The Sweeney was the quintessential ‘70s British cop show – think Starsky & Hutch on steroids. The Sweeney was a nickname via Cockney rhyming slang for an elite unit within the London Metropolitan police, the Flying Squad. In Cockney rhyming slang, the Flying Squad became the Sweeney Todd, and then (in the habit of keeping the non-rhyming word) the Sweeney (a suit is a whistle – whistle and flute = suit).
I still have good memories of The Sweeney charging around London streets in underpowered cars, shooting at anything that moved, with hardboiled dialogue so filled with accented slang and common argot, it was almost impossible to decifer. It had as much to do with the real workings of the Flying Squad as Starsky & Hutch did to detectives on the LAPD.
The show, which ran in the 1970s, became "much-see TV" in England because it was the first crime drama to present the London police force in a gritty manner. The heroes were flawed men who tried to cope with violent crime on a day-to-day basis. John Thaw starred as Inspector Jack Regan, the role to be taken on by Winstone. His fellow detective was played by Dennis Waterman. Although the series had not been imported to the USA, its popularity in Great Britain was such that it spawned two successful feature films. For more on the history of the series, click here.