Worst to Best
The Sweeney
Season One

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7 Queen's Pawn

Essentially this is the best plotline of the first season, but its low placing here is because it's undeniably dated. Regan, given free reign to tackle a criminal gang in any way he wants, pushes things so far that the gang leader hires a hitman to kill one of his colleagues... a colleague with, for emotional weight, a pregnant wife. Carter's realisation that Regan suspected such a thing might happen adds to the darker tone.
     Sadly, one thing about The Sweeney, in its first season particularly, is that the villains can be very much "of the time", and, 40 years on, seem more like fops and dandies rather than hardened criminals. This is perhaps never more illustrated by having a criminal brought to life at the light entertainment hands of Tony Selby. Yet the story's urge to push the envelope fights against such limitations. There's even, shockingly so for the time, a topless scene with a pair of boobs on show. But enough of Tony Selby in that bath - Malou Cartwright also appears with her top off, too. Of particular note are the many explicit references to chess in the episode, and of chess as a metaphor... it's a story for those who thought the chess references in The Prisoner's Checkmate were too subtle.

6 Jigsaw

A strong episode – as most of these are – Jigsaw has one of the first season's more believable villains in the form of Eddie Boyse, played by Del Henney. Boyse is so cool he denies doing a crime which he wasn't even accused of doing in the first place... and this is all before the opening credits. Things do get a little contrived at the end, when Boyse suddenly loses his nerve and goes on the run while wanted for questioning, causing him to knock over a potential step child and leading the mother to shop him to the police. But such quibbles are minor for an episode where Regan memorably remarks as to who's on his side: "my mum, she thinks I'm a genius."

5 Contact Breaker

Warren Clarke stars as a convict trying to go straight while being stitched up for a crime. Apart from the theme tune, all the music in The Sweeney was stock music, and usually the high octane chases and fights are accompanied by a bongo for that sweet 70s vibe. Here the climax has a wah wah guitar, with the hilariously stiff Tony Anholt mounting the world's slowest getaway in a building site's pulley lift. An engaging episode, there are plenty of things to unintentionally amuse, such as department boss Haskins claiming that Regan is surprised whenever it comes up that he's able to "mix it". It's a double surprise, because not only has he never mentioned it before, but the illustration of him "mixing it" is having his jaw broken. Although the dynamic between Haskins and Regan could often get stuck in a cycle of Regan rallying against paperwork and new values, with Haskins criticising violent methods and the old ways, it was generally a rewarding screen pairing, with Garfield Morgan bringing much to what could, on paper, be a thankless part.

4 Night Out

An offbeat episode that sees a reverse of the usual situation, with Regan placed into a dangerous environment by a different superior officer, and for once being the one to plead for following the rules. Knowing a bank robbery is due to take place, the police don't send in an armed response unit, but place Regan into a pub next door to the bank with one of his old flames. Their conversations involve Galileo, and his ex claiming to be a prostitute to "impress him". Regan covers his back by phoning up Carter and asking him to bring along the Flying Squad's finest sharp shooter... Carter chooses the first person to walk past while he's on the phone. If such a series of random events appear bizarre when written down, then Night Out takes fourth spot for a reason... despite such oddities, it's an engrossing story, with genuine mounting tension as Regan prepares to put his life on the line in a shoot out.

3 The Placer

There's an intriguing amount of comparative realism in this one, opening mid-story with Regan undercover as a lorry driver investigating thefts in the industry. Eventually he's worked over by a gang, and has to use his skills to track them down and break the crime ring. One notable element of the programme is how the monetary values expressed have almost no meaning today: Regan is offered "£150 a week" to take part in a job for the criminals, which sounds like a pittance... but would be a monthly wage of £4267 by 2014's standards.

2 Regan

Seven months before The Sweeney first aired was Regan, an episode of Armchair Cinema. The series was an attempt by Thames-owned Euston Films to create sellable television movies which could be distributed abroad. A feature-length 87 minutes long, Regan is slightly more downbeat that the series it spawned, commendably so, although some fans may prefer the slightly ‘warmer' atmosphere the series proper contained. That said, there's an interlude with a larger-than-life photographer and a comedy Italian family that points towards some of the odd tonal choices that the show would take.
     Euston Films were so confident in the quality of Regan that they commissioned the series before it even aired, although disagreements about the direction it should take meant creator Ian Kennedy-Martin left the project. Today it's almost impossible to fully appreciate just how much The Sweeney overturned the genre and broke new ground: but it all began right here.

1 Abduction

Often the best episodes of series centre around the lead characters, and with Regan's young daughter kidnapped, there's a real tension in this one. There's a swagger and confidence in Trevor Preston's script, with lines like "That's right, we're the two biggest male chauvinist pigs in the Sweeney!" meeting Regan's bullish confidence in the face of despair. If there's one complaint it's that the rival policeman on the case is too much of a one-dimensional sleaze who you're supposed to hate, but such things are minor in a season that ends on a real high.