Worst to Best
The Sweeney
Season Four

Production on the fourth series of The Sweeney saw it filmed between July 1977 – May 1978, with an extra episode and a second movie in the middle of the production blocks. As filming took place, John Thaw announced his intention to leave the programme, and the series was ended, Waterman moving on to his own vehicle, Minder.


by
THE ANORAK
NOVEMBER 2014


Over the last nine months here at The Anorak Zone I've sat through 53 episodes and three Sweeney movies... an exhausting schedule, but one that was ultimately rewarding. The Sweeney is outside the usual SF/fantasy scope of this site, but it's a television series that is well worth watching. My tribute to the fortieth anniversary of the programme ends here, with the final season ranked from worst to best...

15 Messenger Of The Gods

The season opener, and one that introduces the updated title sequence. The titles haven't aged particularly well, its prism effect looking like a child's kaleidoscope is following Regan and Carter around, or a particularly drunk Dalek. Maybe even The end of the fourth Sapphire & Steel story. Sloppily, the commercial break "bumpers" aren't similarly updated, though the new end credits – Regan boredly travels up an escalator – do reflect the final season's state of ennui.
     Messenger of the Gods is one of two episodes to bring back comedy into the series. Any take on comedy is subjective, so if your idea of a good Sweeney episode is Diana Dors sitting on a cake and slapping Regan, comedy deaf uncles, ladders on feet, or dialogue so bad it makes the lines of Jason Statham in an Expendables movie sound like Noel Coward, then this one could be worth a look.

14 Latin Lady

"All of a sudden, everyone round here is taking a very complacent attitude to violent crime."

The final season of The Sweeney does, in general, give every indication why the series was right to end when it did. The pace and energy is no longer there, the leads lack the same interest in their work, and the freshness and ideas of the scripts are gone. This is never more apparent than with the lethargic Latin Lady, almost a televisual Mogadon.
     Greatly missed is Haskins, with Garfield Morgan only appearing in half of the fourteen episodes, and neither of the two movies. In his place here is Det. Chief Supt. Braithwaite, a flat, somewhat clichéd character who appeared in four episodes and shared none of the dynamic that Haskins enjoyed. Also particularly of note here is how regularly Waterman seems to forget he's supposed to have a working class accent... his real speaking voice slips out frequently throughout the programme, but never as often and as consistently as this.
     Ted Childs was the producer of the entire series, and tried his hand at writing four episodes during its final run. As this one includes such choice lines of dialogue as "Tell me, Inspector... have you ever been in love?", it's unclear whether he truly understood the nature of the programme he was making.

13 Hearts and Minds

Generally regarded as the worst Sweeney episode ever made, this was reputedly filmed last, and largely centres around giving Morecambe and Wise a guest spot, playing "themselves". This wouldn't have been too bad an idea, were the comedians able to show something behind the mask. However, Hearts and Minds forces the viewer to accept that the Eric and Ernie that appear off-camera are exactly the same people who appeared on screen, which pretty much shatters the fourth wall when Eric screams at the sight of a villain in exactly the same comic fashion he would in one of their sketches. The final six minutes or so, which descend into farce, are pretty painful to watch, though the story is perhaps better than its lowly reputation... just.
In terms of trivia, then this is the longest Sweeney episode, coming in at t 53'28 minutes. Should you care, the shortest was season two's Country Boy, coming in at 48'23m.

12 Sweeney 2

The first Sweeney movie was a moderate box office hit, though the unimaginatively-named Sweeney 2 didn't quite duplicate its success. Released in April 1978, ahead of season four's September – December broadcast dates, it's a meandering mess of a film that goes outside the show's usual remit with Malta location filming.
One intensely distracting element of this second movie is how many of the credited guest cast had appeared in, or would go on to appear in, the show itself. Using people you know are reliable is standard practice in television, and more than one actor would play a different part over the course of its run. But of the 52 credited non-regulars in this movie, no less than 24 of them (over half of the cast) had appeared in the programme. Also odd is the amount of swearing in the film, making the most of the lack of censorship in cinemas. It does make you wonder where the bad language goes when the regular episodes are rolling.
     The highlight of this lacklustre outing is Regan's near-breakdown in the bathroom at the end of the movie. It's a standout piece of acting from Thaw, and sadly one of the last times he'd really try... while he was almost incapable of giving a bad performance, massive chunks of this final run clearly show him acting on autopilot.

11 Money, Money, Money

From this point on, all the episodes are of a decent quality, even though many of them suffer from a languid pace. Money, Money, Money is one such episode, an easy-going tale about blackmail that has more in common with something like Heartbeat than a once-gritty police series. The main narrative houses a separate subplot about a witness that goes nowhere, and there's a romance story for Carter that never gets resolved. Standout of the episode is Glyn Owens' turn as Jack's old mentor, now a broken man. Although there is a reason behind his breakdown – his wife died of cancer – his status as a once-great policeman who is now destroyed inside holds up a mirror to Regan's own future... quite chilling stuff.

10 Trust Red

One complaint with episodes of The Sweeney is that, for a detective series, it frequently shows the viewers how the crimes were committed before the investigation takes place. Trust Red follows this pattern, showing a criminal gang trying to cover up how one of their number was accidentally killed. As we know this from the start, seeing Regan and Carter trying to uncover clues isn't that compelling. It doesn't help that the two lead characters are particularly dislikeable in this one, and even Regan is fed up with Carter's schoolboyish antics in the episode.
     What makes this one work perhaps better than I've given it credit for is Regan's own doubts. There are parts where he hesitates, and almost gets injured as a result. However, one negative aspect of the series is the notable lack of continuity. Regan's doubts about his career come and go, and the ridiculous amount of lovers he beds in this final series do the same, all without explanation. There's not a single sequence of episodes in this fourth run that follow the order in which they were filmed, and so cars, dress and weather change from week to week, while the length of Waterman's Womble ears can drastically alter from one story to another. While giving both leads various lovers in each instalment can add to their unlikely status as playboys, the lack of internal logic does make for an inconsistent viewing experience.

9 Feet Of Clay

There are parts of the final run where the line between Regan and the post-modern pastiche that is Life On Mars' Gene Hunt seem almost non-existent. Lines like "Who's a naughty Abdul... you wait till Allah hears about this" could easily have been delivered by Philip Glenister. Also of note here is that Regan and Carter's jokingly homoerotic relationship reaches its apex, with Regan finding Carter in bed, and stroking him lovingly, George believing it to be his girlfriend and nuzzling up against his hand. A later scene has Waterman putting on a stereotypical camp voice and saying to Regan: "Makes me glad I'm gay."
The actual story here sees Joss Ackland as a father with a kidnapped son held to ransom... the twists involved in such a premise are spectacularly obvious, but do juxtapose nicely with Regan talking on the telephone to his own absent offspring.