Tom Clegg – Director – A Tribute: The Sweeney, McVicar + Much Much More

Picture above: Tom Clegg, Director

For many, the recent death of Tom Clegg will bring back vivid memories of landmark TV series from the 70s and 80s – most notably The Sweeney, which he directed from 1975-1982.

Tom had a long and illustrious career and worked with Ian Hendry on several occasions. Gabriel Hershman was fortunate to be able to interview him when researching Ian’s biography – which we cover in more detail later on.

Tom Clegg – Obituary – The Telegraph, 3rd August 2016

Tom Clegg, who has died aged 81, directed high-octane television dramas including The Sweeney (ITV, 1975-82) and was a master of bringing exciting all-action sequences to television and cinema screens.

sweeney_drag act 1978 Tom Clegg

Picture: The Sweeney ‘Drag Act’ (1978). Directed by Tom Clegg.

Starring John Thaw and Dennis Waterman as two bruising detectives with Scotland Yard’s Flying Squad, The Sweeney was developed from a 1974 pilot episode, Regan, which Clegg also shot.

The-Sweeney- Tom Clegg Director

Picture: John Thaw and Dennis Waterman – The Sweeney

He remained one of the principal directors throughout four television series and on the second of two spin-off feature films, Sweeney 2 (1978), collaborating with the scriptwriter Troy Kennedy Martin, who wrote the screenplay for The Italian Job (1969).

For ITV Clegg went on to direct Sharpe (1993-1998), an action-packed period drama about an officer in the Napoleonic Wars starring Sean Bean in the title role, Bean having replaced Paul McGann, who had to withdraw having injured his knee playing football two weeks into the filming schedule.

Tom Clegg Director Sharpe Sean Bean

Picture: Tom Clegg and Sean Bean – Sharpe

Based on the novels by Bernard Cornwell, Sharpe was produced by Central Television and shot mainly in Turkey and the Crimea. Clegg also directed two made-for-television film spin-offs, Sharpe’s Rifles and Sharpe’s Eagles (both 1993).

Thomas Harrison Clegg was born on October 16 1934 at Kirkham, Lancashire, and educated at the grammar school there. His parents ran a shop making and repairing clogs, boots and shoes. Between 1952 and 1954 he served his National Service with the RAF in Singapore, an experience that inspired a lifelong love of travel, before going to art college to study Photography, gaining a City and Guilds certificate.

In the 1960s Clegg established himself as a television cameraman, first with Granada and then ABC Television at Teddington Studios.

As well as The Sweeney, during the 1970s Clegg also directed episodes for television series Van der Valk, Space 1999, The Return of the Saint and The Professionals. In 1973 he made Children of the Full Moon in the Hammer House of Horror series with Christopher Cazenove and Diana Dors. “The good thing about directing horror is there are no limits,” he explained. “It was a challenge, something all directors look for.” In 1980 he directed the feature film McVicar, based on the exploits of the armed robber John McVicar (played by Roger Daltrey of The Who) and his escape from prison.

Clegg worked on the script with McVicar, who remained on the set as a consultant during the nine-week shoot at Pinewood Studios, where a replica of Durham Prison was built. With its harsh realism, violent fights and gripping bank robbery, the film was redolent of Clegg’s days on The Sweeney.

The following year he directed A Captain’s Tale for Tyne-Tees Television, dramatising West Auckland’s remarkable journey from small town amateur football side to giant-killing World Cup winners. The film had a cast of A-list actors, including the Sweeney star Dennis Waterman and Tim Healy from Auf Wiedersehen Pet, and led to Clegg’s third feature, G’Ole!, Fifa’s official film of the 1982 World Cup, narrated by Sean Connery.

Clegg returned to Euston Films to direct a few episodes of Minder, working again with Dennis Waterman. His other television work in the 1980s included episodes of Bergerac and The Chinese Detective.

Bravo Two Zero Tom Clegg 1999

Picture: Filming during the making of Bravo Two Zero (1999). Directed by Tom Clegg.

He reunited with Sean Bean and the writer Troy Kennedy Martin on Bravo Two Zero in 1999, based on the bestselling book of the same name by Andy McNab. Originally broadcast in two parts, the film portrayed real life events from the perspective of McNab, commander of a British SAS patrol searching for Iraqi Scud missile launchers during the 1991 Gulf War. In fact it was mostly filmed on the fringes of the Kalahari desert in South Africa’s Northern Cape Province.

Before retiring Clegg was on location again, this time in India, shooting Sharpe’s Peril, another Sharpe adventure for ITV, but one not based on a Bernard Cornwell novel.

Tom Clegg married, in 1957, Audrey Harrold, a hair and make-up artist for films, who predeceased him in April. Although separated they never divorced and remained close companions. Their two daughters survive him.

Tom Clegg, born October 16 1934, died July 24 2016

Source: Tom Clegg – The Telegraph

Tom Clegg – Other Notable Work + McVicar

 

The following is an extract from the FilmNav website – which has a feature article on Tom Clegg’s work:

 

Throughout the 70’s Clegg directed many other episodes for other TV series – 2 episodes of Van de Valk, 5 episodes of Space 1999, The Return of the Saint, The Professionals and 2 episodes of Hammer House of Horror.

 

I asked Clegg why he had chosen to direct such diverse material as the Hammer Horror’s, which was a far cry from the gritty realism of The Sweeney, to which he replied; ` The good thing about directing horror is there is no limits. It was a challenge, something all directors look for’.

 

It was during this period when Tom Clegg first met Roger Daltrey, Bill Curbishley and Roy Baird, who had a project in mind for one of their Who Films productions, called McVicar, based on real life prison convict John McVicar, and his escape from Durham prison. Clegg would work closely with John McVicar on the script, and once it was completed shooting began at Pinewood Studios, where a replica of Durham prison was constructed. Other locations included London, and Maidenhead (the railway bridge scene where McVicar hides after his escape.) The budget was £1.4 million and filming ran for 9 weeks, with McVicar permanently on set as a consultant.

 

The film carried many traits from Clegg’s days on The Sweeney – the harsh realism, violent fights, thrilling bank robbery and a tragic ending (something which many of Clegg’s Sweeney episodes concluded with). It would also inspire another prison film years later – The Shawshank Redemption.

Tom Clegg: Working With Ian Hendry

Tom Clegg and Ian Hendry met and worked together several times including the very first episode of The Sweeney ‘Ringer’ (1975), directed by Terry Green, in which Ian was the first person to appear on camera in the series. They also worked together on Van Der Valk ‘Gold Plated Delinquents’ (1977) and the film, McVicar (1980) in which Roger Daltrey played the lead.

McVicar (1980) Ian hendry

Picture: Ian Hendry as Hitchens – McVicar (1980). Directed by Tom Clegg.

When asked by Gabriel Hershman about working with Ian Hendry, Tom Clegg responded:

Ian had more talent in one little finger than most actors do in their whole bodies.

We salute the life and work of Tom Clegg and his great contribution to our collective TV and film memory. Our condolences go to his family and friends.

Until next time,

Neil Hendry
Editor, Official Website of Ian Hendry

Further Reading

A detailed account of the life and work of Ian Hendry in the new biography:

Read:  ‘Send in the Clowns – The Yo Yo Life Of Ian Hendry’ by Gabriel Hershman

Send In The Clowns - The Yo Yo Life of Ian Hendry

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