Special Branch – Short Change (19th November 1969)

The Troika affair rears its head again after Christine Morris (Sandra Bryant) escapes from an open prison. She’s swiftly recaptured, but it seems that she might end up in Russia anyway ….

The move to colour is initially a little jarring (mainly because it allows us to appreciate for the first time just how gaudy many of DCI Jordan’s shirt and tie combinations are). There’s also a rejigged title sequence, which is notable for the way it features the series’ two leading actors, Derren Nesbitt and Fulton Mackay (previously the images were of unknown miscreants).

We’re don’t see the initial meeting between Inman (Mackay) and Jordan (Nesbitt), but their first scene together sets the tone. Inman is clearly throwing his weight around a little by attempting to tighten certain areas of procedure that he feels have got too lax (Jordan, of course, bridles about this).  No doubt over time they’ll find an amicable way to work together, but this initial friction isn’t unpleasing.

An early hot topic of discussion concerns the hapless DC Morrisey, who stands accused of assaulting a protestor at a demonstration. Jordan (despite indulgently regarding Morrisey as a somewhat hopeless case) stands firmly behind him – he has no evidence either way, but is happy to close ranks as he instinctively knows Morrisey would never give way to violence. But since Inman doesn’t know Morrisey he requires something more than blind faith. Mind you, as Inman later establishes his innocence (by studying the film rushes of the alleged attack) he does seem to have the best interests of his officers at heart.

Sandra Bryant returns as the unsettling Christine Morris. Apparently an innocent pawn caught up in a spy web, her coolness under pressure (not even the prospect of being sent to Holloway prison fazes her) begins to set alarm bells ringing for Inman. After a little digging it’s discovered that the real Christine Morris died in infancy, so the woman masquerading as her looks to be a Russian agent.

A pity this wasn’t discovered the first time around, which is a mark against the recently department Eden ….

The irony is that Moxon had long suspected this and is more than happy for her to be sent back to Russia. Partly because she can be swopped for a British student arrested in Moscow for selling two jumpers from Marks & Spencer, but mainly because it’ll enable a British shoe factory to be built over there.  As Moxon discloses to the Deputy Commander (David Garth) not only will the factory net HMG three million pounds, it’ll also be of benefit to the Russians (who have terrible shoes, according to Moxon).

As so often with the series, justice has to take a second seat to political maneuvering (although it’s best not to assume this particular story has concluded).

At one point the Deputy Commander wonders whether Moxon’s air of infallibility is all just a mask. He, of course, demurs – but the episode leaves a few questions unanswered. For example, since it looks like the Russians went to considerable trouble to arrange the swop, why did they attempt to spirit Christine away from prison in a rather amateurish fashion?

Much more vigorous and active than Eden, Mackay makes an instant impression as Inman. Jennifer Wilson, as DS Webb, appears to have vanished without trace. She had a pretty thankless role, but it’s surprising that she didn’t carry over into the colour era of the series.

As often happened with ITV drama from this period, there’s a mix of OB VT and film used for location work. Christine’s escape from prison is shot on film whilst her departure from the UK is captured on videotape (possibly there were logistical reasons for this – maybe it was easier to move the more lightweight VT cameras around the airport).

Short Change isn’t a story with many shocks (for once we know exactly why Moxon does what he does, and it’s difficult to argue against him) but the episode sets up the new dynamic between Inman and Jordan very effectively.

Special Branch – Reliable Sources (12th November 1969)

The ninth episode of series one, Reliable Sources is something of a milestone episode as we bid farewell to Det. Supt. Eden. There’s been a serial element running through a number of these episodes, which continues here (and in the episode to follow). Eden – after an intense grilling from the security commission – is told that he’s been cleared of any wrongdoing in respect of his handling of the Troika debacle (as have his fellow Special Branch officers). But any jubilation proves to be short-lived ….

If Reliable Sources shows us anything, then it’s how the bluff, honest Eden is no match for the devious Moxon. Right from the start, when Moxon warns Eden not to poke around in matters which don’t concern him, it’s plain that Eden will come off second best.

A Russian spy called Alexandrov (heavily involved in the Troika affair) has defected to the West. This means little to Eden, who still has a warrant for his arrest and is keen to enforce it, but Moxon firmly warns him off. When the news of Alexandrov’s defection is leaked to the papers, Eden becomes a prime suspect – especially since he’s recently lunched with Clive Bradbury (Tony Britton), an experienced Fleet Street hack who specialises in security stories.

What’s interesting is that Moxon admits to bugging Bradbury’s phone, so the true culprit of the leak would already have been known to him (although he later shrugs this off). Why then did he make Eden feel so uncomfortable? Possibly Moxon, the arch manipulator, simply can’t help himself.

The twist in the tail – the man responsible for leaking the story meets with Moxon – shouldn’t really come as a surprise. But both Eden and Jordan jump to the wrong conclusion (Moxon is corrupt) rather than the right one (Moxon is laying a false trail to confuse the Russians).

Morris Perry is on top form today and it’s nice to see both Tony Britton and David Collings guest-starring. Collings plays Bradbury’s editor, who’s just as keen as he is for a scoop on the Alexandrov affair. Although the story that’s leaked to them via Moxon’s proxy (Alexandrov’s precise whereabouts) doesn’t sound that exciting.

The fact that Eden’s been totally outplayed from beginning to end is highlighted by the way he’s unceremoniously shunted out of Special Branch and into an important-sounding (but no doubt meaningless) job for the next twelve months until his retirement is due. It’s easy to imagine Moxon’s hand in this, although given how easy Eden has been to manipulate, maybe not – after all, the next man in the hot seat might pose more of a challenge.

There’s been whispers throughout the episode that Jordan is in line for the job. He certainly seemed to think so, as when the Deputy Commander breaks the news that Det. Supt. Inman will be taking over, Jordan’s face visibly falls.

The next episode is clearly a key one as George Markstein returns to write it. Plus there’s the fact that the series moves into colour, which – together with the arrival of Fulton Mackay as Inman – helps to give these later S1 episodes the feel of a new series launch.