Classic TV Revisited: Special Branch

Special Branch Classic TV Revisited

Forceful cop drama Special Branch combined wing collars and flares with a bit of hard nut fisticuffs action, Special Branch certainly made Dixon of Dock Green seem tame in a few departments. It ran on ITV from 1969-1974 and starred Derren Nesbitt, Patrick Mower, George Sewell

Elder brother of The Sweeney, featuring cops who weren’t afraid to flaunt their flares and sideburns.

Why was it classic?
It kicked open the door for the likes of Regan and Carter to make fast-moving cop shows featuring flawed police officers.Initially made by Thames, production was taken over by Euston Films, which went on to make The Sweeney, Minder and Capital City.

How did it begin?
It was an early ITV attempt to make a cop show which was more gritty than Z-Cars.

Special Branch Classic TV Revisited

What was it about?
Derren Nesbitt was dandy cop/special agent Inspector Jordan who was so cool that never a hair was out of place when he tackled villains threatening national security.The first two series also starred Fulton McKay of Porridge fame. Nesbitt was later replaced by Patrick Mower and George Sewell.

Did it have implausible plots?
Of course. How about agents infiltrating hippie encampments and German student revolutionaries in search of subversives?

Any nod to 007?
Standard storylines included strange incidents at British embassies, bomb plots against sheikhs, VIPs in need of protection and derring-do against the KGB.

Was it popular?
Cruelty to doors took it to the top of the ratings in 1970.

How did it make TV history?
It became the first ever TV drama series made on film. After two videotaped runs it was given a revamp with Patrick Mower and George Sewell when Euston Films took over the production.

Who did they play?
Mower was smooth, ladies’ man DCI Tom Haggerty and Sewell was his brusque, pock-marked boss DCI Alan Craven. Good Life star Paul Eddington was the civil servant who kept them in line.

Why did it end?
After 52 episodes maker Euston Films and ITV decided to concentrate on the superior door-kicking skills of John Thaw and Dennis Waterman in The Sweeney.

What happened to the cast?
Derren Nesbitt was a big-screen name in the ’60s and ’70s with film credits such as Where Eagles Dare and The Blue Max. He’s 81 now. For Patrick Mower after Special Branch, ironically, he was in Target, BBC1’s answer to The Sweeney in 1977-8. It only ran for two series after it was criticised for its violent content.

Do say:
They don’t make ’em like that any more.

Don’t say:
Mind the doors please.

Not to be confused with…
Special K, Love On A Branch Line, The Doors, You’ve Been Framed.