The Sweeney is a 1970s British television police drama focusing on two members of the Flying Squad, a branch of the Metropolitan Police specialising in tackling armed robbery and violent crime in London. The programme’s title derives from Sweeney Todd, which is Cockney rhyming slang for “Flying Squad”.
The programme was shot entirely on 16mm film by Thames Television’s film division, Euston Films. It originally broadcast on ITV between 2 January 1975 and 28 December 1978 at 21:00–22:00 weekday (usually Monday) with repeated showings at the same time until the early 1980s. It starred John Thaw as Detective Inspector Jack Regan, and Dennis Waterman as his partner Detective Sergeant George Carter. Such was its popularity in the UK that it spawned two cinema released feature film spin-offs, Sweeney! and Sweeney 2.
The series was broadcast during a dark period for the real-life Flying Squad, which in the late 1970s had been publicly censured for being involved in bribery, police corruption and excessively close links with the criminal fraternity. Unlike the unwavering high standards seen in the fictional Sweeney, the actual commander of the Flying Squad, Detective Chief Superintendent Kenneth Drury was convicted of five counts of corruption and imprisoned for eight years on 7 July 1977. An internal investigation, called Operation Countryman, was then launched to further stamp out corruption. A further 12 officers were convicted and many others resigned.
In 1977 and 1978, publishers Brown Watson (who specialised in annuals based on TV series’) published two editions of ‘The Sweeney Annual’ featuring a mix of comic strips (some with art by Brian Lewis) and illustrated text stories, interspersed with occasional features on the TV series, articles about policing, puzzles and (in the 1978 annual) an interview with John Thaw and Dennis Waterman.
In the early 1980s, the comic Jackpot featured a strip called “The Teeny Sweeney” which was originally drawn by J. Edward Oliver. A trio of schoolboys played at being plain-clothes policemen, with two of them looking like little versions of Regan and Carter. They even had “Flying Squad” written on the side of their cartie. Their attempts at being helpful, however, almost always ended in disaster.