Great British Crime Movies #2: Regan

'Jack Regan', it says on the IMDb website, 'is a hard edged detective in the Flying Squad of London's Metropolitan Police (called 'the Sweeney' from the Cockney rhyming slang 'Sweeney Todd' = 'Flying Squad'). He pursues villains by methods which are underhanded and often illegal themselves, frequently violent and more often than not successful'.

If this rings a bell in the minds of London Large readers, it should. Jack Regan was one of our boyhood heroes in the 1970s, being one of the two main protagonists (the other his sergeant, George Carter) of the first British TV crime drama to reflect something of the reality - the social world and the built environment - we saw around us.

Regan, released in 1974, flew straight out of the barrel of the gun fired by Ted Lewis, Mike Hodges and Michael Caine a few years earlier (see previous post), taking the gritty realism Get Carter had and transferring it to the small screen. As the extended pilot episode for what was going to become The Sweeney, it set the tone perfectly with its hard core urban locations (especially the then-dilapidated riverside area around Bermondsey Wall East in south London), pub scenes, heavy and controversial violence (for the time) and Carteresque dialogue - as when Regan, pulling a suspect out of bed, makes the kind of arrest that was to become characteristic, and much loved, as the series progressed:

'Get your trousers on - you're nicked.'

But the rough-and-tumble, halfway vigilante methods used by Regan were already out of date, and he a dinosaur - a maverick individualist in what was already becoming a world of team players. Change was afoot, and the Met was reorganising, professionalising, modernising: in Regan we see Jack being pushed to the margins as the first steps are taken on the road to the progressive Common Purpose policing and ideal of an all university-graduate force - or rather 'service' - so enthusiastically embraced by Harry Hawkins a few decades later.

Jack Regan was, from the very beginning, a man out of time, an embodiment of the romantic idea of the true, hard-bitten detective as social outcast, with a moral compass that stays put while everything around him changes. And it is there that we must leave them, the detective and his sergeant, frozen forever in time in the film's final scene, in the moment in which Jack delivers to George his vision of policing. They are standing on a grey winter's day at a tea stall (the site has appeared in one or two London Large scenes) in the shadow of Westminster Abbey, and just down the road from New Scotland Yard.

George: 'There you go, guv.' (Passing Jack tea in a styrofoam cup)

Jack: 'Ta.'

George: 'You got away with it again, didn't you?'

Jack: 'Oh don't you start, got away with it - I got the bastard who did it.'

George: 'And here I am, standing in the freezing cold while my wife's at home in bed...I hope.'

Jack: 'Ah, come on George, you're not a nine-to-five man, over there, sitting behind a desk, swigging tea all day and waiting to get home with the roses. You're like me. You're a copper. You belong out here in the cold...'


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