Monday 23 March 2020

The Sweeney vs The Professionals

Who would win in a fight?
Well, The Sweeney would.  Regan and Carter would get stuck in while Bodie would stand there and look menacing whilst Doyle would run away scared of getting his curly hair ruffled.

I work a 9 day fortnight, meaning I get every other Friday off work.  I still do the normal 37 hours per week (or 72 hours per fortnight), just spread over 9 days
(Actually, working "just" 37 hours per week would be welcome at the moment - average week = 45+)

So .. on these lazy Fridays, I like nothing more than getting up at normal time (my OCD does not allow a lie-in on a (once) normal working day, possibly going up the road for a big greasy fried breakfast in the local cafe, and then returning home to veg out for a bit on the sofa.
Daytime (morning time?) TV is not exactly the greatest, and I could probably watch endless episodes of Top Gear on Dave, save for the fact I think I've seen every episode at least 15 times already.
Just a bit further up the Programme Guide sits ITV4, and those Friday mornings offer Minder followed by The Sweeney followed by The Professionals.

Minder is the story of wheeling and dealing Arthur Daley and his sidekick/muscle Terry McCann.
It's basically the same conceit as Only Fools And Horses - 2 people stuck together, for better or for worse, trying to get through life by trying to turn a profit out of unremarkable merchandise.  Both Arfur and Del-Boy are prone to malapropisms ("The world is your lobster"), and both Terry and Rodney want to be doing the right thing, but find themselves caught up in the others dodgy dealing.

But we're here to compare and contrast 2 Police procedural dramas from a similar time period (The Sweeney ran from 1975 to 1978, and The Professionals from 1977 to 1983).
So who is Top Of The Cops?

The Sweeney was commissioned following a one-off ITV Drama - Regan - in 1974.  The one-off was written by Ian Kennedy-Martin (whose elder brother, Troy, had created Z Cars and written The Italian Job.  Troy also wrote half a dozen episodes, and co-wrote the second Sweeney film).
There's something "gritty" and real about The Sweeney - when first aired, there were cries of "too real" from serving Flying Squad officers.
The Professionals was created by Brian Clemens - the creator of The Avengers and The New Avengers - and was set in a more fictionalised world - Criminal Intelligence 5 (CI5) was a government agency charged with those cases that fell somewhere between MI5/MI6 and the Police force.
The Sweeney has been a personal favourite since I first saw a slew of repeats around 1984.
Box Set TV? I bought the DVD Box Set (14 Discs, plus the 2 films, and happily gorged my way through it.  And now continue to watch repeat episodes whenever they're on (although ITV4 have a habit of getting confused and play the same episodes in quick succession).
I never really took to The Professionals first time round (or at any other time - it was many years before it was repeated) - it now looks more dated than The Sweeney, despite starting as The Sweeney was ending), the characters seemed less real, and the storylines err on the fantastical - could there really be a terrorist attack or politically motivated kidnapping every week?

But I Started watching, and being a particular fan of the "Police Procedural Drama" a bit I got hooked.

The Characters
The Sweeney:
Jack Regan - Hard drinking, hard smoking, hard talking, basically "hard".  But always fair, and you would be glad of him in your corner.
George Carter - Fiercely loyal, but always looking to get on - if he could ever break free from Regan's shadow
Frank Haskins - The Guv's Guv.  Head of The Flying Squad - what he says goes, no matter how much Regan argues about it.  Behind his back, Regan and Carter make no secret of their dislike of authority, but in front of him, they know who's the boss.

The Professionals:
Bodie - ex-Army / SAS.  Carried himself like a proper hardman.  If he hadn't been in the Police Force, he probably would've been a Nightclub bouncer.
Doyle - Like chalk to Bodie's cheese - trendy looking (he had a perm), fashionable, and likes the finer things in life, and an eye for the ladies.  Where Bodie was gung ho, always wanting to storm in, Doyle was more measured in his approach
Cowley - the big boss man.  Friends in high places,and a distinguished military career behind him, Cowley was the man in charge of CI5 and responsible for hand picking the best of the best,  His job was to think about the situation, strategise, and instruct the action to take,  And he was usually right.

And there you can see an obvious difference - The Sweeney actually had first names.  The Professionals did, but I don't think they were mentioned that often (if at all).

The Storylines
The Sweeney concern themselves with dodgy characters, career villains, and blaggings.  Just what the Flying Squad at Scotland Yard were doing in the mid-70s.
What makes The Sweeney (slightly) different to other Police dramas, is that they didn't always win.  Yup, sometimes the crooks got the upper hand.
As The Professionals were a part of a fictional organisation, the crimes they fought were also of the fictional kind - not veering into complete fantasy, but unlikely events seemed to occur every week (a kidnapped diplomat, a blackmailed South African diamond merchant, a madman setting up a vigilante army). Professionals stories were wrapped up inside the hour, and usually took a jump of logic to nicely tie everything together (often involving a fight or car chase), before the freeze frame of the 3 main protagonists half-smiling and looking pleased.

The Sweeney storylines might actually happen, most of The Professionals storylines need a leap of faith to believe there will be a terrorist gunfight in Windsor High Street, or a group of Russian soldiers will parachute onto Clapham Common and attempt to overthrow the Government.

The Cars
The main Sweeney vehicle used (and seen in the opening credits) is not (as often thought) a Ford Granada, but the slightly lower specced the Ford Consul variant (registration: NHK 295M).
Most of the cars and vans used were the property of Euston Films, and were strategically placed, or used and used again.  An example here is the Mark 2 Jaguar in the opening credits (registration DWD606C) - this can be seen in at least 2 other episodes.
The Professionals started out with Triumph Dolomites (and other British Leyland supplied vehicles).  However, they soon switched to Ford when BL couldn't guarantee supply vehicles.
And so we get to see the iconic Silver and Gold Ford Capris.
They also did the "re-use" of vehicles thing - in a couple of episodes is a Rover SD1 that bears a striking resemblance (and number plate) to one used recently in The New Avengers.

No doubting this round - much as I love the Ford Consul / Ford Granada, the Ford Capri is just cool - it was when I was a kid, and it still is now.

The Production Values
Sweeney uses 16mm film stock,rather than standard video usually used for TV shows.  This meant when it made the jump to the big screen (Sweeney and Sweeney 2), the aesthetic of the show didn't change greatly.
The Professionals used common TV video film, and now playing on HD TVs, it just looks a bit grainy and dated (the fact it would've been filmed in 4:3 ratio, and is now remapped to widescreen (16:9) probably doesn't help it much either.

The Sweeney was mostly in West London, centred around Hammersmith.  Although they did manage to make it out as far as Staines, Esher and Wokingham in a couple of episodes.
The Professionals seemingly had no fixed location (Anytown, UK?), although Central London, Whitehall buildings, and Docklands popped up regularly.  For countryside location shots, they often went to Hotels or Golf Clubs in Buckinghamshire (including, on at least 2 occasions, Stoke Poges Golf Club (also used in Goldfinger))
I have had for a long time a fascination with suburban London, and most of the locations used in The Sweeney are no longer there - but that hasn't stopped me looking for them

The Firearms
The Sweeney had access to firearms when needed, but most of the stories involved policing/detecting without the need to shoot the baddies.Sweeney - when needed
The Professionals on the other hand seemed to be permanently tooled up.  Bodie always had a look of glee when presented with a new toy.  And there was usually a fire-fight to round off that weeks story.

The Guest Stars
The Sweeney had the pulling power, even getting Morecambe and Wise to appear in one episode.  Other well known names in the credits include Brian Blessed, Colin Welland, Roy Kinnear, Warren Mitchell, Lynda Bellingham, Patrick Mower, and Diana Dors.
The Sweeney also manged to pull in 2 future Blue Peter presenters - Tina Heath and Janet Ellis.
The Professionals didn't have quite the same stellar support cast.  Series 1 did feature Geoffrey Palmer and a pre-Poirot David Suchet, and the 4th series does contain appearances by Stephen Berkoff and Pierce Brosnan, but after that supporting roles are filled by bit-part actors of the day (Pamela Stephenson does manage to appear as 3 different characters in 3 different series)

The Theme Tunes
Harry South vs Laurie Johnson and The London Studio Orchestra
(this can also be defined as respected Jazz pianist versus the bloke who wrote the theme to Animal Magic).
The Sweeney theme follows the golden rule for TV Themes in that, although there are no words, the title of the show can be recited over the music.
The Professional theme is a funky little number that works perfectly with the visuals for the opening credits.  Problem I have with it is that it isn't as earwormy as The Sweeney (and I often get it confused with the theme to T.J.Hooker and/or Starsky and Hutch).

The Legacy
There were some contract wrangles which prevented The Professionals being repeated on terrestrial TV for a long time - this can't have served it's memory and retro-enjoyment that well.
The Sweeney has been through the repeat cycle (and repeats of repeats), and has become representative of 70s Police dramas, and is undoubtedly the inspiration to Life On Mars (Gene Hunt is an overblown, Mancunian version of Jack Regan - hard but fair, and what time are the pubs open?).
The Professionals were immortalised in a Two Ronnies sketch, but their lasting legacy (for me) is the parody produced by the Comic Strip Team The Bullshitters with the two main characters named Bonehead and Foyle.  They took every nuance of the show (the sensitive Doyle and hardcase Bodie, the overwrought mannerisms of Cowley, the highly accurate lab information detailing height, weight and hair colour of a voice on a tape.  It is difficult to watch The Professionals without that one in the back of my mind.
Bonehead and Foyle returned, along with Shouting George from The Weeny in a later Comic Strip outing - Detectives On The Edge Of A Nervous Breakdown - which brought in many other TV cops as well.

As I said above, I have watched (and re-watched) The Sweeney several times - and will continue to do so.
I was never taken by The Professionals, but the few I have seen recently have changed my view.
It looks like I'll have a bit of time to properly catch up with it now.

Friday 6 March 2020

Iron Maiden vs Def Leppard vs Saxon

The Battle of NWOBHM

The New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (a bit of a mouthful - helpfully abbreviated to NWOBHM ( pronounced Ner-wob-am)) was a "thing", a title, bestowed by Kerrang Magazine in 1979 to recognise the swell of new bands around the country (yes, this was a Nationwide thing, not just starting in London and spreading outwards).
The formula was fairly simple - take equal parts Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Thin Lizzy, Wishbone Ash, Budgie, Prog Rock etc (ie early to mid-70s rock noises), mix them up however you wish, add a dose of DIY Punk ethic, and pretend to play an imaginary guitar, and hey presto: NWOBHM
(maybe not that simple, but you get the idea).
Of all the bands to get a record out, and column inches in the media, perhaps the 3 biggest lights were:
  • Iron Maiden (from East London)
  • Def Leppard (from Sheffield)
  • Saxon (from Barnsley)
As a "thing", NWOBHM ran from 1979 to it's death throes in 1983.  So lets see that was released in those years, how they compare, and declare who is the foremost exponent of NWOBHM.

I'm aligning the start of this analysis to 1980 due to the release of the EMI compilation 'Metal For Muthas', Diamond Head's 'Lightning To The Nations' and a host of smaller bands (often on independent labels) getting their 15 minutes of fame and Kerrang features.

Saxon's debut ('Saxon') was released in 1979, and is an OK album - if a little confused as to the market/sound it's aiming at.  It was only really the track "Stallions of the Highway" which (in retrospect) pointed the way forward for the band - others come close ("Rainbow Theme" / "Frozen Rainbow" being a prime example), but that track is the definite stand-out.

In the period 1980 to 1983, Saxon manged 5 albums, Iron Maiden 4, and Def Leppard 3.
So basing this purely on output means Saxon win, but how do these albums compare?
The albums were are:

  • 1980 Wheels of Steel / Strong Arm of the Law
  • 1981 Denim and Leather 
  • 1982 The Eagle Has Landed
  • 1983 Power & the Glory
Iron Maiden
  • 1980 Iron Maiden
  • 1981 Killers
  • 1982 Number Of The Beast
  • 1983 Piece Of Mind
Def Leppard
  • 1980 On Through The Night
  • 1981 High n Dry
  • 1983 Pyromania
So to ensure a balance battle, some preening is necessary
(and not just so I can ensure a 3 way tie and declare all 3 bands as the Masters Of NWOBHM)

Preening Job #1
Of the two Saxon albums in 1980, both are as strong as each other.  The toss of a coin decides - 'Wheels Of Steel' stays in (which is a shame as 'Strong Arm Of The Law' is possibly my favourite Saxon album)

Preening Job #2
Def Leppard didn't release an album in 1982.  The Saxon album was a live album (and a very good one too), but I would be comparing many of the same tracks.
Iron Maiden's 'Number Of The Beast' is pretty much unimpeachable and would win any competition.

So that leaves us with:

'Wheels Of Steel' vs 'Iron Maiden' vs 'On Through The Night'
No second album dip for Saxon (it might sound harsh, but I think they had that dip with their debut).  'Wheels Of Steel' is quintessential hairy biker rock ("Motorcycle Man" and "Wheels Of Steel" being the obvious examples.  And then there is "747 (Strangers In The Night)" - undoubtedly one of their high points.
The Iron Maiden debut remains fresh to this day - Paul Di'Anno may not have been the greatest singer, but his straining vocals, particularly on "Remember Tomorrow" just ad to the theatre of it all.  And talking of "theatre". the track "Phantom Of The Opera" was so good, it ended up on a Lucozade advert (with Daley Thompson)
Not a duffer amongst these 13 tracks, and the title track remains in their live set to this day.
Def Leppard's album sounds a bit "clean" when compared to the other two, and also their 'Rocks Off' EP from late 1978 - 2 of those 3 tracks ("Getcha Rocks Off" and "Overture") are included here, and personally I much prefer the original recordings.
Def Leppard are coming from a different place to Saxon and Iron Maiden, and the songs on this album support that.  More blues-y, more considered and reined in.  It rocks as hard as the other two (particularly "Rock Brigade", "Wasted" and "Rocks Off") but just misses something.  And you can see where they're looking - track 1 ("Hello America") gives you just a little clue.
This is a tough call - I almost want to share the points (Iron Maiden 0.5, with Saxon and Def Leppard receiving 0.25 each).
No - I must be definitive ...
Saxon 0 Iron Maiden 1 Def Leppard 0

'Denim and Leather' vs 'Killers' vs 'High n Dry'
You recall that "second album dip" mentioned above?  Well, this could well apply to 'Killers' - EMI maybe got the band back in the studio too quickly.  The material wasn't as good as previously (although in retrospect, there are some very good tracks here ("Murders In The Rue Morgue" and "Purgatory" are two fine examples), and the band sound like they're treading water a bit.
Saxon may also be treading water here, but they have produced possibly the definitive NWOBHM anthem ("Denim and Leather") and chucked in a fair few of their best tracks here too.  And how many other Biker-type bands would pen a song about a Steam Train?
Def Leppard - they're sights are moving further over the Atlantic.  Most melodic of the three, and (like the Saxon album) a few of their best tracks pugged away here ("Bringing On The Heartbreak" being the most notable).  For me though, their sights are just too far on MTV to appeal to my sense of Heavy Rock.
Saxon 1 Iron Maiden 1 Def Leppard 0

'Power & The Glory' vs 'Piece Of Mind' vs 'Pyromania'
'Pyromania' was the album the assured Def Leppard's status as one the biggest Rock acts on the planet - maybe not in the UK, but certainly in the US - and deservedly so, it is a very good album taking the best bits from their previous two and just adding to the recipe.
Iron Maiden have now changed lead singer (Bruce Dickinson replaced Paul Di'Anno prior to the recording of 1982s 'Number Of The Beast') and their songs are becoming more complex, more literate, better played, and still rocking along like a bugger.  The whole thing has become singularly recognisable as Iron Maiden.  This may not be one of their greatest albums when it comes to compiling Top 5 Lists, but it has many. many redeeming features.
By this stage, are Saxon a busted flush?  The title is half right - there is plenty of Power here, but little Glory.  Their 1982 live set (' The Eagle Has Landed') marks a sort of end point in Saxon's validity and growth - it maybe should've been called  'The Eagle Has Landed (And Failed To Take Off Again)'

Now wouldn't it be nice if I gave the point to 'Pyromania' and arrived at a 3 way tie.
No, for the sheer growth in 3 years (and because I prefer 'Piece Of Mind' over 'Pyromania',) the point goes to Iron Maiden
Saxon 1 Iron Maiden 2 Def Leppard 0

Probably no real surprise, but Iron Maiden win this particular match-up.
But Def Leppard finishing with nil?  To be honest, they'd probably love that as they've always declared that they were not a NWOBHM band (the genre, as it became) they were more rooted in the world of Mott The Hoople, Queen and Thin Lizzy - big rock sounds rather than headbanging.

Def Leppard - Rock Brigade

Saxon - Denim and Leather

Iron Maiden - Iron Maiden