The series that finally broke the mould of the stereotypical British copper as seen through the eyes of television and laid the foundations for later police actioneers such as The Sweeney and The Professionals.
The Special Branch was a division of Scotland Yard that investigated government security leaks, people-trafficking, fanatics, spies, and other such anarchists. The original team was led by Superintendent Eden and Detective Chief Inspector Jordan (Derren Nesbitt - pictured), who wouldn't have looked out of place serving in a Carnaby Street boutique. With his flared trousers, long collars and bright ties he was every bit the trendy face of the Met, something that had not been portrayed previously on British police procedural dramas. Eden represented the old school type of cop but was just a few months away from retirement when the series began and he was replaced half way through the run by the more forward thinking Det. Supt Inman.
The series, which began in 1969, was filmed on videotape, mostly studio bound with some filmed location inserts and shown in black and white, but the exploits of these particular policemen sent the show to the top of the ratings by 1970. Then in 1973 production was handed over to Thames TV's newest offshoot, Euston Films (this being their first production) and shot in colour and with a change of production values came a change of cast. The show was revamped and became far less studio based, Cockney actor George Sewell was brought in as DCI Alan Craven and Roger Rowland as DS North but the producers felt the chemistry wasn't working and so they brought in smooth talking ladies man Patrick Mower who took over from Derren Nesbitt as the smooth fashion conscious cop DCI Tom Haggerty (only with more hair and longer sideburns). Although Haggerty arrived in the series a little later the transmission order was re-jigged so that he appeared throughout the run, although this did tend to make the show somewhat disjointed in places. But by 1974 the series was in full flow again and featured Craven and Haggerty's attempts to deal with high-level criminal activity and became far more action packed and gritty as it painted a far more realistic view of London's seedy backwaters.
This series was a vast improvement and introduced a snooty MI5 officer by the name of Strand who regarded the SB as nothing more than inferior policemen compared to his own department. New producer Ted Childs concentrated on the balance between the needs of the security services, and the capture of ordinary 'villains.' For many viewers this was the show's golden era. The new team stayed together for two series but by the end of it Thames TV were already planning to retire the officers of Special Branch to make way for officers of The Flying Squad. There is no doubt that the new approach paved the way for The Sweeney, even to the point of using the immortal line: "Get your trousers on... you're nicked!"
Published on January 31st, 2019. Written by Laurence Marcus (17 January 2007) for Television Heaven.