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Special Branch (1969-74)

Courtesy of FremantleMedia

Main image of Special Branch (1969-74)
Thames for ITV, 17/9/1969-9/5/1974
53 x 60 min in four series, colour
Production CompanyEuston Films
ProducersReginald Collin, Robert Love, Geoffrey Gilbert, Ted Childs
Writers includeGeorge Markstein, Trevor Preston, C. Scott Forbes

Cast: Wensley Pithey (DS Eden); Derren Nesbitt (DCI Jordan); Patrick Mower (DCI Haggerty); George Sewell (DCI Craven); Paul Eddington (Strand); Fulton Mackay (Det. Supt. Inman); Claire Neilson (Det. Sgt. Isobel Ross)

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Special Branch officers attempt to negotiate the violent and shadowy world between CID and the security services.

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Special Branch was the first Euston Films production, and therefore in the vanguard of filmed drama that was to revolutionise the television industry in the years that followed. It was originally a Thames Television studio production with just a few filmed inserts in each episode, until Euston chose it as a suitable candidate for a new approach. The all-new cast starred George Sewell in the role of Detective Inspector Craven, and the show featured Craven's attempts to deal with high-level criminal activity while keeping to his own idea of morality. The show was resolutely unglamorous, and the location filming effectively created a grim vision of London's backwaters.

Initially, the cast and crew had problems adapting to the new style of production, and this is reflected in the rather disjointed episodes that ended up on screen. In addition to this, the producers decided that one actor could not carry the show, and so early in production Patrick Mower was drafted in to play DI Haggerty and told to give the show a "kick up the arse". The first series' transmission order was juggled so that he appeared throughout the run, and these changes added to inconsistency of the characterisation, and particularly damaged the handling of Craven's relationship with his partner Pam.

The second series was a vast improvement. The conniving MI5 officer Strand (Paul Eddington) and the semi-regular Commander Fletcher (Frederick Jaeger) were added to the regular cast. This gave the show more solidity, and new producer Ted Childs concentrated on getting a balance between the machinations of the security services, and the capture of the 'villains'. This resulted in some great episodes, ranging from a cross-dressing hitman ('Catherine the Great'), political radicals using pirate radio to target the establishment ('Sounds Sinister') to the identification of a spy within a group of au pair girls ('Date of Birth'). The new approach clearly paved the way for The Sweeney (ITV, 1975-78), which in turn would benefit from sharing many members of the Special Branch crew. Although Special Branch is more likely to be remembered for the series it spawned than for its own (rather slight) merits, this is a better fate than a number of more popular studio dramas from the same era. And if nothing else, it was the first series to use "Get your trousers on... you're nicked" - a line that epitomises an entire era of police drama.

John Williams

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Video Clips
1. Rehfuss escapes (3:01)
2. Penfold's death (3:04)
3. Rehfuss' instincts (1:26)
4. Catherine the Great (1:10)
5. North and Rehfuss (2:41)
Complete episode - 'Catherine the Great' - Part 1 (17:40)
Part 2 (14:11)
Part 3 (17:37)
Sweeney, The (1975-78)
Eddington, Paul (1927-1995)
Goddard, Jim (1936-2013)
Mower, Patrick (1940-)
Preston, Trevor
Euston Films