Last night I watched an old episode from the late-1970s hit series The Sweeney. I used to love this series and still find it watchable today. John Thaw played Detective Inspector Jack Regan who was aided in his never-ending fight against the London underworld by Sergeant George Carter who was later to change sides as Arthur Daley’s muscle and gopher, Terry, in Minder. At the time, as an impressionable young twenty-something, the Sweeney seemed to portray the gritty realities of life in London’s CID. It didn’t really. In between fighting armed robbers, Jack and George spent a lot of time drinking in pubs and trying to get a leg over. But the villains were never very convincing, usually coming across as middle-class actors wearing car-coats and throwing in a bit of cockney rhyming-slang to try and gain credibility as genuine blaggers. But it was all good fun, and it normally ended in a good punch-up under the railway arches or in a scrap-metal yard. Thaw was great as the moody, world-weary, boozy cynic who, like most TV cops, seemed to spend as much time fighting his superiors as the villains. He still had a hint of a Mancunian accent from his childhood and looked every inch a flawed working-class hero.
Earlier in the evening I watched a repeat of Inspector Morse. I don’t think I need to provide our readers with an overview of Morse as it was a far more recent series. Suffice it to say that Thaw played, as his new character Morse, a more educated and higher-ranking copper than Jack Regan (why wasn’t the series called Chief Inspector Morse or was he promoted during the series?). Now I think the series was superb and the plots were clever. Thaw again played a cynical, world-weary character at odds with authority and he played it extremely well. But although he had many a rather-sombre pint or two with Sergeant Lewis, Morse was a very different man from Regan. He would spend solitary evenings at home listening to classical music or poring over the crossword rather than unwinding with fellow coppers in the pub. Morse was thoroughly middle-class where Jack Regan was thoroughly working-class.
This brings me to class and faces. An old mate of mine once commented (on Thaw as Morse) that ‘he is playing a middle-class character with a working-class face’. At the time I dismissed the comment, but on reflection I think my mate may have been right. Thaw was playing a well-spoken opera buff but to me his face still fitted more to working-class Jack. I know that if Morse had been made before rather than after the Sweeney I might see it the other way round. But I do think there is such a thing as a working-class face, a face that portrays years of relatively unrewarded graft and resentment that it shouldn’t be that way. What do you think?