The Sweeney took the old-fashioned, cosy, affable respectability of the then traditional British police dramas such as Dixon Of Dock Green and even Z Cars and turned it on its head by replacing it with a gritty, violent realism and flawed heroes who would quite happily bend (and even break) the law to get the job done.
It was based around the exploits of hard-men cops in the London Met‘s Flying Squad (“Sweeney Todd” being cockney rhyming slang for Flying Squad), an elite branch of the police dealing with armed robbery and other violent crimes.
The show was developed from a successful one-off drama called Regan which aired in 1974 as part of ITV’s long-running Armchair Cinema series. The Sweeney itself ran for four seasons (53 episodes plus two movies released in cinemas) between 1975 and 1978.
The show really changed the face of British TV crime drama and the influence of its legacy can be seen in shows to this day.
And, of course, The Sweeney also had one of the most recognisable and best-loved theme tunes of any British TV show.
Here are the opening titles:
And here are the closing titles:
Here’s the full version of the theme:
And, for younger fans of Life On Mars who have never seen The Sweeney and would like to see one of the main influences on the show and on the character of Gene Hunt in particular, here is the first 10 minutes of the pilot episode (the rest of it is also on YouTube, along with a few other episodes):