP and a greatly missed talent) showed many sides to his character, always very stern and serious in front of his junior staff (with the exception of Carter), but he had a gentle side too, as his daughter and many love interests saw. Dennis Waterman was at his best in this series and I don't think he has been as good in anything else since. I didn't like Minder so to my mind he wasn't as good in that.
The episodes were practically all excellent. I found I was constantly playing out "where have I seen that face before" as actors and actresses of today were to be seen (though of course about 40 years younger). There was plenty of action in the episodes and I almost feel that having reached the last episode on the last disc, I could go right back to the beginning and start again. Far, far better than so many modern police series, this was made when police were seen to be charging around, guns on show and never afraid to use them.
So if you liked The Sweeney when originally played 40 years ago, you can do far worse than buy this. It's a very reasonable price now when you consider there are 53 episodes over 14 discs, which adds up to about 2650 minutes (over 44 hours) and should keep you going for ages. If you are that bit too young to have seen these before and have only seen the film with Ray Winstone, my advice is to forget that as the film was a poor take off of an excellent police drama. Buy this instead and enjoy it - I don't think you will be disappointed.
on 18 November 2010
They should come with health warnings, box sets. It's the terrifying way they graze on your life and distort your perception of reality... none more so than the 53 episodes of the Sweeney you get here. Having just finished hauling my way through (and it IS a haul...), I'd have to say it's one of the most depressing - and compelling - televisual experiences I've ever had.
On the surface, there's really not much to like. Most of the plots are, by today's standards, half-baked and prosaic; the characters don't really develop at all, and there isn't a single woman who manages to rise above caricature; and the scripts... ooooh, those scripts... well, to call them 'functional' would be going beyond a kindness. Sacrilege, perhaps - and don't shoot the messenger, here - but compare your favourite episode of The Sweeney with *any* episode of Life On Mars, and it'll quickly become apparent how undercooked the 70's series was.
...and yet, and yet... there's just something *about* The Sweeney that crawls beneath your skin. I'm beginning to think it's the complete consistency of the picture it paints of 1970's London. It must've been a weird time - a sort of dystopian bombsite between the swinging 60's and 1980's yuppiedom. From what I remember (with a shameful fondness, I'd have to say), pretty much everything was somehow *contaminated* back then... TV, music and politics were sleazy; the clothes were terrible; food was inedible, and everything from cars to council flats seemed to be cobbled together from plywood, nylon and rust. And The Sweeney somehow captures it all... beautifully. Sit close to the telly, and you can almost breathe the asbestos dust coming from the screen; you can smell the stale tobacco smoke and lead-saturated exhaust fumes spewing from the back of the Cortina. It's uniformly horrible stuff... the smell of it almost clings to your clothes as you watch... and even the most 'vanilla' character, Carter, is by any objective standards a pretty repellent case (well, you wouldn't leave your teenage sister with him, would you..? Would you..? No, thought not...). But still...
I think the locations clinch the appeal of the series for me, though - and why, despite everything, I really *really* like The Sweeney. Most of the best locations (the fire-gutted warehouses, the waterside wastelands, the decaying Victorian backstreets) have gone now. The bits that are still physically standing have been gentrified, and the other bits... well, just take a boat trip east from London Bridge to see what happened to any square inch of land with a Thames view. But in The Sweeney, the yuppie clean-up has yet to take place... and in the *world* of the Sweeney, it never ever does. And there's something quietly - and insidiously - thrilling about that. Just don't ignore the health warnings and try watching it all over one weekend...
on 22 October 2011
I remember The Sweeney the first time around (just) and it used to go out at about 10.30 - 11.00 on a Saturday night as it was what we would class today as having adult content. However, it brings back such great memories of the 70's and John Thaw and Dennis Waterman are quite dishy (!) and are proper 'blokes', always on the look out for the bad guys and any female which may take their fancy..in the name of duty of course. It has a stellar line up of appearances of some of the (now) well known great names...John Hurt, Brian Blessed to name but two. There are some hard hitting episodes and some not so, which are just easy to watch and at times quite funny. The relationship between Carter and Regan is comedic in some episodes and in others shows Carter's (Waterman) frustration with his immediate boss. Regan (Thaw) comes across at times as a hard-hearted SOB but he always has his good intentions of catching the naughty boys at heart. If you watched it the first time around, buy it, it's a great memory jogger! If you didn't, well, it's an acquired taste, you'll either love it or find it as cheesy as a packet of Quavers!
The creation of Ian Kennedy-Martin, the first series of the Sweeney hit TV screens in January 1975, and TV police shows were never the same again. Based around the Metropolitan Police's real life team the Flying Squad, a team dedicated to preventing big figure robberies or catching the perpetrators of such, it was a tough and gritty drama that showed the ugliness of the criminals, and of some of the police trying to catch them. It was a ground breaking step away from the tweeness of things like Dixon of Dock Green and Z-cars. There was no black and white here, there were policemen who were almost as bad as the villains and villains who were likeable and in a strange way sometimes have a better sense of morals than the police. It was this intelligent approach to showing the various shades of grey rather than just heroes and villains that set it apart.
The bedrock of the series is John Thaw as Regan and Dennis Waterman as his sidekick Carter. They made a great on screen team. Regan is an old fashioned thief taker, not too worried about the rules as long as he gets a result. For all the ugly methods he is willing to employ, he has a very strong moral compass - stealing is wrong, and those who steal should be in jail. Constantly in tension with his superiors (in the form of Garfield Morgan's delightfully played slightly stuffy Haskins and (for series 1 only) Morris Perry as the practical but totally Machiavellian Manyon), it seems as though he has to fight both his own side and the villains to get a result. Carter is a likeable sidekick, tough, intelligent, and with a different sense of right and wrong that allows his to keep some of Regan's excesses in check. But with the same dedication to keeping villains off the streets.
The series was filmed on film, on location and in vivid colour. With its colourful characters, moral questions and levels of violence it was ground breaking, and more importantly, thoroughly entertaining. It was a huge success and has become a cult classic. And very deservedly so. But strangely the video and DVD releases over the years have never done it justice. Until Network DVD started releasing them. Over the years I have had a few DVD's from Network, of variable quality from the superb Richard III to the hit and miss Van Der Valk releases. I am happy to report that their Sweeney release is of the absolute highest order. The restoration is second to none. There isn't a single visible defect on the pictures, and it's so vivid that the characters virtually come out of the screen, or you feel like you are in 1970's London. The sound is similarly impressive. With a 5.1 surround mix, the original mono, or an option to watch each episode with music only, you are spoiled for choice. And I have to say that Harry South's famous theme never sounded so good. The 5.1 is bright and crisp, and feels like proper surround. The discs are also loaded with extras, including commentaries with cast and crew and a few episode introductions from famous guest stars.
All the episodes from the all four series are collected here, in superb quality.
5 stars for this, it's an absolute must buy.