Thursday, September 15, 2005

We're The Sweeney, Son - And We Haven't Had Any Dinner.

Something happened on the journey from childhood that I didn't expect. One of my favourite TV shows of all time went from being a punch-happy, flare-wearing, car-chasing, tough-talking romp to something more cerebral.

The Sweeney is, inarguably, one of the most important British TV shows ever made. Click the article for a much more eloquent description of why, but the short version is that it took UK cop shows from moustachioed policemen bending their knees and saying things like "'ello 'ello 'ello, what's all this then, sonny Jim?" and giving cheeky teenage scamps a clip round the ear for stealing apples, into... well... reality. The London Metropolitan Police's Flying Squad could take their time on a case, often heading it off at the pass before it happened. They could interrogate criminals, cut deals with them and set up stings. It finished a shameful 19th in ITV's recent survey of greatest shows from its 50 year lifetime (right above the legendary Tiswas, another show I should perhaps do an entry on). The fact that recent shows featured so near the top proves, once again, that the public should never be trusted with voting for anything.

Being merely a glint in the milkman's eye when the show debuted, I was too young to enjoy it's brief 3 years. I was always aware of the shows existance (it lived on in repeats) but it wasn't until we were connected to cable TV and dedicated repeats channel UK Gold started showing it in rotation. I got hooked. I was 18 years old, packed to critical mass with testosterone, in control and knew everything. Thus, the hard living of the Sweeney's main characters appealed to me; they were dangerous and unpredictable. Stopping at nothing to get results from the criminals, drinking 24 hours per day, sleeping with loose women and prone to getting in 15 minute car chases, followed by 8 minute fight sequences. Add to that the hilarity of the fashions, the clunky cars, the flared tousers, the matching shirt and tie combos with a knot you could build a house on... it was a kitsch wet dream in the early 90s.

Fast forward to nowadays (as opposed to then-a-days I suppose) and the dawn of DVD has spurned a massive retro fashion in the UK. Now you can buy your entire childhood back and own huge collections of every TV show you used to watch as a child. Network DVD, a company with an intrinsic understanding of the needs and wants of my backward-looking generation, remastered and repackaged all the episodes of The Sweeney and released them in season-long box sets. Looking cleaner and brighter than they did on their original transmission and featuring an intelligently mixed 5.1 soundtrack (although the original mono is also an option), I jumped at the chance to see it again. But in the ensuing years, something bizarre happened. The episodes had changed somehow, now they were smartly written pieces of drama with - dare I say - stunning performances not just from the principals, but from the guest stars. All of a sudden, this kitschy 1970s time bubble full of fisticuffs and screaming tyres was an intelligent show with impenetrable plots and performances reeking with realism.

Did someone change the show whilst I wasn't looking... or did I just grow up?


Senihele said...

When I read the title of this I had a sudden memory jolt of seeing Sweeney Todd on B'way some years ago. You know, the barber who sliced his patrons throats, ground them into meat and served them in pot pie form? I saw Sweeney and Dinner and my mind wondered if Spike was confessing to a life of crime. ;-D

Spike Nesmith said...

The two are indeed connected. The name "The Sweeney" comes from the cocknet rhyming slang Sweeney Todd/Flying Squad. They're a milk and honey bunch, them Londoners.

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Senihele said...

Spike, I used your name in vain today:

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