Monday, 2 November 2009

Police Brutalism

It could be that The Sweeney is the most Brutalist TV programme ever made. Although in actual fact The Professionals - LWT's showbiz ying to the gritty, everyday yang of Thames & Euston Films - concentrated far more in the bomb-gutted, derelict and disused warehouse schtick that the The Sweeney has perhaps become more erroneously linked with, Regan & Carter hit their stride at a key moment in London's post-war overhaul. Alternate episodes are shot in either Victorian terraces and public houses, or amongst the kind of gleaming municipal developments such as those cast in two installments I've seen recently.

As if to perfectly illustrate the hard-hatted transition between decaying, smashed-to-fuck factory and modernist housing regeneration, the series 3 episode 'Down To You, Brother' (original transmission 22/11/76) bases its story around a slimy, somewhat old-school property villain in whose path Regan has previously crossed. The baddie, Raymond Meadows (played by Derek Francis, who also starred as the entirely unrelated Brother Martin, an exasperated monk in Carry On Abroad) attempts to cultivate a bent, bribe-laden relationship with Regan, with the shadowplay's setting occasioning visits to his latest development.

The Alexandra Road estate in NW8 takes this particular role, with Meadows in effect assuming the guise of site foreman to Neave Brown, the American-born architect. This swooping complex of stepped, Mediterranean-esque apartments has a real 'stadia' feel to it, owing to the tiered terracing, a ziggurat tilt redolent of the Brunswick Centre. Meadows hangs around a bit and points, and the production team plainly had limited - though fairly revealing - access to the site, for understandable reasons.

An episode from the previous series, 'Thou Shalt Not Kill' (original transmission 24/11/75), is afforded considerably more location time however for a good old-fashioned bank job. Two lunatic gunmen (one of which is called Monk - what is this monastic theme all about?) hold several staff and customers hostage in a university campus branch of the 'National Mercian Bank', whilst Regan & Carter plus an extended team of flying squad heavies including marksmen perch themselves around and about the network of adjacent buildings, poised to strike back.

Eventually, at the end of what seems like the entirety of a tense, balmy summer's day (during which a hapless George Carter delivers the requested sustenance of "champagne & tinned nosh" to the villains in his pants to prove he's not tooled up), even Haskins wades in for some uncharacteristic field work.

The heist eventually ends and our brace of nutjobs 'get theirs' off site, which in this instance is the grounds of Brunel University in Uxbridge, West London. These sapling-lined environs are exploited to the hilt, and our heroes gambol over the concrete like macaques, presenting via the stark geometry of the campus ample opportunity for dramatic, expansive angled shots. Alas the same site's extraordinary Ludovico Medical Facility is not featured, though it is of course the perfect companion to Thamesmead in A Clockwork Orange.

Everything else was puce & mint green.