"Get yer trousers on, son - you're nicked!"

Armed with a shooter, a mean set of sideburns and a brown Ford Granada, Jack Regan (John Thaw) was TV's original rebel copper. This is the feature-length pilot episode, which persuaded bosses at Thames Television to give the thumbs up to the no-nonsense D.I. and his pint-sized partner (Dennis Waterman). The resulting show, The Sweeney, ran for four series from 1975, and became the most popular British police drama of the decade. For Thaw, it was the start of a lifelong career playing sour-faced coppers.

When a policeman is murdered investigating two rival gangs, Regan is chomping at the bit to "nail those bastards", but bosses at Flying Squad take him off the case. Undeterred, the renegade inspector muscles in on the action. Swapping his regular wheels for a tasty blue Cortina, he speeds around Seventies London, beating Scotland Yard to every clue and suspect. Much of his modus operandi would have modern-day commissioners - both TV and police - squirming. Regan is unapologetically sexist and xenophobic - "Spaghetti benders" for Italians is inventive, but decidedly non-PC. There are also some cheap anti-German shots thrown in for good measure.

But it's easy to look back and scorn. The Sweeney was, above all, a product of its time. Indeed, it's the sometimes cringe-worthy retro values that add to the charm. Regan is essential viewing, for example, if you want to know why cravats and roll necks went out of fashion. But there are other, more positive lessons. This was a decade when camera shots were allowed to last for more than three seconds, music was used intelligently and rogue policemen could be genuinely complex characters.

Ian Kennedy Martin's script borrows heavily from the hard-nut feel of earlier big-screen films, such as Get Carter, but also manages to create a style of its own. Thaw, meanwhile, is superb - a clear star-in-the-making. While predominantly one for fans of The Sweeney, it's a tribute both to the director and his leading man that 30 years after he first hit our screens, Regan still packs a powerful punch.

Reviewed on: 28 Sep 2005
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The Sweeney pilot, in which John Thaw creates a new kind of tough copper.
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Director: Tom Clegg

Writer: Ian Kennedy Martin

Starring: John Thaw, Dennis Waterman, Lee Montague, Garfield Morgan, David Daker, Janet Key, Maureen Lipman, Morris Perry, Stephen Yardley, Barry Jackson

Year: 1974

Runtime: 77 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


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