Written by Bill Craig. Directed by Jim Goddard
Kitzlinger (Martin Wyldeck) is a middle-man with no political or ideological convictions. He’s been authorised to sell a list and has offered it to the British SIS on first refusal. Kitzlinger tells Callan and Bishop that it contains the names of ten British agents based in Eastern Europe. If they aren’t interested in paying his price of one hundred thousand pounds then he’ll offer it to the KGB.
Now that Callan is in charge of the Section he reports to Bishop (Geoffrey Chater). Bishop and Callan are very different characters which means there’s an entertaining combative nature to their relationship (and both Woodward and Chater seem to relish the numerous two-handed scenes they share).
First Refusal opens with Callan stating his case for a taxi – or as he calls it a MCF (mobile communications facility). It’s ironic that whilst Bishop couldn’t see the need for buying a taxi, once Callan explains that it’s a mobile communications facility he’s much more sympathetic!
His need for such a vehicle does help to date the programme somewhat – he tells Bishop that too often his agents are out in the street unable to find a phone – but even allowing for the fact this was made some forty years ago it does some strange that walkie-talkies couldn’t have been installed in all Section cars. There’s just something gloriously amateurish about the Section having only one vehicle with radio facilities.
Now they have a taxi they need a driver – and Callan proposes Lonely. Bishop reacts with horror, but Callan sees it as the ideal solution, particularly since Lonely knows far too much about Section business (“we either take him in or we take him out. And that means right out. But you’ll have to take me first”).
It’s no surprise that Lonely isn’t too keen about becoming a taxi driver – as he has to pass an incredibly difficult test. This leads to a couple of classic Woodward/Hunter scenes in which Callan tests Lonely’s very limited knowledge of London streets. Lovely stuff.
Possibly the most noteworthy part of the episode is the return of Toby Meres, although if his name hadn’t featured in the opening credits his sudden appearance at the end of part one might have come as more of a surprise. He’s been stationed in Washington since the start of series three (whilst Valentine was engaged on other projects) and there was no hint prior to this episode that he was coming back.
Callan tells him that he’s been recalled because he has room for a good man but Meres counters that he was coming back anyway. Their first meeting is an excellent reminder of the uneasy relationship they’ve always enjoyed. Meres wants to be the next Hunter and he’s totally upfront in telling Callan that it won’t be long before he gets a chance.
Meres is convinced that Callan is bound to fail eventually (Callan isn’t made of the “right stuff” for command) and proposes to step in when there’s an opportunity. Callan tells him he’s welcome to it, but that doesn’t resolve the tension that now exists between them. Meres spends the episode waiting for Callan to fail and gently mocks him at every turn, although by the end it’s Meres who’s blundered.
The list turns out to be a fake and Kitzlinger is picked up by Callan and Meres. When Kitzlinger makes a sudden movement, Meres thinks he’s going for a gun and shoots him dead. Callan bitterly informs him that the dead man was simply reaching for his heartburn pills (“you’re a bloody psychopath. You haven’t changed have you Toby?”)
Although the list of British agents is the main plot-line, it’s the character dynamics between the various members of the Section that’s the most memorable part of the episode. Another interesting clash occurs between Meres and Cross. Although they never shared a great deal of screen-time (Patrick Mower leaves the series shortly) there’s still some needle. Meres tells him that if things change like he hopes then the junior man might be “a Cross I wouldn’t have to bear”.
Nobody comes out of First Refusal with much credit, especially the British who have paid over the money and received a worthless list. It’s a sharp reminder to Callan (if he needed one) that the hazards of command are numerous.