Friday 23 February 2018

Obituary: Tom Clegg

Director of The Sweeney, known for his work on action films

Tom Clegg, bottom right, directing an episode of Space 1999 in 1977 Credit: Rex
Tom Clegg, bottom right, directing an episode of Space 1999 in 1977 Credit: Rex Newsdesk Newsdesk

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.

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.

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 replaced Paul McGann, who had to withdraw having injured his knee playing football two weeks into the filming schedule.

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.

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, who died on July 24, 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.


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