Country of origin United Kingdom
No. of series 4
First episode date 17 September 1969
Genre Police drama
Original language(s) English
No. of episodes 53
Final episode date 9 May 1974
|Starring Derren NesbittGeorge SewellPatrick Mower|
Cast George Sewell, Patrick Mower, Derren Nesbitt, Fulton Mackay, Paul Eddington
Special Branch is a British television series made by Thames Television for ITV and shown between 1969 and 1974. A police drama series, the action was centred on members of the Special Branch anti-espionage and anti-terrorist department of the London Metropolitan Police.
The first two series were shot mainly in a studio on videotape with filmed location inserts; a standard method of the time but one which suffered from jarring differences in picture quality between interior and exterior scenes. The location scenes of some episodes were shot on outside broadcast cameras, leading to smoother transitions between location and studio work for those episodes. Series 1 and 2 starred Derren Nesbitt as Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Jordan, working to Detective Superintendent Eden (Wensley Pithey) and subsequently Det. Supt. Inman (Fulton Mackay). The episodes featuring Eden (the first nine of Series 1) were recorded in black and white, while all subsequent episodes were recorded on colour videotape.
The show was revamped in 1973 after Thames Television's Euston Films subsidiary took over production using film, which allowed for a less studio-based series. Euston Films had pioneered the technique of shooting action and adventure series entirely on location using 16mm film, for a more gritty and realistic look. These episodes starred George Sewell as DCI Alan Craven and Roger Rowland as Bill North. The show was slow to take off, so the producers introduced Patrick Mower as DCI Tom Haggerty, and by the 1974 series Bill North had been axed, having had a nervous breakdown, though he returned for one episode later in the run.
Another character was Strand, who appeared in the fourth series, the man from the Ministry, played by Paul Eddington. Strand was a toffee-nosed civil servant who kept an unwanted eye on the detectives and their budgets. He sometimes manipulated them in order to pursue obscure matters of state, such as in the episode "Double Exposure".
The theme music for series 1 was by Norman Kay. For series 2, 3 and 4 it was by Robert Earley.
The 1973/74 series of this police drama is notable for being the first production by Euston Films, later responsible for such series as The Sweeney and Minder. The influence on The Sweeney is clear, although the rough-and-tumble nature of that show is fairly lacking in Special Branch.
Both Sewell and Mower later starred as villains in The Sweeney, while Sweeney star Dennis Waterman appeared in the 1974 Special Branch episode "Stand and Deliver" as a criminal. Mower later went on to star in the 1977-78 BBC police series Target.
The 1973 and 1974 series have been released on Region Two DVD by Network, and both sets include an episode from the original Thames TV series. The 1969 series was released as a four-disc DVD set by Network in January 2007, and the 1970 series was released as a Website Exclusive in November 2007. All four series were released on DVD by Network in 2008, in a 16-disc box-set featuring all 53 episodes.
Other actors appearing included: Garfield Morgan and Rula Lenska ("Something About A Soldier"), Jacqueline Pearce ("Catherine The Great"), Cyd Hayman ("Rendezvous"), Susan Jameson as Detective Sergeant Mary Holmes ("Date of Birth", "Intercept", and "Downwind of Angels"), John Bindon ("Intercept"), Peter Bowles and Janet Key ("Downwind of Angels"), Nicolette McKenzie ("Diversion"), Denis Lill ("Diversion") and Kenneth Colley ("Date of Birth").
As with the later The Sweeney, the on-screen offices of Special Branch were located in Hammersmith.
Multiple episodes of Special Branch used Ennismore Garden Mews, SW7, as a filming location.