Edward Woodward Double Whammy – Callan and The Equalizer repeats to air shortly on TPTV and Forces TV

Edward Woodward as Callan

Fans of Edward Woodward (or indeed anybody who enjoys good archive drama) have two reasons to celebrate – as Callan is set to air on Talking Pictures TV (Sky 328, Virgin 445, Freesat 306, Freeview 81)  from early next month and The Equalizer will be coming soon to Forces TV (Sky 181, Virgin 277, Freesat 165, Freeview 96).

Both channels have stealthily been increasing their rota of archive television over the last year or two.  TPTV has given the likes of Gideon’s Way and Public Eye their first rebroadcasts for decades, whilst Armchair Theatre is another item of interest newly added to their schedule.

Over at Forces TV, UFO, the Thames era Special Branch and Never The Twain have all caught my eye (the latter especially, as the DVDs are long OOP).  Indeed, my one wish for the future is that we see some deeper digging into the archives from all channels, so that series which are unavailable on DVD are given another airing ….

I’ve written extensively elsewhere on the blog about each surviving episode of Callan.  Short summary? It’s unmissable.  Woodward is perfect as the world-weary state-sponsored assassin with a conscience.  Friendless, apart from a social outcast called Lonely (Russell Hunter – who, like Woodward, essayed a career defining role) each week Callan has to negotiate his way through a series of moral dilemmas, which are punctuated with flashes of violence.

During the first two series (made in black and white and sadly incomplete in the archives) Callan reported to a rotating group of superiors all called Hunter (beginning with Ronald Radd). By series three, with the show now in colour, William Squire had assumed the role of Hunter (apart from a brief hiatus during the fourth and final series, when Callan found himself in the hotseat …)

There are very few disappointing stories from the four series run, although Amos Green Must Live is one which hasn’t aged well (its attempt to tackle racial politics looks rather crude today).  As for excellent episodes there’s an embarrassment of riches  – Let’s Kill Everybody, Death of a Hunter, Suddenly – At Home, Breakout, That’ll Be The Day, Call Me Enemy, etc, etc.

Although initially reported in some quarters as a remake of CallanThe Equalizer was a very different series – although it did have certain callbacks (given Woodward’s involvement, that possibly wasn’t surprising). Mind you, if David Callan found leaving the Section to be tricky, then Robert McCall strolled out of the Company in the first episode with nonchalant ease.

There’s something very appealing about watching the middle-aged Woodward (impeccably dressed and accented) walking through the mean and dirty New York streets dispensing summary justice as and when required.  Whilst a less tortured and questioning individual than David Callan, Robert McCall did have his spasms of self-doubt and it’s on those occasions that Woodward really stepped up to the mark.

It’s an obvious comment, but neither series would have had the same impact if Edward Woodward hadn’t been front and centre.  And whenever he was given a particularly meaty script, the sparks would fly.

Star-spotting is a good game to play when watching The Equalizer.  Already established names such as Jim Dale, Linda Thorson, Telly Savalas, Robert Mitchum and Adam Ant pop up (as does Meat Loaf in a brief cameo) whilst there’s early appearances from John Goodman, Christian Slater and Bradley Whitford amongst many others. There was also a strong family feel with Michele and Roy Dotrice appearing in different episodes (Roy Dotrice had a memorable turn in Trial by Ordeal – my personal favourite).

Kudos to Talking Pictures TV and Forces TV for taking the decision to air these, as they’ve been off British television screens for far too long.  It’d be lovely to think that both series could develop a new audience – this would also hopefully spark some people into investigating what other archive treats might also exist.  And there’s quite a few ….

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Coronation Street – 24th December 1962

This year’s Christmas entertainment is an all-star performance of Lady Lawson Loses at the Mission Hall.  Miss Nugent has the plumb role of Mrs Gilda Montefiore (aka Lady Lawson), a notorious jewel thief who has eyes for young Gerald, Duke of Bannock (Ken Barlow) much to the dismay of his mother, the Duchess of Bannock (Annie Walker).

You won’t be surprised to hear that before the curtain goes up Miss Nugent is all of a fluster and works herself into a pitch of maximum anxiety. Mrs Walker is perfectly serene though – and offers Miss Nugent a little something to soothe her nerves.

The play is a somewhat impenetrable drawing room drama, but it draws some big laughs from the audience (unintentional ones, of course).  All of the pitfalls of am-dram are present and correct, from a curtain which refuses to open, doors which are similarly problematic and numerous forgotten lines and stumbles.

At one point, Minnie (cast in the role of Lady Rhona Philbeach) observes backstage that the audience really seems to be enjoying themselves. A beat later she concedes that they shouldn’t be laughing, but no matter – at least they’re having a good time.

Minnie looks very regal, it’s just a pity that we don’t actually see her perform on stage (we do hear second-hand that she delivered her big line without a stumble though).  It would have been nice to see Ena on stage as well, but she’s relegated to providing the pre-curtain entertainment with some tunes on the piano.  Once this duty’s over she’s able to take her place in the audience, where she and Martha offer a waspish commentary (plus they rustle a mean sweet paper).

The most interesting thing about Pauline Shaw’s direction is that until the final scene all of the on-stage performances are viewed from the point of view of the audience at the Mission. This denies us any close-ups of the sweating actors, but it helps to sell the illusion to the viewers at home that we’re in the thick of the action.

Lady Lawson Loses is deliberately long-winded and not terribly interesting, which is a slight problem since it does take up a fair portion of the episode.  The mishaps are amusing enough (plus it’s always nice to see the regulars dressed up) but this is one of the less essential Christmastime episodes. I do like Mr Swindley’s closing speech at the curtain call though, which is rudely curtailed by Jed who closes the curtain with alacrity (like the audience, he’s clearly keen to hot-foot it to the pub!)

The final moment with a swooning Miss Nugent (buoyed through the second half thanks to a mixture of pills and alcohol) is another good touch. 

Coronation Street – 25th December 1961

To begin with, there seems to be a clear division of the sexes. Whilst the men – in the shape of Albert, Frank, Ken, Harry and Len – are heading off to a football match, the women (such as Concepta and Elsie) are fretting about their Christmas lunches.

The episode opens with some boisterous children running down the street, but their antics are mild compared to Len – who’s waving his football rattle, bellowing at the top of his voice and dancing in the street with Annie Walker. Goodness, he’s irritating – not the sort of person you’d want to run into first thing on Christmas morning.

As for the match, it’s between two teams of ladies (which might be the reason why all the lads are up and about so early – if not, then they really, really, love football).

The notion that the menfolk have all the pleasure whilst the women are confined to the kitchen is challenged after we see Jack slaving away. Clearly that’s one household where the roles are reversed.  Jack, as always, has to be a man of many talents – not only doing a spot of cooking but also serving behind the bar. Annie must be taking it easy.

This year it’s Minnie’s turn to cook Christmas dinner for the others.  There’s a vague air of melancholy at work here (Martha decides that it’s “a funny Christmas isn’t it? More like a very long Sunday”).  Martha’s still grumbling as she tucks into her meal, but Ena – for once – is in a good mood. “Martha, goodwill to all men, including Minnie Caldwell. She may be wilful but she is human and she is our friend”.

The fragile peace doesn’t last long though (Ena swallows one of Minnie’s sixpences and chokes). Classic, classic comedy then ensues (Martha wonders if they should pat her on the back but Minnie decides not, as Ena might hit them back!). Poor Ena, all four sixpences (wrapped up in tissue paper and cotton) found their way into her portion of pudding. “Have you never heard of windpipes?” mutters a despairing Ena. Lovely stuff.

Prior to this, there’s another touch of sadness after Martha and Ena grumble that their families steer clear of them on Christmas day. It’s worse for Minnie of course, who has no family. But at least she has friends around her.

Ena/Minnie/Martha might be the Christmas highlight, but there are some nice character moments elsewhere as well. Ken and Frank share a moment of reflection as they celebrate their first Christmas without Ida. Lucky that Esther was on hand to cook them something, otherwise no doubt they would have gone hungry …

Hapless Harry continues to get an ear-bashing from the very shrill Concepta. You can see her point though.  Mind you, his present to her – a gold watch – does cheer her up somewhat.  At least for a short while.

Interesting that the Queen’s speech is still seen as the centrepoint of the day, at least for some (Annie, Concepta).  Annie’s total devotion to Her Majesty even extends to exhorting poor old Jack (who lest we forget has been on his feet all day) to stand up when the National Anthem is playing.

Christmas at the Tanners is rather fraught. Dennis, having seen that the cupboard was bare, went out for his meal, not knowing that Elsie had rustled up something as a surprise. So when he does return she’s determined to force-feed him, whether he likes it or not. Pat Phoenix and Philip Lowrie raise the roof for a few minutes, but things then settle down. Elsie and Dennis may scrap on a regular basis, but since neither has anybody else the spats don’t last for long.

The episode had a slightly fraught production, as Derek Grainger disliked elements of Tony Warren’s first draft. Warren allowed Grainger to rewrite it, but insisted that his name didn’t appear on the credits (so the fictitious Carol Nicholas was used instead).


Redcap – Nightwatch

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Mann returns an AWOL soldier to a regiment who are back in the UK following a stint of active service. When Mann’s prisoner is struck in his absence, he’s determined to find the culprit. This leads onto a strange tale of ghosts and the regiment’s final, disastrous mission in Borneo ….

Making his television debut as Brown (the AWOL soldier) was Hywel Bennett. It’s a very eye-catching turn, although it couldn’t have been that easy to play (Brown’s handful of scenes see him in a highly hysterical state, still heavily traumatised by their Borneo mission).

Brian Wilde was cast against type as Graham, a sergeant busted down to private due to his drinking and insubordinate nature. It seems odd that Graham is imprisoned in a cell inside the barracks room – this means not only can he see his former charges, but he’s also able to chivvy them along when they start to fall into slack habits.  And that’s certainly the case – the platoon is in complete disarray, lacking any clear direction or authority.  Corporal Scowler (nice performance by Tim Preece) is completely ineffectual on this score.

Mann wonders why the platoon is still intact – given the Borneo misadventure and the aftermath it would have been logical for them to have been split up. But the CO (Joseph O’Conor) has a different view – he can see there’s poison amongst the men, but has decided that keeping them together will bring matters to a head.  For once, Mann comes across a CO who isn’t totally obstructive, although he certainly knows his own mind.  Allan Cuthbertson was born to play the role of Major Stokely – he a!ways looked perfect in a uniform and Stokely’s character – dogmatic and not too imaginative – was the sort of part that played to Cuthbertson’s strengths.

The platoon are all deftly sketched in, especially Molt (Griffith Davies) and Metcalfe (Graham Rouse). Somebody seems to be spreading stories that the ghosts of their dead comrades are haunting the barracks (good of the spooks to have hopped back on the plane from Borneo with them) and bizarre as this may seem, more and more of the soldiers are beginning to believe it.

Given the lingering PTSD some must be suffering that’s understandable, although this doesn’t explain why several new recruits, only recently signed on, are also spooked (refusing to patrol the parts of the camp which appear to be favoured by the ghost).  Nightwatch has, unsurprisingly, a night-time setting, which allows for plenty of shadows and the possibility that something might be out there.  Bill Bain’s direction is pretty workmanlike, although there’s the odd interesting flourish along the way.

John Thaw continues to smoulder away to good effect.  After Brown is struck, you know that Mann will be implacable in his mission to find the culprit.  He – unlike Scowler – has no fear in facing down a barrack room of insubordinate soldiers.  Mann’s brief shouting match with Graham is another highlight.

Not the best episode of the run so far, but it does have an unsettling air, especially the final scene which sees Mann confronting the cackling, unrepentant trouble-maker.

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Redcap – The Orderly Officer

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It looks like an open and shut case. 2nd Lt. Harry Barr (Giles Block) confesses to Mann that in a drunken New Years Eve misadventure he knocked down a concrete bollard outside his barracks.  Although it’s a relatively trivial matter, it will still mean a court martial for Barr.  But things don’t quite go the way that Sergeant Mann planned ….

This is an interesting one. It’s a good ten minutes before the crime of the episode is revealed. Which means there’s plenty of time to get to know Barr – who’s young, inexperienced and totally out of his depth. The sergeants – notably Sgt. Greatorex (Barry Keegan) – delight in running rings around him. This is demonstrated by the contemptuous grin given by Greatorex during Barr’s inspection of the men.

But maybe Greatorex isn’t totally a bad sort, as he invites Barr to a New Years Eve drink in the Sergeant’s mess. A friendly gesture or is he simply seeking to embarrass the officer further? The real trouble begins when Greatorex suggests that he and Barr pop down the road for a quick drink with a nearby Highland regiment. It may be nearly the new year but they’re both on duty, so it would be something of a dereliction. But Barr, keen to prove that he’s one of the lads, agrees and he later pulls rank by insisting that he drives them back to barracks, despite being somewhat insensible.

So the blame is shared. Barr was responsible for the accident but had Greatorex not goaded him into making the trip in the first place then nothing would have happened.  But as the officer, Barr will be the one to shoulder most of the responsibility – unless the regiment closes ranks.

A little more meat is put onto the bones of Mann’s character in this episode. He’s still working late into New Year’s Eve and is very resistant to popping down the pub for a quick drink, despite the entreaties of the Staff Sergeant (the ever-solid Bernard Kay in an all too brief role). Eventually he does agree, which proves that he’s human – but the dour, workaholic John Mann is certainly a world away from Jack Regan.

We’ve previously seen how Mann has faced hostility from certain quarters during his investigations, but not the complete obstruction that he runs into here.  On the surface they’re pleasant enough – Captain The Hon. Ian Loder (Mark Burns) is courtesy itself – but everybody has their stories and they’re sticking to them.

Can Mann force someone to confess? Greatorex is unlikely to crack and neither is the mess Sergeant (Jack Smethurst). Smethurst sketches a nice performance with his limited screentime – it appears that the Sergeant spends most of his time sampling the stock or worrying about a visit from the weights and measures man!

Mann eventually manages to break through the wall of silence when Barr admits all.  All well and good, but he then makes a fatal mistake when he allows Barr to confess his crime to the Colonel (Ronald Leigh-Hunt).  The upshot is that Mann is appalled to later find a new suspect – Trooper Kelly (Harry Littlewood) – has been put into the frame whilst Barr is nowhere to be found.  Mann attempts to interrogate Kelly, but he gets nowhere – the Trooper is a mixture of Irish charm and sorrowful remorse.

It’s previously been mentioned that Mann is somewhat inexperienced and this episode was possibly designed to reinforce that fact.  For all his implacable questioning earlier on, he’s been undone thanks to one simple request which now means that there’s no way back – this time the ranks have firmly closed and he’s forced to admit defeat.

For an ex-copper like Mann, it chafes to see a guilty man go free but the Colonel holds a different view.  In time, Barr might become a more than decent officer, so why squander that potential over such a trivial matter? Neither of them are wholly wrong but neither are wholly right either and this is what makes The Orderly Officer such a fascinating watch – for once it’s not a matter of life or death, but that makes the drama no less compelling.

This was Giles Block’s first television appearance. He’s probably best known for playing Teel in the Doctor Who story The Dominators, although his list of credits isn’t particularly lengthy.  His television inexperience probably helped here, as Barr is supposed to be something of a greenhorn. As I’ve said, it’s a shame that Bernard Kay’s part wasn’t larger, but the rest of the cast is peopled with the usual roster of strong supporting players.

Although there’s a spot of location filming, Redcap‘s studio-bound nature is still in evidence. This is most notable during a scene which attempts to suggest a country road (a few sad twigs in the background do their best, but it’s painfully obvious that we’re still in the studio).  This apart, there’s little to quibble about in this episode since it’s another strong instalment.

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Redcap – Corporal McCann’s Private War

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Mann is in Cyprus – his mission is to track down an AWOL soldier called Corporal McCann (Ian McNaughton). Given that Cyprus is a political powder keg, the news that McCann has disappeared with three sterling machine guns and a plentiful supply of ammo only complicates matters ….

One of the interesting things about Redcap is the way that it reflected real world events. As depicted here, Cyprus in the mid sixties was a highly unstable place – following independence in 1960, bitter in-fighting had led the UN to establish a peace-keeping force. As you might expect, this means that Mann has to tread very carefully – although he’s not averse to indulging in a spot of fisticuffs with a local soldier who has the termitary to steal his identification papers!

Mann, called in by Colonel Morris (John Ringham), is concerned for McCann’s safety – a soldier with a previously spotless record. This makes the suggestion that he could be involved in black-market gun-running all the harder to swallow.  Off-screen for most of the episode (and when he does appear he doesn’t have a great deal of dialogue) McCann is something of a plot MacGuffin – meaning that it’s difficult to feel that invested in his fate.

Ringham quickly sketches in the key points of Morris’s character – a friendly, relaxed type who genuinely seems to care for the men under his charge.  He’s a fairly minor character though as two other very familiar faces – Jerome Willis and Warren Mitchell – take the lion’s share of the screen-time.

Willis is Lovelock, a political liaison officer who views Mann with extreme disfavour to begin with. He’s not in the least concerned with McCann’s fate, he only cares about the political fall-out McCann’s disappearance could generate (especially how it might be twisted and spun by their opponents).

Since Mann operates most of the time as a solitary figure, there’s something novel about the way that he and Lovelock eventually join forces. Both strong and single-minded characters, they eventually form a bond which drives the action in the second part of the episode.  Willis, as you’d probably expect, is top notch.  Warren Mitchell, as a world-weary local inspector, is equally as watchable. Rarely without a cigarette dangling from his lip, he flits in and out of the narrative – both helping and hindering.

Although there’s a brief spot of location filming, once again the bulk of the episode is studio bound.  The use of a car on the studio street (and plentiful sound effects) helps to sell the illusion of space though. Mid-way through the episode, John Thaw stumbles over his lines, although he plows on regardless and eventually gets back on track. This wasn’t unusual for this era of television (where retakes tended only to happen if there had been a catastrophic technical issue) but since Thaw was usually so secure, it does stand out.

A notable aspect of Corporal McCann’s Private War is the fact that Mann spends very little time questioning McCann’s fellow soldiers – indeed, he only quizzes the quartermaster (Windsor Davies). This is a lovely scene from both Davies and Thaw. The quartermaster is able to shed a little light on McCann’s character (he’s a keen photographer, or as the quartermaster puts it, he’s “nutty about women’s chests”).

One of these women – Ariane (Maria Andipa) – has her part to play in untangling the mystery. It’s pleasing to see that some key roles were filled by non-UK actors. Given the paucity of available players in the 1960’s this wasn’t always possible – but it always added a touch of authenticity to proceedings whenever it did happen.

Corporal McCann’s Private War starts – intentionally – in a rather disconcerting, jerky way. This feeling of being buffeted along by events, rather than controlling them, continues throughout and although Troy Kennedy Martin’s script gets a little bogged down, the performances of Thaw, Willis and Mitchell does help to keep the interest level up.

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Redcap – Misfire

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Private Brian Staples (Gary Bond) has confessed to an act of robbery with violence. Mann is convinced he didn’t commit the crime, but when the man who was attacked dies, the charge beomes murder ….

It’s clear from the opening few minutes, as a hesitant Staples calls the police, that there’s something off-kilter here. The presence of Iris Pearson (Diana Coupland) reinforces this.  It takes a little time before we learn that she and Staples are an item, but when this news is revealed it becomes the focus of Roger Marshall’s script.  She’s an older woman (although not that old – Coupland was in her mid thirties at the time) and everybody seems convinced that she’s nothing more than a gold-digger, preying on a young and inexperienced man.

Barrack-room gossip paints her as either a prostitute or simply somebody who’s more than generous with her favours.  And yet …. it emerges that there’s a genuine bond of love between the pair and this was the reason why Staples confessed to a crime he didn’t commit (in order that he wouldn’t have to transfer out with the rest of the regiment – thereby saving him from being away from Britain for several years).

Coupland pitches things just right, making Iris seem – at different times – to both be vulnerable and implacable. It’s one of a number of very decent performances in the episode – the next comes from Arthur Lovegrove as RSM Staples, the boy’s father.

Now retired, he still dotes on the regiment as a father would on his son (indeed, it’s made painfully obviously that he loves the regiment much more than he does his own flesh and blood). Right from the opening few seconds of his first scene we know exactly what sort of character he is. We see Staples holding court in the mess bar where he’s surrounded by a group of dutiful, but obviously bored, officers.  You can well imagine that Staples’ rambling anecdote is one that he’s told countless times before.

The revelation that his son is in trouble pains him, but mainly because it’s something that will bring disgrace on the regiment. Lovegrove especially shines in two key scenes – firstly when Staples attempts to buy Iris off and secondly when he has a short, but not very sweet, interview with Mann.  What’s notable about this second scene is the way that Raymond Menmuir frames it – every time we cut to Staples the camera is uncomfortably close to him, but Mann is framed a little further back. A simple move, but it does tell a story. The use of rain (the studio rain machine was working overtime in this episode) is another directorial touch which creates a little atmosphere.

John Collin, as the weary and irritable Inspector Paish, offers another strong performance. His cross-examination of Staples Jnr is a highlight as is the way he tangles with Mann. We learn a little more about Mann during these scenes (for example, he used to be a member of the police force).

Lt Colonel Hilden seemed very familiar, but it wasn’t until the credits rolled that I was able to make the connection. Arthur Pentelow, alias Mr Wilks from Emmerdale Farm.

Roger Marshall rarely disappointed and Misfire is a typically well-crafted effort.

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