The arrival of The Sweeney (ITV, 1975-78) completely overhauled TV police drama. The slightly cosy world of Z Cars (BBC, 1962-78), once held up as an exemplar of TV realism, and the moribund musings of Sergeant Dixon - "Evenin' all" - (Dixon of Dock Green, BBC, 1955-76) suddenly looked like they belonged to a different age. The fictional Dock Green and Newtown beats and their generally harmless petty criminals were replaced by the real streets of West London and 'villains' - hard men with shooters pitched against even harder coppers.
The series started life as a single drama, Regan (ITV, tx, 4/6/74), in the Armchair Theatre slot. The play was essentially about a Flying Squad investigation into a savage gangland killing, but the real star was the equally brutal central character, Detective Inspector Jack Regan, played by John Thaw. Regan was unlike any previous small screen police officer - his temper might have matched Z Cars' firebrand, Detective Inspector Barlow (Stratford Johns), but even at his most bellicose Newtown's hard man never resorted to Regan's level of undiluted violence.
Regan attracted an audience of over 7 million, enough to trigger a series based around the play's central character. The Sweeney (derived from the cockney rhyming slang - 'Sweeney Todd/Flying Squad') quickly followed, and at its peak drew 19 million viewers.
Regan's congenial sidekick, Detective Sgt George Carter, played by Dennis Waterman, shared many of his guvnor's basic traits but despite their willingness to hit first and ask questions later the pair were portrayed as flawed but basically honest police officers, doing a dirty job against the odds, an image greatly helped by excellent performances from the two leads.
Dialogue was as important to The Sweeney as action and many of Regan's best lines, often delivered through gritted teeth, have become famous. "Get your trousers on, you're nicked" and "Shut it!" have both passed into popular usage, while quotes such as "We're the Sweeney, son, and we've haven't had any dinner yet, so unless you want a kickin'..." and "I am utterly and abjectly pissed off" demonstrate how the show blended humour into the action.
The Sweeney was more than just a hugely successful TV series - it also acted as a catalyst for change across the entire police genre. With the arrival of Regan and Carter the innocent world of Dixon was no longer believable.