How AdVINTAGEous – 70’s cops on the box. Sweeney v Professionals

As a nipper, I had watched neither The Sweeney nor The Professionals. Too ‘far fetched’ was Mother’s perpetual cry (though Dad and I did enjoy Bond films. Too bad Lewis Collins failed the audition, an aggressive Bond is a good Bond). Maybe Mum viewed tough-cop dramas with hard-hitting action and screeching cars a bit unseemly for a quiet young lass like me. She positively rolled her eyes in despair when the rest of us yee-harred round Hazzard County with Bo and Luke Duke.

But The Sweeney and The Professionals were a different pan of pilchards altogether, perhaps a bit too close to home in topic if not quite in location.

Jill’s Challenge

I recently read Brian Viner’s excellent and funny book about 1970’s telly ‘Nice to see it, to see it nice’. In it, he describes how he preferred The Sweeney to The Professionals, possibly based on some of the realism of one against the pretense of the other, and stating that even now Martin Shaw doesn’t much like to discuss The Professionals and his role in it.

With this in mind, I decided it was high time I saw what the fuss was about, watch both, and see what I reckoned. I’m a bit of a sucker for cheesy 70’s telly as you can see by aforementioned Dukes of Hazzard, and stuff like Fantasy Island and The Muppet Show.

Flying Squad v CI5

Now do bear in mind that these comparisons are my opinions only, and not necessarily founded on fact.

  • Theme Tunes: The Sweeney is ok, consistent enough with similar from the era to not be annoying. The Professionals is more dynamic.
  • Regan v Cowley: It evens out a bit here. Both are hard-nosed bastards, both enjoy single malt whisky (as do I, incidentally). DI Regan is more ‘regular copper’ with DCI Haskins ranking him, while Cowley is ‘law enforcement’, answering more to the Home Office and government top brass in whose company he can more than hold his own.
  • Credibility: Sweeney Todd the Flying Squad is real and the plots  tend to be true-to-life it-could -really-happen events with a hint of  the disturbing,  possibly maggoty side of life we don’t always see. CI5 is the creation  of the writer who has sat down with a pen and thought “if I was creating a new branch of law enforcement, what would I call it?” and gone for an obvious mash-up of CID and MI5 after the original A Squad was binned. Plots do tend to be fanciful and at times a bit implausible – but damn good fun!
  • Action: If you like punch-ups, Bodie and Doyle can dish ’em out but don’t always win. And if you ask me if I prefer to watch a bronze family Granada, or a Capri screeching round a corner, what do you think I’d say? There’s plenty of action in both, shoot-ups and stand-offs as well. I suppose it’s just a matter of taste.
  • Characters: In the Sweeney episodes I’ve seen so far, I’m not getting an awful lot from Carter. I must just add that this has got nothing to do with Dennis Waterman’s acting. Carter’s character isn’t yet urging me to keep watching. Maybe it’s just me. Regan seems a bit more clearly defined for my personal taste, though I’m not convinced of their chemistry at this stage in my viewing. Bodie and Doyle are more of a comedy double-act at times, which I like. They back each other up, egg each other on and work as a team. Cowley trusts them even though sometimes they screw the rules, but at times, Cowley can do that himself if he believes he is right. Despite their taunting of Cowley, and their frequent bollockings, there is a mutual respect. I have seen more of the Professionals three main characters’ histories following through, and feel I know them better.

My verdict

I personally prefer The Professionals. I tend to go for escapism over realism, and like the humour and interaction of the main characters with each other. It has been remarked that Collins and Shaw were chosen for their parts more on their looks. That’s as maybe, and as a female I’m not complaining – but for me there’s much more to it than that in the way the whole show has been put together.

In fairness I have watched fewer episodes of The Sweeney so far, and haven’t started them from the beginning. This is where my lack of character background comes from. I may think differently when I’ve watched a few more.

Maybe the next vintage TV cop comparisons I’ll do should be Starsky and Hutch, and CHiPs. Or then again, maybe not…


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