Once, police dramas were simple affairs, with villains collared in a "fair cop" from a uniformed officer armed with a truncheon and a whistle. Then the 70s arrived and it was all fast cars, punch-ups, heavy drinking and shooters. And between the two, there was Special Branch.
Special Branch was the first tentative step into the mayhem of the 70s cop drama. Originally broadcast in 1969, it focused on the Special Branch team and its battle with matters of national security – government leaks, diplomatic crises, people trafficking and that spectre of the Cold War, the KGB.
Although it’s been billed as a fore-runner to the Sweeney, don’t expect that kind of show. Special Branch has a much slower pace – a thinking-man’s crime drama if you like. The team is led by Supt Eden, but the focus is on the real leader in the department, Detective Chief Inspector Jordan, played by Derren Nesbitt – one of the most dapper TV faces of his time. If his sharp 60s wardrobe is stored away somewhere, I’ll buy the lot. In fact, I’m taking notes in readiness for a visit to the tailor. He’s also a great no-nonsense copper.
Plots are mainly packed into single episodes, but occasionally drift into two – and all are filmed in black and white. It’s well-written/interesting and very much of its time, with the odd exception – people smuggling and illegal entrants to the UK was still an issue in 1969.
Pick of the shows for me are "A Date With Leonidas", when the son of a Greek terrorist heads to the UK for revenge (some great period shots of 60s Camden) and "The Children Of Delight", where a new-age cult is under observation. But to be honest, there’s no bad episodes, even if some are a little slower-paced than others,
If you like your vintage crime shows, seek this out. It lacks the action of shows like The Sweeney or The Professionals, but it you’re willing to use a few extra brain cells, it’s well worth the money.
Extras on the DVD: