In Which The Sweeney Takes on The Professionals

I have been watching The Sweeney again. I posted specifically about the movie on this blog, but I don’t think I posted about the TV series as such. One of the things I have in mind to do is series of posts around different actors (capitalizing on the frequent recurrence of actors in 1960s TV, which usually annoys me so much, I know) and one of the things I had in mind was to focus on Ian Hendry, and he had a role in the first episode of the first series. I realized that I hadn’t felt inspired to watch the series again for about six months, and so I popped a disc in and pressed play.
I had previously watched through all four seasons quite happily, and if you had asked me to place The Sweeney in a map of my televisual world, I would probably have put the show as coming out of the same stable as The Professionals and The New Avengers. This is despite one of my old neighbours’ attempts to put me off it by telling me how very old-fashioned it was. On the surface The Sweeney can well be equated to The Professionals (I only put The New Avengers in there, because I prefer to approach it as if it The Professionals rather than as if it is The Avengers). The two protagonists are distinctly mavericks working in an already difficult world. They often operate outside the strict rules of what they should be doing and often get rapped over the knuckles for it. The Sweeney was one of the shows which exposed to the general public how desperate the struggle to keep Britain’s streets safe was becoming by the 1970s, and also exposed the extent to which the police was buckling under the pressure and coming under internal threat from corruption and so on. The Sweeney showed us what ‘real’ policing was like at the time, and must have come as a shock to the aficionados of Dixon of Dock Green.
Yet I found that I was disappointed on re-watching the series. I am now re-watching The Professionals, just to tempt fate, and am finding it much better, and the purpose of this post is to reflect on why. If I reflect on what disappointed me about The Sweeney on rewatching it, I feel that it felt as if it was lacking something in comparison to The Professionals. As I was watching it, I felt that it was the lack of the somewhat combative relationship between Bodie and Doyle. Rather than Bodie and Doyle’s relationship without a rank, which ironically causes them to be more competitive with each other, the hierarchy between Regan and Carter is always apparent. I suppose The Sweeney intended to be about the real world of (admittedly Flying Squad) policing rather than the luxurious world of Special Branch, and you all know how little I like Real TV compared to Unreal TV, but I feel that Sweeney has missed a trick.
I find on rewatching The Professionals that the contrast seems to be much more of a visual one. I have written here before repeatedly about the muted pallet of colours used in so much 1970s TV, but the first thing to strike me on watching The Professionals is that it seems much more colourful and therefore visually interesting. This may highlight again the different worlds the two programmes are about. If you google ‘1970s décor’ much of what you get in the results are the latest fashions of the 1970s, and of course not many people would have had the money to afford those interiors. If The Professionals is about the world inhabited by The New Avengers, then The Sweeney is about the world of Rising Damp! Perhaps there’s also a question of the length of time which has passed. Many people nowadays escape into the ‘real’ world of soaps. As it happens I prefer to escape into the unreal world of exotic TV of fifty years ago. The high-flying world of The Professionals probably makes a better escape than the real(er) world of the 1970s depicted in The Sweeney.
Additionally I feel that The Professionals’ plots and scripts are better, just because I’m finding myself drawn in as I’m watching them. To be frank, I kept looking up at The Sweeney and wondering what was going on!
Yet I have watched both The Sweeney films repeatedly, liking them again each time. Perhaps both the Sweeney films and The Professionals were made with more big screen values, which makes them a different viewing experience…I’m just surmising here. Perhaps the characters are more able to shine in a film setting as well, I see the two Sweeney films are 18 certificate, which while it may merely imply sex, violence, swearing, and the odd glimpse of tits, to me it also suggests that the world depicted in the films is far more colourful than the one depicted in the TV series. So the films aside, I feel that The Professionals is superior to The Sweeney in visuals, characterization, plot, and the world that is depicted. I think I may be selling my Sweeney DVDs!