The Sweeney — Killer TV No.35

1975-78, ITV
‘We’re the Sweeney. We kill you – nothing. You kill us – 30 years.’ – Jack Regan
John Thaw (DI Jack Regan), Dennis Waterman (DS George Carter), Garfield Morgan (DCI Frank Haskins)
Identikit: Two members of the London Metropolitan Police service’s Flying Squad use robust methods (fists, fabricating evidence, kidnapping) to take on the capital’s armed robbers and other violent villains.

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Sweeney Todd – Flying Squad, for all you non-East London geezers. The 1970s drama about two no-nonsense detectives, Jack Regan and George Carter, showcased a period when the Metropolitan Police bent the rules and did whatever it took to nail the bad guys. Though our fictional heroes certainly were not as out of control as the real thing, Regan did use his fists, arrange kidnappings, open mail illegally and fabricate evidence, but he didn’t take backhanders. The coppers all drank and smoked too much and often looked like they had a hangover – no pretty boy actors in this cast. The British crime series had come a long way since Dixon of Dock Green (which only wrapped in 1976, when its star Jack Warner was an implausible 80 years old). His successors on The Sweeney were not the paragons the authorities liked to hold up. Produced on 16mm film stock at real locations, the series still looks vibrant and immediate. The accent was on action – London looks pretty dowdy and washed out – and the show was a huge hit, spawning two movies, Sweeney! (1977) and Sweeney 2 (1978), along with the 2012 Ray Winstone reboot. It was also fondly, obliquely recalled in the character of Life on Mars‘s Gene Hunt. It grew out of an Armchair Cinema film (1974) that firmly established the characters and what became the drama’s catchphrase – ‘Get yer trousers on, you’re nicked!’ Regan is the Met’s leading thief taker, often kicking against red tape, and with a messy personal life. And then there is Carter, who’s been lured reluctantly back to the squad by Regan, having previously left for family reasons. Everyone from Diana Dors and Lynda La Plante to Morecambe and Wise appeared, while in addition to the spin-off movies there were books, comic strips and mentions in pop records (Kate Bush, Squeeze) and parodies (The Comic Strip Presents…). Drinking, punch-ups, womanising and haring around town in a Ford Consul. ‘Nuff said.

Classic episode: Taste of Fear from series three introduced psychopath Tim Cook, reckoned by aficionados to be the show’s most formidable baddie. A much-admired episode mixing drama, tragedy and a riveting performance from the ironically well-named actor George Sweeney as Cook.
Watercooler fact: As a teenager ‘Raymond’ Winstone had a small role as ‘2nd Youth’ in TV’s The Sweeney before going on to emulate ‘icon’ John Thaw (‘one of my favourite people’) in the underwhelming big-screen remake.

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Inspector Morse — Killer TV No.32


ITV, 1987-2000

‘Richards didn’t kill her, but I’ll tell you who did. Do you want to know?’ – Detective inspector Morse
‘Are you taking the piss?’ – Detective sergeant Lewis
‘No, no, I’m not. The man who killed Anne Staveley is called Sophocles.’ – Morse
‘Who’s he when he’s at home?’ – Lewis
‘Look, I want you to do a couple of things for me, and then I’ll explain everything.’ – Morse
‘… Do I know this Sophocles? – Lewis
‘Only if you loved your mother, Lewis.’ – Morse
John Thaw, Kevin Whately, James Grout
Identikit: The cases of detective inspector Morse and his sergeant, Lewis, set in the university town of Oxford.

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TV schedules, particularly in the UK, are jammed with detective procedurals shot in twee locations, most of which are televisual Horlicks – Midsomer Murders, Rosemary and Thyme, etc etc etc. Inspector Morse, however, got the formula right, and remains an outstanding success that UK television honchos would today still sell their children to replicate – hence the spin-offs Lewis (based on Morse’s successor and former deputy) and Endeavour (1960s-set prequel). The picturesque setting of Oxford was not too gratingly prim, being fairly pertinent to the stories in that Morse was a product of the university (though he didn’t complete his degree). In fact, he is so sharp intellectually that it was inevitable that he should end up a loner in his profession, even baffling his sidekick Lewis most of the time, such as when he alludes to a dead woman’s oedipal predicament in the pilot (quoted above). Based on Colin Dexter’s novels and brought to the screen by Tony Warren, Anthony Minghella and Kenny McBain, the secret to the show’s success was not just the procedural/whodunit mechanics of the mysteries, but the character of Morse and John Thaw’s affecting performance. He was more than the sum of his habits, however – beer, 1960 Mark 2 Jag, crosswords and Wagner. There was always a hint of melancholy about the singleton detective that made viewers root for him. His distinctive character was evident from the very first story, The Dead of Jericho – the real ale, his looking for love (the woman he is wooing in the pilot ends up dead), the mystery of his christian name, the classical music and gruffness. To some extent there was a lack of emotional depth to the drama in that Morse’s character did not develop much beyond these traits during seven series and five specials. But the intricate stories, boldly given two-hour slots in which to unfold by ITV, and the chemistry between John Thaw and Kevin Whately as Morse and Lewis added up to a staggeringly popular formula.
Spin-offs: Lewis, a sequel starring Kevin Whately, ran for several seasons from 2006. Endeavour, the prequel starring Shaun Evans, had its pilot in 2012.
Classic episode: Second Time Around from 1991. Morse believes the murder of a retired detective may be linked to a cold case from 18 years before – an investigation Morse was involved with concerning the murder of an eight-year-old girl, and which still haunted him. 

Watercooler fact: John Thaw, who died at the early age of 60 from cancer of the oesophagus, was a hugely popular TV actor in the UK who won numerous awards for his portrayal of Morse, including two Baftas and three National Television Awards, the latter being voted for by viewers.

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Endeavour series 2 DVD REVIEW

DVD: ★★★★

Extras: ★★★

THIS may be sacrilege, but I prefer Endeavour to Morse.

I suspect much of Morse’s renown and popularity are down to John Thaw’s unforgettable portrayal of the gloomy detective, but the character never developed during all the years he was on air. This was par for the course during the series’ run in the late 80s and early 90s. But modern series that have story arcs – anything from The Fall to Broadchurch to True Detective – have shown how much richer series are that don’t stay on a loop of same characters, same investigations every week.

Endeavour, the 1960s-set prequel, has the advantage of showing Morse as he develops and changes, and writer/executive producer Russell Lewis has demonstrated his skill and empathy in taking Colin Dexter’s creation and fleshing him out cleverly. Each series combines the whodunit format with a story arc about the outsider detective, this latest series following his return to duty following the death of his father and his own brush with death after being shot, along with his romance with his neighbour, nurse Monica (Shvorne Marks).

Shaun Evans has been excellent casing as the too bright copper, and Roger Allam – as Thursday, who has his journey in this series – is a terrific co-star. The films from ITV are lovingly shot and have a fine period feel.

This complete collection of series 2’s four films – Trove, Nocturne, Sway and Neverland – also comes with a modest couple of added extras that should still delight fans. There’s a 10-minute feature called Creating Endeavour – The Next Chapter of Colin Dexter’s Legacy, and Spires, Ashtrays, Quads and Pastels, a short feature about the filming of the drama in Oxford.

RRP: £19.99, Certificate:12, Discs: 2, Running time: 360mins. Available on Amazon

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Endeavour series 2, ITV, with Shaun Evans, Roger Allam PREVIEW

Pictured L-R: SEAN RIGBY as PC Strange, SHAUN EVANS as Endeavour, JACK LASKEY as DS Peter Jakes,ROGER ALLAM as DI Fred Thursday and ANTON LESSER as CH SUPT Reginald Bright.
Endeavour and the Oxford squad. Pics: ITV

Rating: ★★★★

ITV: returns Sunday, 30 March, 8pm

Story: May 1966. DC Endeavour Morse returns to Oxford City Police after a four-month absence from duty. Reunited with DI Fred Thursday, still reeling from being shot and the loss of his father, the detective’s involuntary furlough has left him mentally wounded.

ENDEAVOUR was only meant to be a one-off to celebrate the Inspector Morse‘s 25th anniversary in 2012. But here he is back for a second series, following a hugely popular one-off and first series.

It’s been a clever reboot. The production is as good-looking and stately as ever, which the traditional Morse fans clearly adore. For the younger audience it has the sex appeal of Shaun Evans, giving a fine performance as the tortured bright-spark of a detective.

The conceit of Morse/Endeavour is that he is man who would never be in the police. He is too

 JESSICA ELLERBY as Diana.Endeavour 2 ITV
Diana knew the missing girl

intellectual, too cultured and aloof to fit in. He has few friends in the force (or outside), and as we prescient viewers know he is destined to never rise to a level in the force that his abilities deserve.

Thursday is worried about Endeavour

As Trove, the season two opener, begins, we encounter Endeavour back where he was in the pilot – wondering if the police service is the right career for him. It is four months after the traumatic events of the previous series when his father died and he was shot.

Yet he is immediately pitched into a brain-tease of a case that only he is equipped to unravel. During a street parade, a man plummets to his death from a council building. The dead man has multiple identities, but Endeavour works out who he is – and that this suspected suicide is not all it seems.

JESSIE BUCKLEY as Kitty Batten. Endeavour 2 ITV
Hot-blooded Kitty causes an incident at the parade

His boss, DI Thursday, looks on with fatherly concern as the younger man concocts various theories connecting the death with the disappearance of a young woman. Meanwhile, the chief superintendent – played by Anton Lesser, who’s cornered the market in smarmy arrogance in every drama from Game of Thrones to Garrow’s Law – just wants Endeavour to be put on traffic duty till he turns 45.

Puzzles and beauty contests

Writer Russell Lewis throws in a puzzle for Endeavour – a jotting on a note by the dead man’s bed – and a glimpse at the burgeoning world of celebrity in Sixties Britain, with beauty pageants and dodgy agents looking to promote ingenues into stars worthy of a supermarket opening or photo shoot.

‘Simon Dee asked me if I liked his shirt,’ one character says. ‘You can’t put a price on that.’

What makes Endeavour such a success? Shaun Evans and Roger Allam are likeable performers playing an interesting duo of mentor and successor, but whose relationship is not always smooth-going. The stories are also full of evocative detail and look splendid.

Endeavour is interesting because the character evolves

SHAUN EVANS as Endeavour.
A battered Endeavour questions a witness

And there is the enjoyment in unravelling the overarching mystery – Endeavour’s character. Russell Lewis drops hints in every tale about how Morse got to be the man audiences loved when played by John Thaw. In the last season we witnessed his cold relationship with his dad.

Here, aficionados will spot a bumptious academic Thaw encountered in 1991, but who is seen in this opener as a younger man, who Endeavour puts firmly in his place in a nice scene.

And Endeavour evolves (unlike Lewis). During this series he starts off a bit of a mess, drinking too much, unsure if he is right for the police. That changes by the final film, Neverland – and there are revelations about Thursday to come. Endeavour is a young man with future.

Cast: Shaun Evans Endeavour, Roger Allam DI Fred Thursday, Anton Lesser Ch Supt Reginald Bright, Sean Rigby PC Strange, Jack Laskey DS Peter Jakes, James Bradshaw Dr Max Debryn, Abigail Thaw Dorothea Frazil, Caroline O’Neill Joan Thursday

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Endeavour with Shaun Evans PREVIEW

Shaun Evans as Endeavour Morse. Pics: ITV

Rating ★★★★½

ITV1, Monday, 2 January, 9pm

Story: 1965. A schoolgirl is missing in Oxford. A young detective constable is drafted in from the anonymous Midlands new town where he is stationed to help with the investigation because he knows the Oxford area. It is a case that will shape Endeavour Morse’s life and career.

He only ever used to be known as Morse, the detective finally revealing his christian name after Inspector Morse had been on air for 10 years in 1997. Now as everyone knows, Morse was named after Captain Cook’s ship HMS Endeavour and the moniker can be plastered all over this impressive two-hour prequel.

John Thaw

The much-loved original, which ran for 33 episodes from 1987-2000, starred John Thaw as Morse and Kevin Whately as his sidekick, Lewis, setting the standard for UK police procedurals. Thaw died relatively young at 60 in 2002, and while Lewis, of course, is still with us, the temptation to resurrect Morse somehow was too good to let slip away.

Shaun Evans and Roger Allam
This much anticipated new mystery is a scandal on a suitably large scale, involving bent cops, murder and a corrupt government minister. The cast – including Shaun Evans as Morse and Roger Allam as his boss/mentor DI Fred Thursday – are actors who bring depth to the lead roles, and the period setting is understated. And for Morse fans, the hero’s background is fleshed out well.

The young Endeavour is called on to assist in an investigation into the disappearance of 15-year-old schoolgirl because he is familiar with Oxford, where he did Greats but didn’t finish his degree. DS Arthur Lott makes it clear to Morse and his fellow draftees that they are there to ‘take up the slack’, do the grunt work, and leave the detecting to him and Thursday.

Morse and Thursday

But Morse immediately stands out as a serious-minded detective with a questioning nature – which sets him at odds with Lott. It is Morse who works out that the missing teenager had a lover who was communicating with her through crosswords in the local paper. ‘Codswallop,’ says Lott, but Morse is proved right.

Colin Dexter

Abigail Thaw

Fans will appreciated the crossword touch, which would also appeal to the creator of Morse and crossword lover Colin Dexter, now 81, who makes a Hitchcockian cameo in a pub garden. The drama is actually written by Russell Lewis, who has done a good job of embellishing the Morse story.

We learn how Morse got his taste for beer, classical music and the famous maroon Jag. Shaun Evans captures much of the character’s melancholia, particularly when the case blows up in his face and he develops an infatuation for the opera singer wife of a suspect.

John Thaw’s daughter Abigail
The production has so much of the original’s DNA in its make-up that several of the behind-camera crew had also worked on Inspector Morse, and there is even a role for John Thaw’s daughter, Abigail, who plays an employee of the local paper.

Scandalous parties and cover-ups

What begins as a missing person inquiry snowballs into a murder, a suicide and a scandal in which high-level politicians and policemen are attending sex parties with under-age girls. The story has a lot more grit to it than many of the originals or Lewis, and less of the chocolate-box obsession with Oxford spires and quadrangles.

Charlie Creed-Miles is the nasty spiv
Roger Allam is warmly authoritative as Thursday, the ex-soldier and solid copper who is willing to bend the rules to slap down spivs such as Teddy Samuels (Charlie Creed-Miles) and dodgy cops such as Arthur Lott.

It’s a sharp and inspiring tribute to Morse on the 25th anniversary of its very first episode. Surely, a series will follow.

Cast: Shaun Evans Endeavour, Roger Allam DI Fred Thursday, Flora Montgomery Rosalind Stromming, Harry Kershaw Miles Percival, Charlie Creed-Miles Teddy Samuels, Danny Webb DS Arthur Lott, Jack Ashton DC Ian McLeash, Richard Lintern Dr Rowan Stromming, Patrick Malahide Richard Lovell, John Light Dempsey, Abigail Thaw Dorothea Frazil, Michael Matus Brian St Clair, Emma Stansfield Sharon Vellie, James Bradshaw Dr Max De Bryn, Terence Harvey DCS Crisp

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Regan starring John Thaw on Blu-ray REVIEW

Rating ★★★★

• REGAN (15) on Blu-ray: Network, released 10 Oct 2011, RRP 19.99, running time 77mins

Forget Gene Hunt and Life and Mars. If you want the original bad copper in no-nonsense flares you should track down Regan, the 1974 pilot for The Sweeney starring John Thaw, which is being released on Blu-ray this month.

This is an evocative blast from the past – and I’m not just talking about the shooters going off, guvnor. It’s the lost era of sheepskin jackets, pub singalongs and derelict docklands. And some bloody ugly cars – anyone remember the Ford Zephyr? What a monster.

Get your trousers on…
We first glimpse one careering round a bend carrying detective inspector Jack Regan. He barges into a house, marches into the suspect’s bedroom and says, “Get your trousers on. You’re nicked.”

The first words out of the Jack’s mouth and the show’s got its still fondly remembered catchphrase.

Regan was shown in ITV’s Armchair Theatre slot and was a body slam to the old school of cop shows, such as Dixon of Dock Green and Z Cars. It was the story of an investigation into the murder of a copper, detective sergeant Cowley (Del Baker), who was caught between two vicious criminal gangs.

Regan was far rougher than Gene Hunt
But the clear star of the show was Jack Regan, a maverick detective who pushed himself to a suspension and the verge of legality to the get Cowley’s killers. We see Regan recruiting detective sergeant George Carter, played in his youth by New Tricks‘ Dennis Waterman.

Carter is reluctant to join the trouble-friendly Regan because he values his marriage too highly. When Regan breaks and enters a property, all Carter’s doubts seem confirmed.

And would Gene Hunt ever get away with telling the German boyfriend of his ex-wife, ‘I don’t like Krauts,’ before going on to call him ‘young Adolf’. He’s violent, aggressive and plays dirty – a bit like many would imagine the hard cases were in the real Sweeney (Sweeney Todd: rhyming slang for Flying Squad).

19 million viewers for The Sweeney
Maureen Lipman appears as Regan’s married lover. When her feller returns and she has to dump Regan, he asks her how her husband was. ‘Not bad,’ she says, ‘seeing as you left a jacket and two pairs of Y-fronts in his wardrobe.’

A bonus feature is some of the vile clothes that passed for cool in the Seventies. Most hilariously is the climax, when Regan faces off with a violent gang while wearing a psychedelic cravat. You have to be genuinely hard to pull that off.

But despite all the machismo, Regan fascinates because he is tinged with sadness. He is someone far too devoted to his grim job for his own good.

Regan hit an audience of seven million, which led to the commissioning of The Sweeney, a series that ran from 1975 to 1978, reaching a peak of 19 million viewers.

Regan edgier than many hit crime shows of today
Seeing that UK crime series usually go soft on the police, Regan still seems a lot more edgy than twee favourites of today, such as Midsomer Murders.

The Blu-ray features a fascinating commentary by Dennis Waterman, producer Ted Childs and director Tom Clegg. There is also an interview with writer Ian Kennedy Martin.

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