While browsing the EPG on my Sky box I stumbled across a station called Forces TV just after 9.00pm. To my delight, the station was re-running old episodes on a now long-forgotten Thames Television show called Special Branch, which ran from 1969 to 1974. This series was last aired on UK Gold in the late 1990s.
The series began in 1969 and starred Derren Nesbitt, fresh from his role as a Nazi in Where Eagles Dare, for its first two seasons, which were recorded on videotape. Then, in 1973, it was revamped by Thames subsidiary Euston Films, who filmed the remaining two series on 16mm film.
It was the sixth episode of the 1973 series that I stumbled upon. For the 1973 series Derren Nesbitt was replaced by George Sewell as Detective Chief Inspector Alan Craven and was later augmented by Patrick Mower as Detective Chief Inspector Tom Haggerty. What makes watching re-runs of Special Branch so interesting are the street scenes of a London which no longer exists – drab looking and run down, as if the place had never recovered from the Blitz, and devoid of congestion and commercialism. Were these really the good old days?
This is London just as Britain joined the Common Market, so foreign cars are few and far between and even Austin A35s are still in everyday use. Quite clearly, from the episode I watched, British Leyland were the prime suppliers of new cars for the production, with Rover P6s and a K-reg Morris Marina (above). George Sewell’s car of choice was a Wolseley Six, the upmarket Landcrab, complete with Rostyle wheels.
Special Branch ended in 1974 and Thames TV decided to replace it on the Euston Films production lot with a series developed from a one off television film called Regan. That series became The Sweeney, with cars supplied by Ford. Special Branch can be seen at 9.00pm weekdays on Forces TV, Sky Channel 181, Virgin 277, Freesat 165 and Freeview 96. You can also view the programme’s cars on IMCDB.
Tune into 1973!