Uncovering Regan and Carter’s London
As mentioned on the ‘About’ page of this site, it was initially created for the purposes of documenting my travels around London, looking for old filming locations from the greatest television series that has ever been, or ever will be, created – The Sweeney. (No, there will be no democratic debate on this subject; at least, not here.)
The drive to do this was, I suppose, twofold. Firstly, there’s the obvious fun – as with scouting filming locations from movies when on my travels – in seeing in real life the places I’ve enjoyed watching on-screen. More than that though, it’s about uncovering parts of my past; you see, Sweeney London was my London.
As a child born right at the last knockings of the 60s, it’s the 70s which sit most prominently in my psyche, and 70s London in particular. Through trips up there with my Dad when he was visiting records offices, Somerset House etc. to further his in-depth uncovering of our family tree (hence: Sweenealogy, geddit?), many Saturdays driving to football – well before the advent of the M25 – and so on, I spent a fair amount of time travelling its boroughs, both on thoroughfares and back streets. I remember it all, with the bittersweet nostalgia often reserved for those things departed that will never be reclaimed: gasworks; waste ground; grimy buildings in states of disrepair and decay, boarded up and surrounded by corrugated metal; hunched shoulders in donkey-jackets; streets strewn with litter and debris… For some reason, though every era has its shiny and new – and 70s London had its fair share of that – in a strange version of rose-tinting, it’s the grime and grit that I remember most.
Sadly (?) most of London has been demolished, rebuilt, sanitised and shined many times over since the golden days of the greatest decade; there’s a good deal of Jack and George’s stamping ground that is now only to be found on my DVD collection. However, though even the places and buildings that do remain mostly look vastly different now – there’s still a thrill to be had in identifying and visiting them, and seeing any little glimpses of location and architecture that are still recognisable from those days. There are still buildings that, though renovated and modernised, have some of the same identifiable features; general road layouts, railway bridges, broad areas and so on still remain. There’s still the odd surviving fence and wall here and there, probably that used to have “George Davis Is Innocent OK” scrawled on them at one time or another…
As with so many of my ‘projects’, the gap between conception and implementation for this grand Sweeney idea has been substantial; nay, ridiculous. I think it first occurred to me some time around 2000, when I was working in Chiswick and – during a lunchtime stroll along the nearby Thames – I noticed a place that looked familiar from a Sweeney episode. (It’s where Regan meets a brass from whom he obtains information.) That got me thinking that it would be fun to find more; but that’s as far as it got. (I didn’t have a camera to hand at that point – camera phones weren’t a thing, quite yet.)
Fast forward to around 2013, 2014 or so when I started re-(re… re… re…) watching from Season 1 and making notes as I went on various locations that either looked familiar, or that I thought I would be able to identify from road signs, recognisable landmarks and buildings, and so on. For each place I noted, I’d hop onto Google Streetview and check against the paused DVD, to confirm (or correct) the exact location.
Back at that point, there was precious little information available online regarding any of the filming locations; I had to establish most of it by painstaking detective work. Haskins would be proud of me.
However, even this more concerted effort stalled fairly early on – around S1E07 I think – as I ended up packing my life away in boxes to sell my house and move firstly up to London, and then back down to a different part of Hampshire a year or more later. Life continued to occupy my time the way it is wont to do, and it’s only now in late 2018 after the birth of my daughter, that the impetus has been regained. (Specifically – I’ve spent many nights watching episodes on my laptop with headphones whilst she sleeps in her crib nearby, as it occupies me and doesn’t disturb her.)
In the intervening few years between my curtailed first attempt and this one, I found that IMDB have filled in a fairly comprehensive list of locations for each episode; this has obviously helped greatly – though it hasn’t alleviated all of my detective work entirely. There are places I’ve recognised, or been able to identify, that don’t feature in their listings; I’m quite proud of finding some of those.
Rather than just scribbling notes, this time I’ve been doing things a bit more methodically. Each location I identify, I tag on a Google Map with an image reference, and then save screen caps of the location under the same reference; that way, when I get around to visiting any places I’ll have all the details I need ready.
In terms of the ‘blogging’ side of things, a few questions regarding how to go about recording the locations I visited rolled around my head for a while; specifically – should I make a blog entry per “visit”, or per episode. The former seemed more natural for a blogging medium; however I liked the idea of having each episode documented in its own right. There are problems with the latter, of course: each episode may be spread over a wide area, and visiting them all in one go may be impractical. Therefore I’d either have to wait until I’d been to them all to write the entry, or keep going back and updating the entry as I ticked off more locations – which is somewhat against the point-in-time spirit of blogging.
The obvious took a while to occur to me, but eventually I settled on the format that I’ll carry forward: write a blog post per visit, but also maintain static pages per episode that can be accessible from a navigation menu. Hopefully, the best of both worlds.
The final thing I pondered was whether or not I could start visiting locations until I’d re-watched and analysed every episode of all four season this time around. If I didn’t wait, I’d probably run the risk of quite a bit of inefficiency – as many areas feature multiple times throughout Regan and Carter’s tenure, and I could go and visit a particular corner of Shepherd’s Bush to find locations I’d tagged in S1 or 2, only to find I’d be going back to the next street over for S4 some time later. On the whole, though this is less of a concern; I don’t really have a deadline for this, after all. If I end up going back to the same place more than once, so be it.
I have a pretty straightforward criterion for inclusion in my location posts and pages: the photo I take must be recognisable from an episode, or a modern-day view of something that would have been such. By which I mean, there are locations listed in IMDB such as an address where an interior sequence was filmed; if the exterior was not used in any establishing shots, and I cannot get into said building and capture something of the rooms or other interiors that appeared in the episode in question, then I will skip it. There seems little point, for me, in photographing a building that would have no recognisable attributes within the series as it was filmed.
If there is an external location where nearly all of the surrounding buildings have since been demolished and replaced, or have sprung up where previously there were none – then this is still perfectly valid IMO; part of the purpose of this exercise is a ‘then-and-now’, and provided I can reasonably accurately pinpoint the location, then it’s fair game. Similarly, there are often establishing and linking shots from a vantage point I won’t be able to attain – within a building that is private, or no longer there, for example. Again – as long as I can still find the location itself, I’ll capture it from the best angle I can achieve.
So there it is; The Sweeney Quest begins! As at time of writing this, it’s Dec 18, I’m part way through Season 2, and have just (today – 5/12) made my first ‘location hit’. The entry for that one will be coming soon.
Put your trousers on – you’re knicked!