The Sweeney broke the mould for British cop shows. Until it was broadcast, they’ d been rather stolid, sometimes quaint, dramas like Dixon of Dock Green, Z-Cars and Softly, Softly about policemen – or even bobbies: not cops.
They were about upholding the law: not breaking it: about smart blue uniforms, not kipper ties and long hair. They were about preventing or punishing violence – not about inflicting it with pleasure on villains.
Then, in 1975, The Sweeney burst onto commercial television. Based on the notoriously corrupt activities of Scotland Yard’ s Flying Squad, it followed two dishevelled, uncouth detectives, Regan and Carter, played by John Thaw and Dennis Waterman, who hurtled around unsalubrious parts of London in a battered Ford Granada roughing up anyone who failed to spill the beans quickly enough.
Where Dixon of Dock Green would bid his viewers “ Goodnight all1” , with a cheery salute, this pair snarled “ Shut it!” at toe-rags who spoke out of turn and “ Put ‘ em away, love” at gangsters’ molls whose boudoirs they’ d burst in on. Philip Glenister’ s Gene Hunt in Life on Mars is both parody and homage.
Now Pat Gilbert has written the book on this cult cop show, interviewing dozens of people who made it happen, from screenwriters to stuntmen. It’ s an essential companion to one of the DVD box sets.