We’ve covered a lot of ground – and space – in Infinity magazine in our first three years of publication. So much so, in fact, that at times we forget what we have already written about. Well now, thanks to the sterling efforts of Mark Campbell, we have an idea to everything we have burbled on about. We we going to put this stuff in the magazine but frankly it would have taken up a huge amount of space and might have looked just a tad boring. Instead we will be posting these indexes here so you can check them out whenever you wonder if we have already covered your favourite film or TV series from the worlds of sci-fi and cult. Here’s Mark’s invaluable guide to the first 12 issues.
Due to the ongoing situation regarding the lockdown in force both in the UK and abroad we have taken the decision not to publish issue 209 of The Dark Side or issue 27 of Infinity on April 30th. These issues will now hit the shops on June 11th when hopefully all of this sad situation will be behind us. We have gathered many new subscribers in recent days and are very grateful for their support, but since 85% of our sales still come from shops it would be unfair to put these issues out at a time when most people aren’t visiting these places. We have sadly also had to cancel InfiniFest on May 30th and all of those who purchased a ticket have been refunded. Meanwhile, we are pressing ahead on our Invasion! book which will be published early May. Order before May 1st and you will get your name in it, and of course a signed copy. You will also get it for £20, instead of £22.50 which will be the price on the site once the pre-order deadline has passed. We have also reprinted very limited quantities of Infinity 2, 3, 5 and 6 and intend to do the same with issues 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11 in future. Stay safe everyone and we hope to see you at DarkFest on November 28th!
David F Sandberg talks Shazam with Simon Hooper.
The film says that there’s a superhero in all of us so I was going to ask if you’ve ever had a superhero inside you but that just sounds wrong.
David F Sandberg (Laughs). Well Simon, I guess I’m more the guy who gets to play with superheroes, you know, gets the action figures. Actually when we were planning this film I would use action figures and just film them because it was faster than using story boards.
So, much like your last film Annabelle 2 you’re working with a large cast of children again
Yes… and they’re all orphans again. My wife pointed this out that in ‘Lights Out’ he becomes an orphan and there’s orphans in this.
The saying, ‘Never work with children’ is one you enjoy flouting then?
Well I had great experience working with them actually, maybe I’ve just been lucky with the casting process but they’ve all been so professional. I like working with kids, you know there’s not much ego there and they’re happy to do it. You have to deal with the limit hours but it’s interesting because in Canada their kids can work much later till like, you know, two in the morning, so that helped.
Dwayne Johnson is producing but I understand that he wanted Armie Hammer as Shazam.
Yes someone said that the other day. I didn’t know about that actually.
So when you came onboard was Zachary Levi as Shazam a foregone conclusion?
No not at all. We cast a wide net and auditioned over 100 people. It was quite an ordeal trying to find the right person and by the end we were, ‘Are we going to find the right guy?’ I saw Zach’s self tape which was actually for another character and I was like , ‘This is the guy’. He’s like a big kid he’s basically a big kid at heart and I think he strikes that right tone of having this childlike enthusiasm and excitement that’s what makes him feel like a kid because a lot of adults when you audition them they just play it more stupid, “Oh I’m a little kid who doesn’t know how things work’, but Zach is just very enthusiastic and I think that’s the difference between kids and adults.
There were rumours of Dwayne Jonhnson being Black Adam, was he ever going to be in this?
When I came on board he was never part of it. We came to the conclusion that it would be too much to have Shazam in the same movie as Black Adam. Shazam needed his own movie to introduce him and set him up. They called me and asked me if I’d be interested and we just had this idea of doing a standalone Shazam movie first so there was never any question as to whether Black Adam should be involved or not.
Do you know anything about Black Adam’s movie?
I don’t really know what the plan is with that, no. I’ve been reading stuff online but I don’t really know what the studio is planning
Shazam has had a lot of origin stories in the comic books. How did you decide on which one to go with?
He’s been around for quite a while, yeah. A lot of the plot points we take from the 1952 version with Jeff Johns and he’s also the one that came up with Darla and Eugena but it was fun taking from this whole rich history and that’s reflected even in his suit where I wanted. He has the old school shorter cape which is unusual these days. He also has the hood which is from 52 and the way the bolt looks I took a lot of inspiration from the animated version. It was just taking from his entire history and just creating.
When we last spoke you said that ‘Lights Out’ was heavily storyboarded but you didn’t do that for Annabelle 2. But Shazam is effects heavy so are you obliged to do them again?
Yeah you have to basically pre-viz all the big action sequences. It’s a combination when you’re shooting non effects heavy shots you can improvise more on set but with the big stuff you have to animate everything on pre-viz then you can cut it up and give different bits to different units. Like we have the big carnival crashing down, you know the Ferris wheel and that’s an actual Ferris wheel we bought and did that to and it just takes a whole day to set up so that something that second unit will have to do but they have the pre-viz to see what angles it is I need.
Each film you’ve done has got bigger and bigger. Is there anything in Shazam that was far more difficult than you expected?
I found the more spectacular it is on screen the more boring it is to shoot because it takes forever to do these things, to set them up. There’s a lot to keep track of. This little piece you shoot on location, this little piece you shoot on a blue screen stage and then this little piece is actually second unit. It’s such a big puzzle piece.
That must be a frustrating thing for you as you’ve always had such tight control of everything you’ve previously shot.
It becomes a frustration and this was the first time for me using a second unit and we had a great one with a second unit director John Mahaffie who’s worked on Lord of the Rings to Aquaman but it was still weird have someone else shoot things for you. I wanted to be a part of it as much as possible even if I was just sitting on the side, so we scheduled it so that I would shoot mainly during the day, but during the night they would shoot second unit so that I could go to that too or as much as possible. So I didn’t get a lot of sleep. Because you know they can’t read your mind. If you have a pre-viz sometimes things turn out wrong. We had this one scene of this big crowd who see Savannah arriving and in the pre-viz that was represented just by a bunch of dummies standing around and then when I saw the dailies it was just basically the crowd just standing round watching. I thought, ’Oh no no no……..it needs to be people who stand around and talk to each other and take out their phones’, so yeah it’s just hard for them to know. That’s why it was important for me to be around you know to say, ‘This is what we need, this is what I had in mind’.
A constant in your films is your wife. She’s an actress so is this a deal breaker to keep her happy at home if she’s in the film?
(laughs) No we just wanted to work together as much as possible. We want to produce things together because you know that’s how we got started making our little short movies together. The funny thing is she’s been in all the horror shorts and movies and she survives everything except this one which is more of a family friendly movie. Originally she was meant to die in ‘Lights out’ but this time you know….
You’ve worked with James Wan who managed to sneak Annabelle into Aquaman. Have you managed to sneak anything in here?
Annabelle is in this one too! You didn’t see her? She’s actually in the pawn shop at the beginning with all the stuff on the shelves. There’s a ton of DC references too, you know to other characters and also really old Shazam comics, some which are pretty obscure but which I think that very few will actually get.
Sounds like a challenge.
Well there’s a burning violin in the rock of eternity that’s a reference to a very old Shazam comic where this character Nero has a burning violin and when he plays it he can control fire and shoot things.
So what’s your favourite comic book film?
I grew up with Richard Donner’s ‘Superman’ films and that one is very special to me. And I love ‘Logan’ because that was very different, very serious, very grounded superhero movie which I think is cool that you can do that because there is. Well it was compared to Westerns which they said were going to die out but there’s so much potential in superhero films that you can tell different stories and they can actually be different genres.
What’s next for you?
I’m not sure yet because this one was such a long time in the making. It’s been two years as opposed to one year like the previous movies. I just want to finish this, take a little breather and then figure out what’s next. This is the first time where I don’t have the next thing lined up yet.
Is there a genre you‘d like to do next?
I’d like to do sci-fi, always loved sci-fi movies and I want to do more horror too so maybe sci-fi horror?
Annabelle 3 is on its way so Annabelle 4… in space?
(laughs) We’ll see what happens!
SAHAZAM Opens in UK Cinemas on 5th April 2019
Whilst Marvel’s films have soared, DC superheroes (in their latest film incarnations at least) have struggled. Batman v Superman did well at the box office but not as well as hoped. Wonder Woman changed that with superb box office and critical acclaim, but Justice League was another disappointment – not helped by its director Zack Snyder having to leave the film through family tragedy.
Among Justice League’s gang of crime fighters it was Aquaman who caught the eye. As played by Jason Momoa, a love god amongst us mere mortals, he was the standout character, which was just as well as he was to have the first standalone film.
Fortune favoured the film further when the studio offered director James Wan the reins. Small in stature but a huge fan of the character he relished the chance to show what he could do. In fairness he had already proved himself time and again. He made the original ‘Saw’ for $1million and it went on to gross over $100m and spawn a franchise. He further proved his horror credentials with ‘Insidious,’ another low budget horror film that grossed almost $100m and his complete command of the genre was cemented with ‘The Conjuring’ making over $300m.
Branching out into blockbuster action he made ‘Fast and Furious 7’ a massively budgeted film and a baptism of fire for Wan when its star Paul Walker died half way through production, forcing the production to temporarily shut down while they regrouped. It went on to be one of the biggest films of 2015 and for the studio he was the obvious choice to helm the superhero blockbuster, ‘Aquaman’.
The omens are good after the film’s world premiere the night before to a hugely responsive audience. James Wan and one of his regular cast members Patrick Wilson who plays Orm, Aquaman’s angry and envious brother, are in high spirits, both laughing as they stroll into a luxury London hotel suite with Wan keen to point out Wilson’s socks and appropriately aqua-themed shark motifs. Jaws is one of Wan’s favourite films but its notorious troubled production history is the stuff of legend so was it really such a good idea to take on a huge budgeted movie set predominately on and in water albeit mostly digitally generated?
James Wan: Yeah it’s definitely something you know about as a film maker but I’d done a lot with water in ‘Conjuring 2’ where we had to build the basement set and submerging it and stuff, and that was not fun putting the actors through that.
Patrick Wilson: They also say never work with kids and you work with kids all the time!
Infinity: …..and look what you put those kids through!
JW: (laughs) Scared the crap out of them! There’s always that at the back of your mind. Is this a smart thing? Is this going to be a painful process but at the end of the day creativity wins the day.
Infinity: So how did you get involved with Aquaman?
JW: It was on ‘Conjuring 2’. They were looking for filmmakers to fill out their other character slates and so during the process of putting ‘Conjuring 2’ together and talking to Warner Bros they mentioned that they had Aquaman and the Flash and asked if I was interested in either of those two characters. I thought, ‘Well I’ve seen Flash on TV but I’ve never seen the Aquaman character done before’ and I thought, ‘This might be interesting to come round to it because we all know that he’s a joke in pop culture’ and the more I thought about it the more I thought there might be something interesting I could do with this guy and the world that he inhabits.
Infinity: Patrick you’ve played a superhero role in Watchmen and James this is your first big superhero film. What’s been the most difficult part of this for both of you?
PW: Well from an actor’s point of view, without breaking down the comparisons, one thing I learned early on with regard to playing either a literary character or a comic book is that you’re taking the character into something real and you have to cherry pick what’s useful to the movie. There’s a lot in Orm in the comic which we didn’t explore which isn’t ready for this right now. The most difficult part was the physicality. With Watchmen it was a much different thing and you’re playing someone out of shape who then gets into shape when you put on the costume so I could hide a lot under the costume. And this, though we were costumed a lot, I didn’t really know how much was showing. There are certain things that even a great costume that’s tailored and muscled that will expose meaning I wanted to be in shape. So I wanted to push myself. I’m not 28, I’m 45 and I wanted to get in the best shape of my life at a time when most men at my time of life aren’t.
JW: (laughs)You told me you were 32!
PW: I liked that he was his younger brother I liked that he had a young looking face and I wanted to push myself physically. It was exhausting
JW: Yes like Patrick it was the physicality of making the film, all the underwater stuff and the stunts that came with trying to keep the illusion of being underwater that stuff was difficult. I dealt with more difficult stuff on Fast & Furious 7 in terms of technicality and the emotion on that show. For me though I wanted to make sure that I didn’t mess up. Aquaman has a very strong loyal fan base and there’s never been a movie for him done before. People have stuck by him saying he is the coolest character and I wanted to make sure that I could respect that and I wanted to go back to decades and decades of source material to pull from and use in the correct way
PW: Yeah you’ve got to embrace that even visually.
JW: Yeah like Patrick said even the gritting of the teeth like in the comic book. In a way I want it to look like we’d splashed pages from a comic book on to the screen.
Infinity: So how did you achieve the effects of you floating around in the water? Are you on rigs, flying ballets?
PW: Yeah all of it. A lot of different harnesses, cables, teeter totters this thing that’s like a giant tuning fork that we would sit in. It all depended on the move. Sometimes if it was just a close up you’d be literally just a few inches off the ground.
JW: It’s literally like a see-saw right? You stand on a platform and we just jack him up and he’d just sort of float like that!
PW: if it’s a full body shot you need to know how to swim because honestly I was with Willem (Dafoe) and we felt like we were doing some strange avant-garde theatre. We really loved it and once we got cast it and I couldn’t feel my hips anymore. Maybe it’s because it was Willem Dafoe and he’s got such a huge theatre presence. In hindsight I always thought that doing green screen would be terrible for actors but honestly it felt amazing it felt like theatre maybe it was just the strange dialogue.
Infinity: James you’ve developed such a fan base for your work whether it be horror or action and now superhero films what genre is next for you?
JW (laughs) Ahhhhh Simon!
With a huge smile on his face James draws a big question mark in the air and with that, still laughing, they both shake my hand and are whisked out of the room both still chuckling and jostling with each other as they walk down the corridor. There’s a sense that working on a James Wan film is a whole load of fun.
Are you getting your fair share in the crumpet stakes? Or was your plonker the last thing you pulled? Here’s your chance to find out what you are doing right, or where you’re going wrong. We contacted international playboy and professional smoothie-about-town Jason King, aka ‘The Best Dressed Man of 1970’ to ask him at his bachelor pad on the beach at Cannes, the multi-talented master detective came up with this sure fire acid test that will help you get your hands on more tarts than Mr. Kipling. Are you man enough?
Okay, here goes.
1: You have to go out and buy some new clothes.
Do you: a): Nip down to Millets and ask for a shell suit.
b: Get a sensible business suit from the Freemans catalogue, and pay for it over three years in monthly installments.
c): Go down to Carnaby Street, find a trendy boutique and purchase a lilac Kaftan with psychedelic kipper tie, a pink cravat and a huge gold bracelet.
2) You are invited to a party by the girl of your dreams.
Do you: a): Turn up early with a bottle of low alcohol wine and your new Des O’Connor CD, and proceed to complain about how many sets of traffic lights you had to pass through on the way there.
b): Turn up on time with four cans of Special Brew, still dressed in your work clothes, and say you have to be home early because there’s football on the telly.
c): Turn up late with a crate of champagne and another girl on your arm. Say, ‘Let’s blow this scene baby, it’s like nowhere.’ Then take them both off for a shag in the back of your Triumph Stag.
3: Your idea of a romantic weekend is:
a): A bargain break at Centre Parcs.
b): Fell walking in the Lake District.
c): Flying by private jet to Monte Carlo, where you blow twenty grand at a casino and retire to your luxury yacht in the harbour for group sex.
4): What are your thoughts on smoking and drinking?
a): They are both very bad for your health. You’ve only ever tried sweet cigarettes.
b): You find it easier to chat up a bird after you’ve put a few pints down your neck. You don’t know whether you smoke after sex because you’ve never been conscious enough to look.
c): You smoke 200 coloured cocktail cigarettes every day, and swig claret and champers until they are coming out of your ears. You never drink and drive though, because you’re worried about spilling some.
5): You take a girl out for a meal.
Do you: a): Ask for salt and vinegar with your chips.
b): Order the hottest vindaloo on the menu at your local curry house and spend the rest of the evening on the toilet.
c): Greet the head waiter like an old friend and smile smugly as he gives you the best table. Then you order in French and spend the evening fending off autograph hunters.
6): You are in bed with a married woman when her husband comes home early.
What do you do? a): Hide under the bedclothes.
b): Apologise profusely and say that you only popped in to read the meter as he punches you repeatedly in the face.
c): Laugh gaily and offer him a glass of champagne before you leap out of the window to land in the driver’s seat of your sports car and roar off into the night.
7): It’s time to buy yourself a new car.
Do you: a): Get a Micra because they’re cheap to run.
b): Look in The Exchange and Mart to find an old banger, then spend two years taking it to bits only to find you can’t put it together again.
c): Borrow the most expensive Lamborghini in the showroom and smash it to pieces on a test drive. Laugh gaily as you tell the assistant, ‘It’s not fast enough for me.’
8): What do you do for a living?
a): You’ve worked in the Civil Service for 15 years. But it’s a very interesting job, really.
b): You work in supermarket trolley retrieval for Sainsburys. At least you get to see the world.
c): Snog sexy women, drink champagne, drive fast cars and write best-selling novels. And you get weekends off.
9): You’ve clicked with a bird and get her back to your flat.
But how will you put her in the mood for love? a): Introduce her to your mum. Crank up your favourite Cliff Richard CD and spend the next three hours explaining the complexities of index-linked pension schemes.
b): Stick the footie on and crack a few cans.
c): Suggest she joins you for a brandy in your giant sunken jacuzzi. Then adjourn to a heart-shaped water bed where there are two other beauties waiting to make the numbers up.
10): Your girlfriend announces she is pregnant.
Do you: a): Say you’ll be happy to marry her after you check the results of the blood test.
b): Commit suicide by drinking thirty Alcopops on an empty stomach.
c): Laugh gaily, crack some champagne. Then throw a wad of notes in her face and piss off to your luxury yacht in the South of France.
ANSWERS Check your score below to see how you measure up to the Jason King standard.
MOSTLY A: You are what is technically known as a wanker. Friends think you’re more boring than a party political broadcast. You look middle-aged at 30, live with your mum in a semi in Milton Keynes and keep telling your mates how nice those concrete cows are. It’s time to blow your life savings on a lava lamp and tight leather trousers. Or alternatively you could do us all a favour and step in front of a train.
MOSTLY B: You spend far too much time down the boozer with your mates. That beer gut isn’t going to help you pull the crumpet, you know, and neither are those spots or the mullet haircut. Get a life, before it’s too late.
MOSTLY C: Congratulations! You are rich, handsome, carefree, and so bloody smooth that you are always up to your handlebar moustache in adoring females. As for those togs, well when the 70s come back into fashion you’ll be right up there, alongside the Editor of this fine magazine!
You like us when we are generous and will be angry if you miss out on this great comp to give away 3 copies of Fabulous Films’ excellent new Blu-ray of The Incredible Hulk TV series, especially since they have all been signed by Lou Ferrigno himself! Read all about the show in Infinity 5 and then drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org to tell me the name of the producer of the series. It’s easy, yes, but have a crack anyway because you might be one of the lucky winners chosen at random.
Blu Ray Info here:
Mild-mannered research scientist David Banner (Emmy® nominee Bill Bixby) finds he must offer this heroic warning after exposure to gamma radiation transforms him into the terrifying and enraged Hulk (Lou Ferrigno). Bursting from the Marvel comic book pages into this fully restored and in high definition 16-disc Blu-ray set, The Complete Collection of The Incredible Hulk boasts every episode from all 5 seasons and includes the two original feature-length films and some awesome bonus material. EXTRAS: Creating an iconic character: The Hulk. Remembering The Incredible Hulk: An American Classic. Behind the success: The story of The Incredible Hulk, Gag Reel. Lou Ferrigno intro. Introduction with Kenneth Johnson. Audio commentary with Kenneth Johnson on the pilot ’The Incredible Hulk’, ‘Married’ and ‘Promethus’. Inside an episode: Promethus photo gallery.
It’s Captain Scarlet’s 50th Anniversary and he hasn’t aged a bit. Our next issue of Infinity has a huge feature on the Captain and to whet your appetite here’s another feature which has just gone LIVE on the Radio Times website written by Mark Braxton who is a true fan.
For the record, Captain Scarlet first aired on itv today at 5.25pm in 1967.
If Austin Powers had a favourite movie spy series it would have to be the Matt Helm movies made by Dean Martin in the 1960s. Matt was a hard-as-nails U.S. government counter-agent, hero of 27 books by Donald Hamilton. Dino played him as a lecherous, chain-smoking, permanently pickled lounge lizard who gets more crumpet than Greggs. Columbia Pictures originally planned at least five Matt Helm movies, starting with The Silencers (1966), where our hero is joined by sexy Stella Stevens on a booze-fuelled mission to prevent a baddie named The Big O (played by Batman villain Victor Buono) from creating a nuclear disaster.
Dino’s Helm is so laid back that even if a nuclear bomb went of behind him he wouldn’t drop his martini glass. He has a sexy secretary named Lovey Kravesit and a small harem of stunning ‘Slaymates’ ever ready to soap his back in his king-sized tub. He’s armed with a special gun that shoots backwards, a blade-firing camera and exploding buttons.
Martin was 50 years old when he made his first Matt Helm flick and while he manages to bed every sexy woman he meets he’s not so energetic in the action scenes, But there aren’t that many of them here anyway. The critics hated this movie but Dino had the last laugh, it made a fortune at the box office and he ended up with a bigger payday than Sean Connery got from playing James Bond in the same year’s Thunderball!
Martin was back as Helm the very same year in Murderers Row (1966). The film was supposed to have been released in 1967 but Columbia’s big Christmas release, Casino Royale, was mired in production problems so the Helm pic took its place as a Yuletide treat.
This second movie in the series saw our lackadaisical hero bedding sexy Ann-Margret and trying to stop her evil dad Karl Malden (who changes his accent in every scene) from melting Washington DC with his “helio-beam.” Dino didn’t exactly knock himself out making this one. He refused to travel for Europe to do any location filming, and therefore a good proportion of the movie involves the use of an unconvincing double!
Murderer’s Row took a tip from James Bond’s You Only Live Twice and opened with Dino supposedly being murdered in his bathtub, leading to an amusing scene where his countless girlfriends all turn up to his funeral in the same outfits. The fashions here are 60s kitsch at its craziest, and again Dino is obviously just playing himself, making jokes about fellow rat-packer Frank Sinatra and knocking back whisky on the rocks as he drives. The film features a bad musical number from the pop group ‘Dino, Desi & Billy’. One member is Dean Martin’s son, and we know this because he calls out “Hi Dad!”
The gadgets here include a gun with a delayed action, so that when a baddie uses it and it doesn’t go off they inevitably look down the barrel and… that’s their lot. Cunning.
The Ambushers came next in 1967, with more off-colour jokes, scantily-clad females and plenty of lovable sexism from Dino. Meeting one well-endowed female secret agent Helm comments: “When you say you’re a ‘38’ you ain’t just kidding.”
“It’s not a gun, Mr. Helm,” she replies. “It’s the new weapon they gave me, developed right here in our labs.”
“Developed pretty well, too!” says our man with a wink to camera.
The plot of this one had Dino traveling to Mexico to retrieve a flying saucer stolen by a rogue beer manufacturer! At one point the baddies try to kill Helm by chucking him into a huge vat of ale. How daft is that? The guy who has been thrown in with him glugs frantically that he can’t swim, and Dino coolly advises him: “Drink your way to the bottom.”
Amazingly The Ambushers made a big profit at the box office and so the Helm bandwagon rolled on with The Wrecking Crew (1969). This time our hard-drinking hero linked up with sexy Sharon Tate (a tragic victim of the Manson murders only a few months after this hit cinemas) to save the world’s economy from the meltdown that seems imminent when dastardly crime baron Nigel Green hijacks $1 billion in gold.
Chuck Norris turns up in a small role and Columbia hired Bruce Lee to train Sharon for her kung fu fight with sexy Nancy Kwan – the undoubted highlight of the film. Otherwise it’s all extremely lame, with very tacky production values – at one point Dino lands on a lawn and it bounces!
While The Wrecking Crew was utter rubbish it was not much worse than previous entries, and the only reason it became the final entry in the series was because Dean Martin himself decided to call it a day.
It is believed that he was so distraught over the murder of his Wrecking Crew co-star and friend Sharon Tate that he abandoned the next already-announced Matt Helm motion picture series installment (to be titled The Ravagers), and never played the character again, though there was a short-lived TV series in the 70s starring Anthony Franciosa in the part.
If you’re a fan of Dino himself or maybe just of really trashy 60s spy flicks with swinging chicks and groovy tunes then you’ll probably get a kick out of the Matt Helm movies despite their ineptitude. All four movies are available as a box set from Amazon. Pour yourself a large martini and enjoy.
Right you lot, pin your ears back and listen. No cop series now or in the future will ever match up to The Sweeney, and if you’re thinking even for a second of arguing about it, SHUT IT, YOU SLAGS!
Now we’ve got that out of our system I’ve got to tell you I’ve been dipping into my 16-disc Complete Sweeney box set. It only took a few episodes to get me chain-smoking, reminiscing about the positive virtues of flares and Cortinas, and drinking heavily, straight out of the bottle.
Can it really be over 40 years ago that it was first on? A dead giveaway is the lack of swearing. No F’ words in this show, but they didn’t need them because the language was colourful enough anyway. How many times did Regan get called an evil bastard? Then there was always the obligatory scene where they broke in on some hardcase blagger while he was in bed with some brass: “Look slag, I don’t give a toss who you have in your bed… Get your clothes on, you’re nicked!” Season 3 episode May had Regan saying, “If you weren’t who you are I’d kick your arse up to your shoulderblades.” Sheer poetry.
BIRTH OF A MAVERICK
The Sweeney came about not long after Thames Television set up Euston Films Limited at the beginning of the 70s. One of their first projects was a series of 6×90 minute TV movies Each film was budgeted at £85,000, quite a lot at the time, but they made their money back in international sales. Most popular of the lot was a show called Regan, written by Ian Kennedy Martin, with John Thaw as the central character, a maverick Detective Inspector of the Flying Squad, the Metropolitan police’s elite armed-robbery unit,
The film was quickly spun off into a 13-episode series which derived its title from the Cockney rhyming slang for Flying Squad – “Sweeney Todd” – and TV history was made.
The Sweeney was like nothing that had ever appeared on British TV before, a hard-hitting, action-packed 48 minutes with dog-eared cops breaking all the rules to bring down some very nasty bastards.
Think back to the series as a whole and the memories that surface are the boys piling out of the back of a transit, mob-handed, to take on the blaggers at the scene of their crimes. Inevitably Dennis Waterman’s George Carter gets a bloody nose – “looks like it’s schnozzle’s birthday again!”
The show was actually made at a lightning pace. Throughout The Sweeney’s four series, writers were apparently given a month to write each script, but many were delivered in just a few days. With only a ten-day shooting schedule it’s amazing they managed to keep the quality so high throughout the entire 54 episodes.
It’s easy to see that The Sweeney was influenced by contemporary cop shows like The French Connection and Dirty Harry. Regan and Carter weren’t much different from the villains they were out to catch, and their off time was spent drinking and womanising.
One of the first shows that set the tone was the classic episode, Ringer. While Regan is ‘on the nest’ with his latest bird, a small-time criminal nicks his car, which has a series of surveillance photographs in the boot. The bad lad takes them to their subjects – top local gang boss Brian Blessed and his tough henchmen Ian Hendry and Alan Lake. When Regan and Carter arrive at the dodgy garage where the stolen car has been taken, they put the frighteners on the thieves.
“Who are you anyway?” asks the lad with lots of false bravado, prompting Regan’s now-legendary reply: “We’re The Sweeney son, and we haven’t had any dinner!”
Of course the series provoked a lot of controversy, giving the public an image of the police that was a helluva way from Dixon of Dock Green. Mind you, it was probably more accurate – at the time of transmission, a prominent officer in the Squad was under investigation and was eventually imprisoned for corruption.
The Sweeney was shot on location around London on 16mm film, which gave it a grainy and realistic look. Unfortunately the shows don’t look anywhere near as good as, say, the ITC shows like Danger Man, The Saint and Man In A Suitcase that were shot in studios on 35mm, but you can get them on Blu-ray these days my son.
THE ONES TO WATCH
Some of my favourites? Well, I reckon The Ringer is number one, and the one where Morecambe and Wise guest star is also a lot of fun, as is Stoppo Driver, where Billy Murray (of EastEnders and The Bill) plays a maverick cop who becomes Regan’s temporary driver. He’s so good at driving cars at high speeds that he’s ‘recruited’ by a local criminal gang. Of course Regan and Carter think that Billy’s gone bent, but he has a plan of revenge that isn’t uncovered until the explosive finale – which involves that old standby of smashing through piles of cardboard boxes at speed!
Another great one is Night Out, written by Troy Kennedy Martin. A team of villains are out to raid a bank vault, and the glory boys of CID want to be there when it happens. They are going to make their getaway through the cellar of a pub, and Regan is sent in there to wait for them. Will he be sober by the time they arrive? Leave it out, guv!
Another top show is Abduction, in which Jack Regan is on the track of a gang of blaggers as per usual, but this mob is so worried about him that they kidnap Regan’s daughter to use as a hostage until the job has been successfully pulled. Jack goes against his ex wife and his superiors to rescue the girl in one of the most suspenseful and exciting episodes of the series.
In Hit and Run, it’s George’s turn to suffer a personal tragedy when his wife Alison is killed by a hired assassin. It turns out that the murder is a case of mistaken identity, but George won’t accept that as an excuse when it comes to doling out retribution. “Kick him, George!”
Emmerdale’s Patrick Mower had a great recurring role in The Sweeney as an Aussie robber. He and comedy actor George Layton played Colin and Ray, a couple of cheery baddies who outsmarted Regan and Carter in an episode called Golden Fleece. It was unheard of for the crims to get away with it in these days, but they didn’t really, because they returned to get their comeuppance in an equally good episode entitled The Trojan Horse. This was the one where Sweeney boss Haskins (Garfield Morgan) was framed for corruption and Jack and George set out to clear his name even though he was a boring bastard.
Bad Apple also gets a top rating from us. The plot of this one has our boys going undercover to track down a group of bent coppers. We’d also thoroughly recommend Hard Men, the episode where James Cosmo played a tough as nails Glasgow cop who came down to London to help Regan and Carter pursue some Scottish villains. Cosmo would have been great as a regular character, unlike Norman Eshley (of George and Mildred fame), who joined the Sweeney in another cracking show, The Taste Of Fear. He was a bullying ex-soldier who lost his bottle when the bullets started flying and was found gibbering away in a phone box!
We always liked the shows where one of the lads went undercover, and the best of these by far was One Of Your Own, where George Carter did some time in prison to get close to small-time criminal Michael (Boon) Elphick. He actually does get to like him, and vice versa, leading to an interesting conflict of loyalties. This is the show where Regan meets Jenny, a barmaid who is especially attracted to policemen, particularly when they are in uniform!
We could go on, but really there were hardly any dud episodes of The Sweeney. I guess Contact Breaker gets the vote for the worst, but even that wasn’t too bad.
There were also two movies of The Sweeney that are readily available on DVD. The first is good, but it sort of misses the feel of the TV show because it so wants to be a big screen project, pitting Regan against a team of international assassins who think nothing of shooting bobbies in the head in the street. Still, Colin Welland gets blown up by a bomb and Diane Keene gets her tits out, so what’s not to like?
Sweeney 2 was much more like it, with our boys on the track of a team of highly organised blaggers who nip over from Spain on a regular basis to pull violent armed robberies. Aside from the main plot, the movie throws in fun scenes where the team get pissed at a brewery and a bit where poor old George is dressed up as a waiter and sent into a hotel room to apprehend a possible terrorist – “Nobody told me he was armed and dangerous!” Meanwhile Jack is boozing it up in the hotel bar with Special Branch and MI5!
Enjoy, and be lucky, son!
Here’s an interesting post just in from reader Richard Dixon:
Just purchased the first edition of Infinity….superb new magazine….editorial spot on / great articles and some really good images…..Rick Melton’s art posters for the mag are brilliant – please keep more of Rick’s art coming through for the new magazine – like his work for the Dark Side it will really lift the quality if you could have a regular spot for his artwork in your new publication …..looking forward to issue 2….
May be if you are interested, I have a Science Fiction Concept Story idea which I have created in a model animation format and published it on the web on my web site. It’s called SEASTAR 5 INVADERS FROM THE ABYSS . Perhaps your readers might like to take a look at it if you could give it a small mention. It’s fully illustrated in a photo story format, with a four episode production .
The production has been viewed by over 34,000 people to date .
A second photo story production SEASTAR 5 OCEAN WARS is in production for a late 2017 release to the web to continue the story line.