Special Branch – Exit A Diplomat (26th November 1969)

Mira Kobylnova (Barbara Leigh-Hunt), the wife of a Czech diplomat, is arrested on a shoplifting charge. Since she carries diplomatic status, no charges can be brought – so why did she do it? Jordan discovers that she’s seeking asylum for herself and her husband ….

Exit A Diplomat is a slow-burner of a story. To begin with it’s difficult to feel too invested in Mira’s travails, but over time – as Jordan continues to question her – she begins to earn a little more sympathy. Since we don’t meet her husband until more than half way through the episode, we’re wholly dependent on her portrait of him until then. Does he really face censure (albeit not prison) when he returns home? And if so, does he actually want asylum or is Mira the one pushing him?

When Jan Kobylnova finally turns up, he’s played by the always reassuring George Pravda.  Pravda was an actor rarely out of work during the sixties and seventies, due to his ability to play characters from numerous Eastern European countries. He adds a touch of class to the story, despite having considerably less screen-time than Barbara Leigh-Hunt (who also gives a solid performance throughout).

Jordan drives this story, with Inman largely sitting it out (although he does enjoy a decent scene where he gives Jordan a hard time). There’s also a surprising moment towards the end of the episode as we drop in on Inman enjoying a sauna (luckily a towel covers his modesty). Moxon – fully clothed – pays him a visit, advising that any attempt by Special Branch to contact Kobylnova before he boards the plane home should be discouraged.

The reason for this is a neat one – Moxon has already recruited Jan Kobylna as a spy for the British, so any interference by Special Branch could jeopardise months of planning.  This is therefore another of those stories which would have been a lot shorter had Moxon decided to be less stringent about who needs to know what ….

Exit A Diplomat feels pretty low key but there are some definite highlights. For example, Jordan’s interrogation of Mira (despite Derren Nesbitt stumbling over his lines a little). The private meeting between Mira and Jan at the police station (well sort of private, since Jordan’s standing very close by) is nicely played by both Leigh-Hunt and Pravda. Moxon’s meeting with Bilak (Gary Watson) also catches the eye – a big wheel at the Czech embassy, he seems to be one of the few people to ever discomfort Moxon (although by that point, all the pieces of the puzzle hadn’t fallen into place).

There’s also an early screen credit for Cheryl Hall. Despite the fact it’s a blink and you’ll miss it part, she makes an impression as a shrill young shoplifter (who’s afforded far less courtesy than Mira).

Once again the episode ends in a downbeat fashion, with Jordan unaware why the mission to shadow Kobylnova has been aborted. He confides to Morrisey that they’ll probably never know, suggesting that Inman – like Moxon – knows how to keep a secret.

2 thoughts on “Special Branch – Exit A Diplomat (26th November 1969)

  1. Another very strong episode, helped no end by the credibility of Barbara Leigh-Hunt as the central guest star, but also benefiting greatly from the ever reliable Derren Nesbitt.

    Moxon drifts in and out. As always, keeping all the threads in his own hands, he manipulates his Special Branch puppets with consummate skill and discretion. And, as ever, only Moxon knows what is really going on. Inman has only limited screen time in this one, but that helps to emphasise the marginal role he plays whenever Moxon is pulling the strings.

    It doesn’t really feel low key: there is a nice element of tension underlying the events, as it is clear that the diplomat and his wife actually hold opposed views as to whether or not to defect; and Inman is unwilling to intervene unless the diplomat himself directly requests it.

    So Derren Nesbitt and his team circle round the diplomatic couple, like sharks in an ocean, waiting to strike and to snatch the couple from under the eyes of their – presumably KGB – minders. But it never happens, and only the audience and Inman finally learn why from Moxon.

    Thereafter we watch how close Nesbitt comes to making a damaging mistake, since the wife has no idea that her husband has agreed to spy for the British, and cannot understand why he is willing to return behind the Iron Curtain to face a risky future, as he cannot take the risk of telling her.

    Moxon ends up very satisfied. The piranah-like activities of Special Branch, who are keen to help the diplomat defect, convince his Czech minders that the man himself does not wish to — despite being offered every encouragement to do so.

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  2. Exit A Diplomat is The Original Episode of Special Branch On Wednesday November 26th 1969 Starring Derren Nesbitt as Inspector Elliott Jordan Alongside Barbara Leigh Hunt & Fulton Mackay.

    The Original Theme Music Played by Norman Kay Broadcast by Thames Television.

    53 Original Episodes Filmed in Black & White-Colour from Wednesday September 17th 1969 to Thursday May 9th 1974 with Patrick Mower & The late George Sewell.

    Special Branch is The Crime Drama Series on ITV.

    Terry Christie,
    Sunderland,Tyne & Wear.

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