All in all a fair series, worth adding to a collection if you're a fan of Euston Films products but it won't excite like the rough and tumble action and social commentary of the now legendary "Sweeney" series.
I wonder how many people would consider Special Branch to be part of the 'golden age'. Not many, I reckon. Even the actors who appeared in it - George Sewell and Patrick Mower - interviewed on the DVD set of the 1974 series (also available as a network release) seem to be somewhat apologetic about it. Mower suggests that he was brought in to "grab the series by the balls" after the filming of the first six episodes because the format wasn't working, and Sewell disarmingly admits that it lacked the "polish" of its highly-regarded successor, The Sweeney.
Well, forgive me for disagreeing, but Special Branch - at least the 1973 and 1974 series - certainly deserve to be seen as part of the golden age of British TV. Well acted, well scripted, and the first of Thames TV offshoot Euston Films' productions shot entirely on film and on location, this series is a gem from start to finish.
Chic, it certainly isn't. It's gritty and cynical, an attitude superbly captured by Sewell's portrayal of Detective Chief Inspector Craven, a smoking, swearing, punching copper whose idiosyncratic methods - in a wonderfully cliché-snubbing way - do not always get results. A sense of almost sordid ethical ambivalence pervades the series: you find yourself siding with the 'criminal' as often as with the law, who themselves often wonder why they are pursing their latest hapless victim.
London in the 'seventies - a far grubbier and decaying city than that of today - is superbly captured on film, as is the dullness and dimness of Special Branch's office.Read more ›
However the show can be slightly awkward, particularly DS North (played by Roger Rowland) through no fault of the actor, his character was just not made interesting or deep enough. Patrick Mover was brought in mid way through the series to liven it up a bit by being a more rebellious and macho character, which seemed to ignite the show a bit. Many of the episodes are based on espionage plots, much like the later episodes of The Professionals, but by staying true to replicating Special Branch procedures it almost limits itself to the amount of action it can include in the show.
It was a ground breaking series, when we look back to set based shows like Z-Cars and Dixon of Dock Green, but it lacked the real punch and grit of its Euston Films brother - The Sweeney so has been overshadowed by The Sweeney's legacy.
Its still very entertaining, and features some good episodes and early cameos from support actors who later went on to be household names.