Minder – You Lose Some, You Win Some

lose some

Professional gambler Maurice Michaelson (Anthony Valentine) has organised a group of ordinary punters who, under his instructions, intend to make a killing at the roulette table. Unfortunately for Maurice, casino boss Parsons (Leslie Schofield) is keeping tabs on him, which makes it essential he protects his team from Parsons’ intimidating ways.

Ever the good Samaritan, Arthur suggests that Terry’s flat would be the ideal place to keep them safe, although Terry – who had planned to spend some quality time alone with Penny (Ginnie Nevinson) – needs a little convincing ….

Following on from his S1 appearance in Aces High and Sometimes Very Low, Anthony Valentine makes a welcome return as Maurice (although sadly this would be the last we’d see of him).

Maurice has assembled together a mixed group of individuals who include the lovely Beth Morris as Jackie, the imposing Peggy Thorpe-Bates (probably best known as the long-suffering “She” – wife to Leo McKern’s Horace Rumpole) as Mrs Beecham and Ronald Leigh-Hunt (a very familiar television face) as Major Lampson.  And after appearing, uncredited, in Gunfight at the O.K. Laundrette, Lynda Baron has a more substantial role – here she plays Sadie, a friend of Maurice’s long-suffering wife Maureen (Lesley Joseph).

Penny’s disdain for Arthur, and his manipulation of Terry, is made plain.  She tells Terry that “you never make any plans, you just drift around letting that Arthur con you out of your hard-earned wages”.  And when Arthur calls round to Terry’s flat, her antipathy is even more pronounced.  After she angrily tells Arthur that he needs Terry more than Terry needs him, Arthur responds derisively (George Cole on great form here).

Terry is adamant that he’s not interested in Arthur’s latest minding job, but it would be a rather short episode if that was the case.  So when Arthur mentions that there’s six hundred pounds in it for him, Terry starts to waver.  Arthur then explains the mathematics to him.  “Look, my agreement with Maurice is 10% of his 50%.  He reckons they can clear five grand a night, work it out for yourself.  No maybe not”.  For once it appears that Arthur’s not diddling him, Arthur’s 10% would work out as £1,500.00 – 60% for him and 40% for Terry.  Although you might want to wait until the end to see if Arthur keeps his word.

Once Terry’s togged out in a nice suit provided by Arthur (at a price of course) he’s able to start protecting his charges, although the odds seem to be against him.  How can he look after six people when they all go their separate ways at the end of the night?  This leads them to bunk up at Terry’s (luckily Arthur’s got a consignment of sleeping bags from the last Everest expedition!).  Poor Terry, he’s no match for Arthur.

There’s some nice comic moments during this section – from the Major’s bitter comment that he was more comfortable out in Kenya, fighting the Mau Mau, to Penny’s forced politeness as she takes the drinks order (tea, coffee and either a cocoa or hot chocolate, if possible).  Penny’s quiet week with Terry has suddenly become very crowded ….

When Terry sets out to find Maurice’s wife, Maureen (who’s disappeared) it’s Arthur who’s left in the flat, minding the punters.  He later bitterly remarks that even ‘Er ‘Indoors would be preferable to this.  There’s another lovely scene when Arthur attempts to wake Penny, who is occupying the sleeping bag next to him.  In her sleepy state she mistakes him for Terry and prepares to give him a fond embrace.  He mutters “geroff” whilst she reacts in horror once she wakes up!

Anthony Valentine’s on fine form as usual (since there was clearly more mileage in Maurice, it’s odd that he never appeared again).  Stock music makes an unwelcome comeback (it’s rather strident and electronic) as Terry and Maurice attempt to find Maureen.  And when Maurice finds himself getting a beating from Parsons’ goons there’s a touch more stock music (this time it all goes a bit funky).

Although the casino stuff is entertaining (especially when Terry tangles with – and bests – Parsons) the hunt for Maureen is a little less involving.  Not quite top tier then, but with a cast of familiar faces and Terry’s relationship with Penny placed under extreme pressure, the episode zips along nicely.

Callan – The Richmond File: A Man Like Me

a man

Written by James Mitchell. Directed by Reginald Collin

A Man Like Me opens with Hunter under extreme pressure to locate Richmond.  He tells Meres that he’s offered fifty thousand pounds to any freelancer who can find him, but as yet there’s nothing.  Quite why Hunter should be so keen to run him to ground isn’t clear.  Richmond did kill Flo in the previous episode, but since she was a fellow Russian agent that can’t be the reason why they want him so badly.

Snell suggests using a computer to locate Richmond.  Today, of course, that would be the first thing they’d do, but back in the early 1970’s it would have been a much more novel idea.  Hunter is initially reluctant – but he eventually appreciates that a computer could cross-check all the available information they have on Richmond (and suggest likely people who would assist him) much quicker than a team of people could.  Meres tells Hunter that the FBI computer in Washington could produce half a dozen suspects out of million possibilities in six seconds – although the British computer will take a little longer (a day).

Callan keeps fairly quiet during this exchange, although he does close the scene by wondering if human beings are becoming redundant.  Hunter and Snell’s visit to the computer, run by the boffin Routledge (Peter Sallis), is an eye-opener.  It’s located in the sort of area that’s quite typical for computers of this period – a windowless room packed with shelves of magnetic tapes.  Routledge is very proud of Edna (Electronic Distributed Numbers Assessor) although Hunter still remains jaded – his only interaction with computers has been when he receives his bank statements, which is why he’s not confident!

Edna eventually spits out a list of nine possible people that Richmond could contact.  The one that he’s actually visited is Harris (Robin Ellis).  Harris has been a sleeper agent since the mid sixties and this is the first time he’s been called on to do anything.  The arrival of Richmond out of the blue is obviously unwelcome, but he has little choice but to obey.  Ellis (later the star of Poldark) starts by sporting a lovely tanktop, which, perhaps thankfully, he changes shortly afterwards.

Callan’s dislike for computers only increases when Hunter tells him that he’s been named as one of the nine possible contacts.  A running theme during the Richmond trilogy is how alike Callan and Richmond are – which is one of the reasons why the computer has linked them together.  But to be fair to the computer it did also come up with Harris’ name, although Callan also tracked him down the old-fashioned way (by pounding the streets, asking questions).

Callan seems confident that Richmond is holed up in Harris’ house, although the way they attempt to flush him out is odd (to say the least).  Firstly, they lure Harris away, drug him, and then bring him back.  By the time they return it’s not surprising that Richmond has left – so it’s difficult to understand why they didn’t simply stake-out the house and wait for Richmond to leave.

Hunter has a lead – Richmond’s likely to be at a Russian Vodka factory, waiting for a ship to take him out of the country.  Although the majority of Callan‘s location work was shot on videotape, all of the factory scenes (which take up most of part three) are shot on film and this does help to give the sequences an extra sheen.  But it does seem more than a little contrived that Callan has to go to the factory alone (apart from Lonely) since Hunter can’t spare anybody else.  It helps to make the final showdown between Callan and Richmond more tense, but it’s a pity that it was set up in a rather artificial way.

Callan is a man who rarely shows fear – at the end of If He Can, So Could I he told Lonely how he had to constantly maintain an aura of hardness – but here he does show a twinge before he enters the factory.  This scene is notable for Lonely calling Callan by his first name – something he hardly ever did, which demonstrates that Lonely has picked up Callan’s sense of unease.

There’s a nice nod to the iconic title sequence as Callan shoots a light-bulb (although it’s not swinging).  He then proceeds to stalk Richmond through the factory, eventually shooting him just after Richmond looses off a shot at Lonely.  Richmond is still alive, but begs Callan to finish him off – he doesn’t want to end up in Snell’s hands.

Callan may be a killer, but he’s always been a reluctant one.  To murder somebody in cold blood – and who’s asking to die as well – is clearly hard, but he does it (although he closes his eyes as he pulls the trigger).  Woodward and Hunter then share a lovely scene together, in which Lonely decides that after all they’ve been through they’re now pretty much equal – although he still ranks Callan as his friend, indeed the only friend he has.  In some ways, this points towards the restructured relationship that we’d see in the comeback episode The Wet Job (1981).

Hunter promises to break Callan for deliberately killing Richmond but Callan tells him that he’s too late and walks away.  Callan’s future therefore remains uncertain – we’ve seen before how leaving the Section isn’t an option, so it seems inevitable that Hunter will now place him in a Red File.

Although A Man Like Me was the final regular episode, it wasn’t quite the end of the story.  There would be a film two years later (based on the original Armchair Theatre story A Magnum for Schneider). And in some ways the story does work better as a postscript to the series (since it deals with Callan being brought back into the Section after leaving) as it did when it was a prologue.

Alas, the story didn’t end there as in 1981 a one-off television special was broadcast (the aforementioned The Wet Job).  Although it was written by Mitchell and starred Woodward and Hunter, it was in so many ways a massive disappointment.  It’ll be something that I’ll rewatch in due course, but it seems wrong to do so immediately after the end of A Man Like Me.

A Man Like Me offers no happy ending or comfortable closure, just the image of Callan walking out into an uncertain future.  Callan is a series that may be superficially dated in certain aspects, but the core themes of deceit and dubious morality remain just as relevant today.  Thanks to the magnetic central performance by Edward Woodward and the impressive supporting cast headed by Russell Hunter it’s a programme that’s still so compelling – nearly fifty years after the Armchair Theatre pilot first aired.

Callan – The Richmond File: Do You Recognise The Woman?

do you

Written by Bill Craig. Directed by Peter Duguid

Richmond makes contact with two sleeper agents, Dowsett (John Moore) and Norah (Sheila Fay).  Dowsett is a radio operator whose job is to ensure that Richmond’s messages are relayed back to Moscow.

This is one of the most obvious ways that Do You Recognise The Woman? can be dated to the early 1970’s.  Today it would be the matter of a few seconds to send an email to a location anywhere in the world – back then communications were much more limited.  Dowsett’s receiver is deliberately not very powerful (the greater its range, the easier it would be for the British to detect it) and they also have to rely a Russian trawler being close at hand.  When the trawler is in position it can pick up Dowsett’s Morse message and relay it onto Moscow.

This part of the story does have a rather WW2 feel about it, since it appears this type of technology has stayed the same for decades.  It’s a frustrating time for Meres, who’s been cooped up in a television detector van for the past week.  The van has been reconnoitering the area, constantly on the lookout for any suspect transmissions, but Meres ironically mentions that they’ve achieved very little – except panicking people to rush to the post office to renew their television licences!

With it proving difficult to track Richmond down this way, the Section try a different tack.  Flo Mayhew (Sarah Lawson) was a Russian spy arrested in the episode Call Me Sir! and both Callan and Hunter believe she can lead them straight to Richmond.  Flo is currently in prison and is looking at a sentence of some fourteen years.  Callan and Flo had an uneasy relationship in Call Me Sir! (which wasn’t really surprising since Flo was coordinating an attempt on his life) and it continues in this episode.

If the radio transmitter used by Dowsett seems like a relic of a different age, then so does the prison where Flo is currently incarcerated.  Due to Callan‘s regular use of VT for outside broadcast shooting it’s not clear whether the prison was a well-designed studio set or shot on location.  Either way, it has a very bleak and Victorian institutional feel – enhanced by the uniform of the warder (played by Bella Emberg).

Although Callan tells Hunter that he has no qualms about using Flo to serve their purposes, as he spends more time with her he starts to unbend a little.  Later, they take a walk in the park (handcuffed of course – he doesn’t trust her that much) where she muses that “people like us, you and me. Are we really committed to any cause or do we just do what comes naturally and enjoy the game?”

Hunter and Bishop demonstrate their ability as arch manipulators.  They’ve allowed Flo to have a taste of freedom and she’s also been told that she’ll be exchanged for another prisoner (similar to the Callan/Richmond handover in That’ll Be The Day). But after expressing their regret, they inform her that the Americans have asked them not to continue – so she’ll be going back to prison.

To have the prospect of freedom suddenly taken away creates the correct psychological atmosphere to enable them to make their intended play – Richmond’s location.  If Callan had initially approached her with this request it seems obvious she would have refused.  But now, with her hopes raised and dashed, she should be more pliable.  Callan’s expression makes it clear that whilst this might be necessary, he doesn’t have to like it.

But in Callan nothing can ever be taken for granted and Flo isn’t quite the broken woman she appears to be.  She manages to overpower Callan and leaves him handcuffed in the bathroom (much to Meres’ amusement).  Flo’s able to make contact with Richmond, but both he and Norah are suspicious – is she now working for the British?

The last minute twist that Richmond and Flo have a daughter has all the more impact when he executes her shortly after.  Part of him might believe she hadn’t been turned by the Section (as well as the personal regard he felt for her) but his duty to the KGB overrides everything else.

Four characters dominate this episode – Callan/Flo and Richmond/Norah.  Given that we later learn of Flo’s links to Richmond, it’s possibly not surprising (and obviously intentional) that Flo tells Callan they have more in common with each other than they do with their respective employers.  In some ways the Callan/Flo interaction is similar to the sparring between Callan and Richmond.  Both are so steeped in deceit that it’s difficult to know when to believe them – but it’s evident that her death does affect him.

In this episode we see a Richmond effortlessly in command (although his ultimate objective is still nebulous).  His decisions are questioned by his subordinate Norah though and it’s the tension between them which gives T.P. McKenna’s scenes a certain spark.

Do You Recognise The Woman? moves the Callan/Richmond story on, although they don’t actually meet in this one.  But there’s a sense that their story is entering its final chapter as we reach the episode A Man Like Me.

Callan – The Richmond File: Call Me Enemy

call me

Written by George Markstein. Directed by Bill Bain

Call Me Enemy, the first in a trilogy of stories which closed Callan‘s fourth and final series, sees the return of the KGB agent Richmond (played by T.P. McKenna, who had previously appeared in the series four opener That’ll Be The Day).  Richmond is, in some ways, Callan’s opposite and equal and this might be the reason why Hunter has decided to leave him in his care.

We open with Lonely driving the pair of them down to a palatial country house, where Callan and Richmond will stay until their business is concluded.  All the rooms are wired for sound, which means that every word is recorded and relayed to Hunter back in London.  Richmond is well aware of this, hence his ironic toast “to the British taxpayer” as he and Callan tuck into a particularly fine meal (with some decent wine).  For Hunter, listening to their exchanges back in London (and with only a sandwich) it’s rather galling!

Jarrow (Brian Croucher) has been seconded to the Section to maintain the recording equipment.  His long hair appalls the highly traditional Hunter, who’s astonished to discover that Jarrow was formerly a captain in the Royal Signals.

Why is Richmond speaking to the British?  He doesn’t want to defect, but he does want to fade away.  Richmond asks Callan if he’s ever “wanted just to disappear. Have you never got tired of the whole business? Had just one wish, to forget and be forgotten.”  He has something to sell.  Whilst he has no intention of betraying his own people, he’s happy to reveal the identity of a mole within the Section.

George Markstein had story-edited the first thirteen episodes of The Prisoner (he’s the man behind the desk in the title sequence) and following his departure from that series joined Thames as a writer and story editor.  Apart from serving as Callan‘s story editor during the third and fourth series, he worked on several other series, including Special Branch, in the same capacity.  He always had an interest in spy and espionage stories (he would later write several episodes of the mid eighties series Mr Palfrey of Westminster, which had something of a Callan feel) so it’s rather surprising that this was the only episode of Callan that he wrote.

Call Me Enemy is a character piece and it’s very much a two-hander with Woodward and McKenna both excelling.  Richmond is an arch dissembler – he’s made a career out of lying, so how much credence can we place on his claims of there being a traitor in the Section?  Possibly he’s only here in order to sow dissent and confusion.

This seems to be working as he starts to needle Callan.  Richmond claims to do what he does out of strong ideological convictions, whilst Callan does it because “it’s a job.”  Richmond decides that Callan owes the Section everything.  “Your father was on the dole, you never had a decent schooling. The army even took away your medal. You owe them a lot, don’t you?”  This section of the story offers a brief insight into Callan’s earlier life (something that’s rarely been mentioned before) with Richmond asserting that the Section blackmailed him into joining.  It’s notable that Callan doesn’t contradict him.

We also learn something of Mere’s backstory.  He was an officer in the Brigade of Guards, but was kicked out after the death of a private soldier.  However, his father (a Lord no less) was able to pull some strings and ensure that he wasn’t court-martialed.

Richmond names Meres as the mole and makes a compelling case.  Meres’ sudden appearance comes as something of a surprise – has he come to silence Richmond, Callan or both of them?  But it becomes clear that Meres is there with Hunter’s blessing.  So if Richmond is playing an elaborate game it appears the Section is doing so as well, although Callan’s life is very much at risk.  Hunter seems sanguine about this, but it’s telling that Bishop is much more agitated.  He rates Callan as the Section’s best man and doesn’t want to lose him.

In the closing minutes, Richmond asks Callan to defect. “For people like you and me, safety can only be found amongst our enemies. It’s our friends who will kill us.” They seem on the verge of leaving together, when Richmond knocks Callan out and escapes on his own.

Meres congratulates Callan.  He believes that Richmond hadn’t convinced Callan and so decided to cut his losses and leave.   What does Callan believe?  He seemed very keen to leave with Richmond – was this simply part of the plan, or did he genuinely see an exit?  Like so much of the episode, it’s open to interpretation and this is one of the reasons why Call Me Enemy is an episode that only gets better with each rewatch.

Callan – The Contract


Written by Bill Craig. Directed by Reginald Collin

Callan, Meres and Lonely are keeping Major Harcourt (Robert Urquhart) under observation.  Harcourt was an officer and is still a gentlemen, but these days he earns his living as a hit-man.  He’s worked for the Section in the past (which will become important later on) but his current contract is very much against the Section’s interests.

Harcourt has been hired to kill a nameless Field Marshall from a nameless country (we never learn any more details than this, but the actual assassination isn’t the point of the story).  Although he’s slightly over the hill he’s still a professional – and therefore dangerous – so Callan and Meres approach with care.

It’s quite interesting that both Meres and Callan are captured by Harcourt at different points in the episode and that they also exhibit a certain amount of fear as Harcourt threatens them with death.  Early in the episode Meres shadows him but ends up as his prisoner.  Callan’s able to overpower him though, but their victory is short-lived as Harcourt escapes.

This isn’t a particularly good episode from the point of view of demonstrating how efficient the Section is.  Meres is captured and then both Callan and Meres lose Harcourt.  It’s all a bit sloppy really and not quite what we’ve come to expect.

Harcourt being at large does cause a problem, but Hunter presses on with his plan of allowing Callan to impersonate the Major.  To do this Callan asks Meres for his coat (which he gives up with a little reluctance!).  Callan’s not really officer and gentleman material, so it would have been more logical for Meres to undertake the masquerade.  But since Callan’s impersonation of Harcourt is the centre of the episode it’s not surprising that Woodward features (and he’s excellent, of course).

It turns out that Harcourt is one of three assassins, all of whom will take four hour shifts.  They know that the Field Marshall will pass a certain window at the Embassy some time over the next few days, but they don’t know exactly when – which is why they require more than one shooter.

This is where the plot starts to feel a little contrived.  One of the other assassins is Lafarge (Michael Pennington).  Lafarge harbours a grudge against Harcourt, since the Major (acting for the Section as a freelancer) killed his friend and partner some years previously.  It’s something of a coincidence that both Lafarge and Harcourt should be selected for the same job – plus it’s also a little difficult to believe that Lafarge knew the identity of his friend’s killer.  And even this is negated at the end when Meres tells Callan that the Major missed and he did the killing anyway.  So why did Lafarge believe it was Harcourt rather than Meres?

Also present is Kristina (Jane Lapotaire).  Kristina claims to be a member of the country’s resistance and wishes to kill the Field Marshall purely for ideological reasons.  Callan gently baits her about this, whilst Lafarge remains aloof.  Indeed, Callan doesn’t get on with either Lafarge or Kristina (Lafarge is young and arrogant, and Callan delights in rubbing him up the wrong way).

Events get more complicated when Harcourt turns up and we see genuine fear from Callan (quite a rarity) as Harcourt comes close to killing him. It doesn’t happen of course, as Lafarge kills the Major first.  It’s a great pity that as the camera switches to a close-up of what should be Harcourt’s lifeless body, we see Robert Urquhart’s eyes move.  Presumably there was no time for a second take.

It turns out that Kristina isn’t all she appears – she’s working for the same party that the Field Marshall belongs to.  Since he’s become too soft and conciliatory they see a chance to kill two birds with one stone – remove the Field Marshall and tarnish the reputation of the resistance groups operating in the UK.

It’s the interaction between Callan/Lafarge/Kristina as all three are holed up in the attic, waiting for the call to kill the Field Marshall, that’s the stand-out part of the episode.  Edward Woodward has two very good actors to bounce off against – Michael Pennington and Jane Lapotaire.  Both have enjoyed lengthy and successful careers – Pennington is a notable Shakespeare actor (who also has plenty of film credits, including Return of the Jedi, to his name) whilst Lapotaire has an equally impressive cv.  They have to sport foreign accents, which can potentially be a problem, but they do so with aplomb.

Apart from this, there’s the usual banter between Callan and Lonely as well as some nice byplay between Callan and Meres.  The tension that existed between the two of them during the time that Callan was Hunter seems to have now dissipated.

Although The Contract does feel a little insubstantial (probably due to the low-stakes feel of the story) the performances help to carry it along.

Callan – The Carrier


Written by Peter Hill. Directed by Jonathan Alwyn

The Carrier opens with Callan and Lonely indulging in a spot of breaking and entering.  This was something they did on a regular basis during the first three series, but this episode marks the first time they’ve indulged during series four.

What’s very noticeable about this section of the story (which lasts for the first fifteen minutes) is that neither of them speaks a word.  It’s reasonable enough that they would want to keep noise to a minimum, but the complete lack of dialogue was presumably Peter Hill’s choice.  And it does help to make what would otherwise be a fairly routine sequence slightly more interesting.

Lonely’s cab is parked right outside and this will lead to both of them getting arrested.  As they continue to work inside the house, outside we see a policeman take an interest in the parked cab.  Bizarrely, he’s able to open the door (did neither of them think to lock it?) and he then proceeds to spend the next few minutes walking around it.

It’s not entirely clear why the cab should be of such interest.  Did no cab driver ever park their vehicle outside their house?  If this was such an usual sight on a London street in the early 1970’s then it probably would have been wiser for Callan to have used an unmarked car, rather than something so distinctive as a black cab.

As Callan and Lonely work on, we cut back to the Section where Hunter explains to Meres (and the viewers) exactly what’s going on.  The house belongs to Professor Rose (Peter Copley), a notable scientist who intends to hand over the plans of a new radar network to the Russians.  The Professor is a familiar character-type from television drama of this era – the misguided scientist.  He’s not selling secrets for personal gain, he simply wants to ensure that all sides have access to the same knowledge.  This doesn’t cut any ice with Callan who later tells him that “you’re not even a real traitor are you? You’re just a woolly headed do-gooder trying to play god.”

Everything seems to go off fine – Callan photographs the documents that the Professor is intending to hand over to his contact (who he believes is a Dutch bookseller called Amstell, but is actually a KGB hitman called Tamaresh) and returns to the Section.  But Lonely takes a fancy to a small trophy in the Professor’s study and steals it.  When the Professor returns home the next day he notices that it’s missing and calls the police.

This is a part of the plot which stretches credibility a little.  It might have been possible to believe that the series one Lonely would have been so foolish, but it’s less credible that the series four Lonely would have done so.  And as the police have a record of the cab parked outside the Professor’s house they put two and two together and pick up Lonely and Callan.

Callan and Lonely aren’t in police custody for long though, as they’re bailed out by Detective Superintendent Brown (Windsor Davies) of Special Branch.  This disgusts Detective Inspector Vanstone (Michael Turner), the officer in charge of investigating the break-in.  Vanstone might accept that people like Callan are necessary to defend the security of the realm, but it’s the sort of person he is (an ex-con) which seems to upset him.

Hunter’s far from pleased that he had to ask Special Branch to release Callan and Lonely.  This then develops into the major theme of the remainder of the episode – the uneasy relationship between the Section and Special Branch.  Both organisations operate in similar areas, which often means that their interests overlap – but neither Hunter or Brown would dream of pooling information with the other.  This, as we’ll see, will have tragic consequences.

Special Branch also have an interest in Tamaresh (Ralph Nossek).  Two officers, Mary (Jean Rogers) and Allan (Roy Herrick) are assigned to tail him, but it’s clear that neither know who he really is.  We see Callan and Meres monitoring their radio transmissions as they follow Tamaresh to Epping Forest and both Section men know that the officers are going to their deaths.  They could have warned them, but since they shouldn’t have been monitoring their radio in the first place it’s not surprising that they didn’t.

Tamaresh quickly kills Allan (who followed him into the wood) and then emerges to find Mary.  Whilst he killed Allan without speaking, he’s slightly more sadistic with Mary – he tells her that her partner’s dead and lets the news of that sink in before he kills her as well.

When Callan realises that Special Branch had no idea who they were trailing, he launches an angry tirade against Hunter.  Hunter’s unmoved though – the Section doesn’t share information with other departments and that’s an end to it.

It’s an attitude which Callan finds hard to take – at least when he goes up against men like Tamaresh he knows what to expect, but the two unarmed police officers (who Callan says were little more than kids) never had a chance.  Hunter orders Callan to kill Tamaresh (which he naturally does) and the Professor is brought in.  Nothing will happen to him, but he’ll have to live the rest of his life knowing that nobody will ever trust him again.

Peter Hill’s only script for Callan is a decent effort, although several parts of the story (Lonely’s cab and his light-fingered pilfering) do detract a little. It’s possibly no surprise that the police feature strongly in this episode since Hill had worked for the Metropolitan Police for thirteen years, ending up as a Detective Inspector in the Murder Squad.  He left the police in 1969 to pursue a writing career and by this time had already contributed to several popular series, such as Public Eye, Armchair Theatre and Special Branch.

Since there was no real need for Callan and Lonely to be arrested, it might have been better to remove those scenes from the script (it wouldn’t have affected the later conflict with Special Branch).  But it does give us another one of those wonderful scenes where Callan browbeats Lonely.  When Lonely calls round to see him, Callan is unblocking the sink (another thing you never see James Bond doing) and he proceeds to berate Lonely whilst waving a sink plunger in his face!

Callan – I Never Wanted The Job

i never

Written by John Kershaw. Directed by Jim Goddard

I Never Wanted The Job is a non-spy story.  There’s a vague mention of a (very minor) job that Callan and Meres have to attend to, but in the end they never get to it – because they’re busy dealing with Lonely’s spot of trouble.

Lonely’s been moonlighting in his cab again, but when his latest fare is shot dead he naturally turns to Callan for help.  The murdered man, Ted Dollar (Val Musetti), was a known criminal and his murder bears all the hallmarks of a gangland execution.  This is a strong hook into the story, especially as director Jim Goddard elected to use a crane to pull back from Dollar’s dead body.  It’s certainly a striking piece of camerawork – we see Dollar’s dead body face down on the road outside his house, with a large pool of blood from the shotgun blast which hit him directly in the chest.

Callan has a stinking cold and so isn’t best pleased when Lonely comes calling.  This is another nice character touch as his cold has no importance in story terms, it just reminds us that Callan isn’t James Bond, he’s simply an ordinary man with extraordinary skills.  When Lonely pours out his story it soon makes him forget his sniffles though, and gives us another of those wonderful two-handed scenes between Woodward and Hunter.

Indeed, this episode is an excellent one for those who enjoy the Callan/Lonely relationship.  There’s plenty of resigned whining on Lonely’s part, whilst Callan responds with his trademark bitter humour and anger.  But although Callan’s highly displeased that Lonely has potentially involved him in a situation that’s attracting the attention of the police, for once Lonely is able to stand up to Callan.

As the title tells us, Lonely never wanted the job of taxi driver for the Section and wants to pack it in.  Callan is quick to remind him that if he hadn’t taken on the job he would most likely have wound up dead.  And it could still happen, since Hunter has become aware that something is going on with Lonely and has asked Meres to keep an eye on things.  He hasn’t ordered Lonely’s death – not yet – but circumstances may yet force his hand.

Dollar was killed on the orders of Abbot (William Marlowe).  Although Marlowe was probably best known for operating on the other side of the law (in The Gentle Touch) he was no stranger to playing villains and he does a good job here.  He’s suitably menacing, but the audience knows that Abbot isn’t going to be a match for Callan.

A key moment is the scene where Callan confronts Abbot in his club.  After easily disabling several of Abbot’s minders, Callan has a simple message – leave him and Lonely alone.  Simple though this is, Abbot has trouble believing it.  Surely nobody would confront him just for someone so insignificant like Lonely?  He’s convinced that Callan is attempting to muscle in on his manor and can’t be convinced to back down.  As expected, this is the last mistake he makes.

Although the story features several deaths (and Dollar’s is particularly bloody –  taking a shotgun blast to the chest at point-blank range) there’s also something of a light-hearted feel about it.  Possibly it’s because for once the stakes are low – the security of the nation isn’t at risk and the only trouble comes from a few members of the underworld.

The closing moments, with Callan and Meres squirming in front of Hunter like two naughty schoolboys, is particularly telling.  Hunter might have been aware that something was going on with Lonely but he asked Callan to fix it – with the implication being that he didn’t want to know the details.  Of course, Hunter knew exactly what had happened and after they leave the office he allows himself an indulgent smile.

It’s possible to feel a little sorry for Abbot, as he was dead the moment he decided to target Callan.  William Marlowe brings a touch of class to proceedings and Paul Angelis and Michael Deacon are effective as Abbot’s henchmen, Steve and Sunshine.  They’re the pair who threaten Lonely (and smash up the cab, much to Callan’s annoyance).

For Doctor Who fans there’s an appearance by John Levene in a minor role and the ever dependable Ron Pember also turns up as a cafe owner.  Although tonally different from the rest of the fourth series, I Never Wanted The Job foregrounds the Callan/Lonely relationship, which is a major plus point in its favour.

Callan – None of Your Business

none of your business

Written by Trevor Preston. Directed by Voytek

After a brief spell as a (reluctant) member of the establishment, Callan now finds himself on the outside.  He’s been relived of command and placed on “special leave” by Bishop, pending the appointment of a new Hunter.

Callan quickly understands that he’s persona non grata.  Lonely tells him he’s been ordered not to drive him and Liz is unable to hand over his passport.  As an aside, it’s always struck me as odd (and rather unbelievable) that Lonely would have been drafted into the Section, even as just a lowly driver.  But it does mean that at the start of the episode his inability to help serves to increase Callan’s sense of isolation.

There’s rarely been any love lost between Bishop and Callan and this is made evident by their early exchange.  “All you want to do Mr Bishop is keep your paperwork neat. but then you are a very neat man, aren’t you Mr Bishop? You have neat hands, neat clothes, neat manners, neat mind.  Place for everything, everything in its place. Cross/suicide/file closed/what’s for lunch. Neat.”

As Callan’s on “leave” he decides to take a holiday, but Bishop won’t release his passport.  The reason why is never made clear, is Bishop simply being awkward or does he fear that Callan might defect?  Either way, Callan decides to obtain a fake passport and this is where the story really starts.

What stops None of Your Business from being a top-drawer Callan episode is the somewhat unlikely chain of coincidence.  Meres and Stafford are investigating how a Russian agent came to be in possession of fake, but very convincing papers.  They have a lead, West (Peter Eyre), but his sudden suspicious death stops them in their tracks.

Of course, the people that Callan approaches are the same ones that Meres and Stafford are interested in – and it’s this rather clumsy plotting which is the problem.  It’s also rather out of character that Callan would be so driven to try and leave the country – he has to be otherwise the story wouldn’t work, but it just doesn’t feel quite right.

But if some of the plotting is a little suspect then there’s still plenty of incidental pleasures to be found with the guest cast.  Tony Selby plays Lucas, the man who seems to be in charge of the forgery ring.  He starts off as a confident figure, convinced he’s got the measure of Callan, but it’s plain he has no idea what he’s let himself in for.  Brian Murphy, as Reeves, first appears as one of Lucas’ potential customers (presenting a cowed, shambling figure) but it’s later revealed that he’s the brains behind the whole operation.  It’s a nice enough twist, even if Reeves’ motivations (and the precise nature of the forgery ring) remain somewhat nebulous.

There’s several small character touches which enhance the episode.  The first comes after Callan realises that Lonely’s told Lucas where he lives.  A spasm of anger crosses his face and he punches Lonely – hard.  Seconds after you can see that Callan regrets this, especially when Lonely tearfully tells him that he didn’t have any choice – Lucas’ heavy had hurt him.  Woodward and Hunter had shared so many scenes together by this time that they were able to display a world of meaning even in non-verbal ways.

And when Squire’s Hunter returns to the Section late in the episode, both Meres and Stafford automatically stand up but Callan remains seated.  This is a nice unspoken sign of Callan’s disdain for authority – although his relationship with this Hunter was always more cordial than with some of his predecessors.

The new Hunter is revealed – in fact it’s the old one as William Squire returns to the series.  It would have been the ideal time to bring in a new actor but given how good Squire always was I can’t really complain.

Callan – If He Can, So Could I

if he can so could i

Written by Ray Jenkins. Directed by Peter Duguid

The opening of If He Can, So Could I has a deliberate echo of the season three opener, Where Else Could I Go?. Then it was Callan who was deemed to be unfit for duty, but now it’s Cross.  In both cases we see a rigorous physiological evaluation undertaken by Snell (Clifford Rose).

Rose, later to play Kessler in the classic series Secret Army, was always a little underused in Callan, but this episode does give him a little more exposure than normal.  Snell is convinced that Cross should be replaced (he likens him to a tightly wound watch spring – which has to give eventually) but Callan is less sure.

Snell certainly plays all the tricks he can, such as asking Cross to fire at the target of a woman and then revealing that behind the target was a female dummy.  This recalls a similar moment in Where Else Could I Go? – Callan was perfectly fine when asked to shoot circular targets, but missed every time he was presented with a target in the form of a human body.

Interestingly though, Cross has no such qualms and when Snell questions him afterwards he maintains that he feels perfectly fine.  Although his actions in Rules of the Game were responsible for paralyzing a fourteen-year old girl he’s adamant that it’s left no lasting scar.  He tells Snell that he’s trained to not feel remorse – it was an unfortunate accident, but nothing more.

Another fascinating moment occurs when Snell asks him what he feels when he kills.  Cross says that it gives him a sense of security, which makes Callan (watching events from the close-circuit television in his office) shake his head ironically.  Although he may not share Cross’ opinion about killing, Callan is very much on the side on his colleague and reinstates him.

He’s sent right back into the thick of things as he’s assigned to guard a Russian dissident poet called Trofimchuk (Peter Blythe).  Probably best known for playing Soapy Sam Ballard in Rumpole of the Bailey, he’s almost unrecognisable here, thanks to a moustache and a strong Russian accent.  Trofimchuk’s interaction with Cross is key to the episode – especially the part which sees Trofimchuk speak in favour of suicide.

Do his words maybe hit home?  Shortly after, Cross spies an intruder on the roof and leaves to investigate.  A single shot is fired and Cross is dead before he hits the ground.  When Callan later catches up with Cross’ killer (and Trofimchuk’s would-be killer) Burov (played by Morris Perry) his dying words are “he let me kill him”.  And Snell later finds a number of books in Cross’ flat which have passages dealing with suicide highlighted.

It’s all circumstantial evidence, but together it adds up to a compelling case that Cross did have suicide on his mind, although there isn’t any real evidence of this from the film sequence that covers his death.  We see Cross looking for Burov, he’s distracted by a shout from below and a split second later he’s shot.  But we’ve already seen Callan and Snell debate that life and death can be a matter of split seconds, so it could be that this infinitesimal hesitation was key. Or did Cross just forget his training?  This is Callan’s opinion, but it could be just what he wants to believe.

The death of Cross hits both Callan and Liz hard, but for different reasons.  Although he treated her badly during their brief relationship, it’s probable that Liz still had a certain amount of affection for him, whilst Callan’s feelings are much more complex.  Towards the end there’s a spell-binding scene with Callan and Lonely (Russell Hunter’s only appearance in this episode).  A very drunk Callan tells an uncomprehending Lonely how difficult it is to control the darkness that exists inside.  Edward Woodward was always so good, but this scene is something special even by his high standards.

Callan’s decision to leave the office after Cross’ death (something that Hunter is strictly forbidden to do) and his murder of Burov (the first time he’s killed someone he’s not been authorised to) brings his brief stint as Hunter to an end.  Whilst it could have lasted a few more episodes, largely confining Woodward to the office has been a bit of a problem so it’s not surprising that he’ll now be back in the field.

No matter how many times I rewatch these episodes they never lose their impact.  If He Can, So Could I is yet another exceptional installment from one of the true classics of British television.

Callan – First Refusal

first refusal

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.

Minder – Aces High and Sometimes Very Low


Professional gambler Maurice Michaelson (Anthony Valentine) has a problem – he’s simply too good at his job.  Because of his skill at poker, he’s found himself barred from a local casino and is later robbed of his winnings.  He’s convinced that he can make good though, thanks to a high stakes poker game run by some shady Greeks.

With Terry onboard as his minder, Maurice loses heavily.  Convinced the game was crooked he manages to persuade Arthur to advance him some more stake money (using his Jaguar as collateral) and prepares to do battle once more.

Some of the regular television characters that Anthony Valentine had played in the past tended to follow a familiar pattern.  For example, Toby Meres in Callan (charming and borderline psychotic), Major Horst Mohn in Colditz (not charming and borderline psychotic) and Raffles (charming and not borderline psychotic at all), etc etc.  Maurice Michaelson, on the other hard, is charming but he’s not really a criminal type or a sufferer of any form of neurosis – he’s just been blessed with a skill that he can’t exploit to the full.

Both Terry and Arthur take something of a back-seat in this one, as Maurice’s gambling exploits are the key focus.  But although they aren’t as prominent in the narrative as usual, they do have some good moments.  Terry tangles with the alluring Stella (a pre-Star Trek:The Next Generation Marina Sirtis) whilst Arthur naturally attempts to make the maximum amount of profit from Maurice’s car (much to Terry’s amusement).

This episode also gives us the unusual, if not unique, sight of Terry and Arthur sitting in the Winchester playing cards.  It’s obvious though that the scene only exists so that Maurice can turn up and criticise Arthur’s playing style (and their low stakes – a penny a point) and then demonstrate his own undoubted skills.

Maurice would return in the series two episode, You Lose Some You Win Some, and whilst the later episode is my favourite of the two since it has a more entertaining storyline (Maurice recruits a group of non-gamblers to work undercover at a casino he’s barred from) this one does have an authentic, seedy and smoky atmosphere – conjured up by Minder’s creator, Leon Griffiths.

Callan – Death of a Hunter


Written by Michael Winder
Directed by Reginald Collin

The opposition want Hunter dead – and they decide that Callan is the man for the job.  He’s picked up, taken to a warehouse and pumped full of drugs at regular intervals.  This intensive treatment makes him susceptible to suggestion and over a period of days they manage to convince him that Hunter is a double agent, involved in a plot to assassinate the Russian president.

Callan’s really put through the wringer in this episode and it’s very much a tour-de-force for Edward Woodward.  Whilst there’s a few brief cut-aways to show Meres and Hunter attempting to find him, the majority of the episode is firmly centered on Callan’s brainwashing.

It’s an elaborate plot – maybe too elaborate, you might say (especially since the last Hunter was killed in the street).  One major niggle is that the opposition pick up Lonely and tell Callan that they’re going to kill him.  We hear a shot off-screen and see Callan (already pretty far gone at this point) struggle to reach his friend.  It’s therefore odd, to say the least, that we later learn that they faked Lonely’s death and let him go free.  Logically, Lonely should have been killed (although it would have made a bleak episode even bleaker).

At the time this episode was transmitted, it wasn’t known if Callan would return for a third series, so there were reputably two endings shot – one where Callan died and one where he lived.  We know the answer to that now, but it doesn’t reduce the apocalyptic feeling of the final few minutes as Callan confronts Hunter and Meres is forced to shoot Callan.  The emotion in Meres’ voice clearly shows that he now considers Callan to be a friend – quite a change of events from the early episodes.

Most series wouldn’t have had the nerve to carry this storyline through to its logical conclusion, but then Callan wasn’t most series.  And whilst Callan’s final line is a sign that he’s not totally gone, it’ll be a long road to recovery.

Callan – Nice People Die at Home

nice people

Written by Robert Banks Stewart
Directed by Peter Duguid

Eric Marshall (Harry Towb) and his daughter Nadia (Angela Morant) run a pet shop in Shepherds Bush.  They’re also enemy agents.  The stuff they do is pretty low-grade though, Hunter says that they’re “little more than clerks, transmitting, reducing stuff to microdots and delivering to dead letter boxes around London”.

They have their uses though, as Hunter wants to unwittingly employ them to catch a big fish – Belukov (Frederick Jaeger).  Belukov is a remote figure who never leaves the safety of his Embassy, but when Hunter spreads a story that the Marshalls wish to defect, he hopes it will flush him out.  And Callan will be there to finish him off.  He has a special interest in this mission – six years ago Belukov killed Callan’s girlfriend in Beirut.

As with all the episodes featuring Ronald Radd’s Hunter, it’s the conflict between him and Callan that provides a great deal of the drama.  This is no exception, as once Hunter has told him that his target is Belukov, he’s pleased to see the reaction on Callan’s face.  Callan wants to kill Belukov, of course, but he’s also angry with the way that this Hunter can manipulate him.  “You know, ever since you left, this has just been an ordinary job for me. But no, that’s not good enough for you, mate. You’ve really got to get me going”.  Hunter responds by telling him that “you always work much better that way, Callan”.

Callan replaces an enemy agent called Ross (Roger Bizley) and can’t help but get to like both Marshall and his daughter.  They’re not monsters – just two people working for the interests of their country.  And when Callan realises that Marshall is terminally ill, he tells Hunter that “I wouldn’t have gone within a mile of that place if I’d known. Trust you to use a man who’s only got a few months to live”.

Hunter is unmoved – if the Marshalls have to be sacrificed then they will.  Callan knows what will happen to them if they’re caught.  Eric Marshall will be dead within a few months and his daughter will languish in jail for twenty years.  Later, Callan is able to spirit an injured Belukov away and offers Hunter an ultimatum.  He’ll kill Belukov if Hunter allows the Marshalls’ to leave the country.

Frederick Jaeger is good value as Belukov.  Once he was a top agent, now he’s reduced to pushing paper around the Embassy, although the crisis that Callan and Hunter create does force him into the open.  At the end of the story, Belukov taunts Callan that he’s weak and always has been.  Could Callan kill an injured, unarmed man in cold blood?  The final shot of the episode is interesting, as Callan attempts to wipe the blood (real or imaginary?) from his hands.

There’s also a few decent scenes for Lonely, who’s greeted by Callan with the words “My god Lonely, you smell like rising damp today, you really do”.  We also get to see Meres’ unusual interrogation techniques, which include firing a gun close to the unfortunate individual as well as driving golf balls at him.

Nice People Die at Home is mainly about the relationship between Callan & Hunter and Callan & Belukov.  The three actors are firing on all cylinders, especially Edward Woodward who once again is unforgettable as the complex, conflicted Callan.

Callan – The Worst Soldier I Ever Saw


Written by James Mitchell
Directed by Robert Tronson

Since Colonel Leslie (Ronald Radd) left the post of Hunter, he’s been working for the British government as an adviser on the Middle East.  One particular Middle Eastern country concerns him – it’s oil-rich, but there are indications that the Sultan is keen to expand his empire (which would mean encroaching on areas protected by the British).

The Sultan needs somebody to head his army though and he’s chosen Brigadier Pringle (Allan Cuthbertson).  This automatically puts Pringle in a red file and Callan is assigned to watch him.  He has a way in – it was Pringle who was responsible for Callan’s dismissal from the army.

Posing as a down-and-out, Callan catches the sympathy of Pringle’s daughter Sarah (Tessa Wyatt).  Pringle offers him a job as his valet, but he clearly could use a man like Callan in his new army.  Whilst Pringle might regard him as the worst solider he ever saw, that was only in peace-time.  In war, Callan would be a valuable asset.

The Worst Soldier I Ever Saw sheds some light on Callan’s life in the army.  Pringle’s description of him back then shows that he’s changed very little over the years.

SARAH: He must have been a very good soldier.
PRINGLE: Depends what you mean by a soldier. He was brave enough, certainly, but far too much of an individualist for the army. He always questioned orders, went his own way, that’s why he stayed a private. I made him up to corporal twice and I broke him twice. Finally I got him chucked out.
SARAH: So why do you bother now?
CALLAN: My dear, an army’s simply a device for killing the enemy. And as a killer, Callan was unequaled.

At the end of the episode, Callan is able to forcibly tell Pringle that “you bloody taught me how to kill, and when I got too rough, mate, you didn’t like it, did you?”.  The skills that Callan learnt in the army have subsequently been put to very good use by the Section.  This reinforces the notion that Callan is a man who’s trapped by his past and is therefore reluctantly forced to carry on fighting and killing (something he’s very good at).

Allan Cuthbertson was a familiar face from television and films and he’s characteristically solid as the autocratic Brigadier Pringle.  Tessa Wyatt is his idealistic daughter, who decides that she doesn’t want to follow him to the Middle East. Instead she’d sooner stay in Britain and help those less fortunate than herself.  They live in totally different worlds, he’s a solider through and through – as he admits, it’s the only thing he knows how to do – whilst she’s non-political and views the prospect of war with horror.  Their relationship helps to humanise Pringle as well as providing some dramatic tension.

The episode has some lighter moments – Edward Woodward is good value as a servile domestic who can’t help but let his more truculent nature shine though from time to time.  Anthony Valentine gets to play lower-class for a change, which is quite amusing.

Plot-wise, given that it’s clear from the outset that Pringle is keen to go to the Middle East, why didn’t the Section simply warn him off or take other, more permanent, measures?  As Meres says “there’s no need to speak to him nicely, he’s in a red file”.

The next episode (Nice People Die At Home) was held over from the first series, which explains why Ronald Radd pops up in this one.  As it would have been a bit odd to have a story where Radd returns as Hunter with no explanation, here he’s asked to take over temporarily whilst the current Hunter makes a trip to Russia.

This gives the episode a lovely final scene as Callan comes into the office and is confronted by his old nemesis. Callan’s relationship with Colonel Leslie was always very combative.  So as soon as he sees him, Callan asks for leave – which is refused.  Instead, he’s offered a choice of assignments – all of them in red files.

Callan – Death of a Friend


Written by Ray Jenkins
Directed by Peter Duguid

Jean Coquet (Geoff Cheshire), a French agent and a friend of Callan’s, is killed on the way to London.  Hunter assigns him to guard Coquet’s wife Francine (Ann Lynn) who may also be in danger.  Callan has never had a very high opinion of her (“she’s too dedicated … to everything except her husband”).  And his minding job goes sour when he’s surprised by several intruders who spirit Francine away, whilst at the same time a man calling himself Marcel Latour (David Leland) turns up at Callan’s flat.

Lonely is there, tidying up after a break-in, and Latour pulls a gun on him, telling him he’s “the wife of Jean Coquet”.  Meres disarms Latour, but they are ambushed on the way to the Section.  Who attacked Latour and were they the same people who killed Coquet?  And how is Francine involved?

Death of a Friend offers a slight change of pace – whilst it has the usual intelligence trappings, it’s much more of a mystery story, as Callan attempts to find the reason for his friend’s death.  Given how few friends he seems to have, this does help to humanise him a little.

Russell Hunter has some lovely moments.  After he and Callan view the wreckage of Callan’s flat, Lonely looks around before solemnly intoning that “There’s somebody don’t like you, Mr Callan”.  He also seems to make the worst tea in the world.  “Blimey, it’s pigswill” says Callan, after tasting a mouthful.  Once he’s left, Lonely takes a sip (in the manner of a wine buff) and seems to enjoy it.  Just a little throw-away character beat, but it’s a nice one.

There’s some very decent actors (Rex Robinson, Jerome Willis) in supporting roles and the solution of the mystery is unexpected – although it does leave some questions unanswered, especially the reason why they chose to kill Coquet in England and in such a public way (surely they knew that British Intelligence would take a close interest?).

The relationship between Coquet and Latour is handled sensitively.  For Callan, it makes no difference, as he tells Francine “A man is dead, Francine.  A very good man”.  Francine counters that he was a “lover of boys” and this statement is at the heart of the story.

Callan – Heir Apparent


Written by John Kershaw (as Hugh d’Allenger)
Directed by Peter Duguid

After Callan and Meres attend Hunter’s funeral, they are called to see Sir Michael Harvey (John Wentworth) at the Foreign Office.  As Meres says: “Hunters come and go but we go on forever”.  Sir Michael informs them that a new Hunter will be appointed on a temporary basis and it could be that if it works out he’ll be made permanent.

The new Hunter is John Ramsey (Derek Bond) – somebody that Callan knows well (they trained together).  Callan and Meres are set to fetch him, but the problem is that he’s been working in East Germany and doesn’t have the appropriate exit papers – so he’ll have to make an illegal border crossing.  It shouldn’t be too difficult (apart from a minefield to negotiate) – but when Callan and Meres make the rendezvous, they quickly become aware that the area is swarming with troops, making their job considerably more dangerous.

The death of Hunter seems to have hit Callan hard.

CALLAN: That’s just one more reason, isn’t it, for not getting married. Did you see her? Did you get a look at her face?
LIZ: He means Mrs Hunter
CALLAN: Smart, wasn’t she. I bet he had a nice house too. Did you see his boy? And how old was Hunter then? Fifty?
MERES: Well, it’s par for the course, old boy
CALLAN: Par for the course? You know, sometimes Toby your stupid platitudes really make me sick. Par for the course. I mean it could have been either of us, do you realise that? I didn’t even know his real name until this morning

But it’s not only Hunter’s death that’s affected him – it’s made him question his own existence in the Section.  “I am sick of it mate, I am sick of it. I mean week after week, month after month, year after year, living the way we live”.  The job of extracting the new Hunter from the East does give him something to focus on, but it’s not the last time that he’ll express doubts about the job.  It does seem that there’s only a finite amount of time anybody can work in the field before the strain becomes overwhelming.

Heir Apparent is a little different, as a large part of the story is shot on film and is more visual (Callan’s attempt to guide Ramsey to safety) than the regular episodes, which tend to be character and plot driven.  It gives us a chance to see how Callan and Meres work when teamed up – pretty well, it must be said.  They still manage to rub each other up the wrong way before they set off, but they’re professional enough not to let that interfere with the job in hand.

We also get a first look at the new Hunter.  As a contemporary of Callan, he seems sure to have a different management style to the older, more autocratic Hunters.  The episode also allows Liz a little more character time (and indeed this might be the first episode where she’s actually named, rather than just credited as Hunter’s secretary).

The King is dead, long live the King.

Callan – Let’s Kill Everybody

let's kill

Written by Ray Jenkins
Directed by Robert Tronson

The Section is under attack from an unknown enemy.  The only lead they had was a man called Bremer (Peter Welch) who committed suicide whilst being interrogated by Meres and another agent called Gould (Henry Knowles).  But before Bremner died he did divulge one important piece of information – a foreign agent tasked with liquidating all the members of the Section is somewhere in London.

Let’s Kill Everybody was the first of five scripts written by Ray Jenkins.  He would also contribute Death of a Friend later on during the second series as well as two excellent stories for the fourth series (Rules of the Game and If He Can, So Could I).  His other script was Amos Green Must Live for series three, which proves that even good writers can have their off days – but we’ll leave the problems with that one for another time.

This episode was the final story to feature Michael Goodliffe as Hunter.  As he only appeared in five stories (You’re Under Starter’s Orders was sadly wiped) he maybe didn’t have quite enough time to establish a distinctive performance (although he was always very solid). Red Knight, White Knight implied that he was more of an administrator, with little practical knowledge of how the Section worked, but this was rarely touched upon subsequently – in later episodes he proved to be just as ruthless as Ronald Radd’s Hunter.

The next Hunter would be very different. so it’s tempting to think that Goodliffe’s more autocratic Hunter (similar to Radd’s performance) was needed as a stop-gap during the early part of series two, whilst Callan was re-integrated into the Section.  This then gives Derek Bond’s approachable Hunter even more of an impact.

At the start of Let’s Kill Everybody, Callan is a happy man.  He’s just started a relationship with the gorgeous Jenny Lauther (Hilary Dwyer).  Jenny was a nurse at the clinic where Callan had recently been sent for treatment (to have a cyst removed).  Callan’s on sick-leave and is planning to spend it in Jenny’s company when Hunter calls him into the office.  Hunter quotes “Emergency D” which brings an instant response from Callan.

Hunter asks Callan if he’s made any new contacts with the last few weeks – Jenny is the main one.  Could she be the assassin?  On the face of it, it seems ludicrous, but Callan has to be sure.  He does it in the only way he knows how – by asking her point blank and searching her bag.  This upsets Jenny as she sees the affable man she loves transformed into a cold, relentless interrogator.  It’s another indication that normal human relationships are always going to be something that Callan will struggle to maintain.

She appears to be completely innocent – as the assassin turns out to be German academic Dr Paula Goodman (Heather Canning).  Dr Goodman is Jenny’s tutor (she resigned from the clinic to re-enter higher education).  One of the flaws of the story is that although we see Hunter with a file on Goodman early on, he doesn’t make any attempt to have her picked up until much later.  And was it just a coincidence that Jenny was placed with her or did Jenny’s relationship with Callan have something to do with it?

Poor Jenny seems to be another innocent caught in the crossfire, as Goodman drugs her so that she later drowns whilst canoeing.  Edward Woodward’s barely controlled fury when he realises that Goodman killed Jenny is a highlight of the story, as is the scene where Goodman sows seeds of doubt about Jenny’s loyalties in Callan’s mind.

Jenny was a toy. A doll. A doll with an ear for private phone calls. No intelligence, no brain, nothing to match that obscene English exterior. Just a reporting doll. Wound up and taught to walk back to … who? That worries you, doesn’t it? Which side was she on? Was she one of us, but expendable or was she … ?

It’s easy to form the impression that the Section is a little short on good men apart from Callan and Meres.  It isn’t the first time we’ve seen other operatives rather easily dealt with – and their security procedures (one man covers another) does seem to be woefully inadequate to deal with the current crisis.  It’s also a little strange that the job of killing all the members of the Section is given to just one person (although late in the story it is revealed that Goodman does have backup).

These quibbles apart, it’s a tense story with Hilary Dywer making a good impression with her limited screen time.

Callan – The Little Bits and Pieces of Love

little bits

Written by James Mitchell
Directed by Peter Sasdy

Hunter is interested in a Polish physicist named Andrei Brezhevski (Andy Devine).  The Russians have developed a hundred megaton bomb, which according to Hunter would destroy every living thing in the UK.  But although they have the rocket they don’t have the fuel – by the end of the year though, thanks to Brezhevski, they will have.

Hunter wants Brezhevski lifted, so that he can give the fuel formula to the West (thus negating the Russian advantage). And even though he’s closely guarded, Hunter has a lever that will force him into the open – his wife.

During WW2, Brezhevski’s wife Sofia (Pauline Jameson) was interned at Dachau. After the war was over, she was in a highly disturbed state and was slowly nursed back to health by Dr Charles Rule (Laurence Hardy). Believing her husband to have died during the war, Sofia married Rule and they’ve lived together contentedly ever since. Callan forces Sofia to write a letter to Brezhevski which will compel him to make the trip to England.

We’ve already seen how the act of killing has scarred Callan, but in this story the tragedy isn’t just a death – it’s the possibility of what will happen to Sofia after Brezhevski has come to England.  The following exchange between Callan and Hunter makes the situation quite clear.

CALLAN: I should think when all this is all over she’ll finish up in a mental home
HUNTER: That bothers you?
CALLAN: That really bothers me
HUNTER: Try thinking about that hundred megaton bomb. That should bother you even more

Hunter views Sofia as little more than a pawn to be sacrificed – he’s thinking about what would happen if the Russians detonated their bomb.  Callan understands this, but he clearly loathes the job he has to do.  Later on, when the two of them are waiting at the airstrip for Brezhevski’s arrival, he does unbend a little.

CALLAN: Did you know what Brezhevski’s doing?
SOFIA: I knew only that he was famous
CALLAN: Well he’s developing a fuel for a rocket that carries a nuclear warhead
SOFIA: And you want it?
CALLAN: Yeah, we want it
SOFIA: So that you can drop nuclear warheads on them? Your argument does not interest me, I’ve seen too many people die. One day I think it will not interest you either

In many ways, Brezhevski and the rocket fuel are only MacGuffins as the story is more about the question of whether it’s right to sacrifice the innocent (in this case Sofia) for the greater good.  Hunter unshakably thinks so and Callan seems to as well – but he doesn’t have to like it.  At the end, Sofia is still alive (although Brezhevski is less fortunate) but the memories of the last few days will remain with her forever and it’s left to the viewer to decide for themselves whether the cost was worth it.

Apart from the odd loophole (if Brezhevski’s been desperate to locate his wife for the last twenty years, can we really believe that the Russians haven’t been able to find her?) this is another tight, well written script by James Mitchell.  Vladek Sheybal gives his usual, idiosyncratic performance as Dicer, a Polish refugee with a burning hatred of the Eastern Bloc.  David Garfield is a little hammy as a Russian agent, but he’s really the only weak link in the story.

Pauline Jameson is outstanding as a woman forced to confront the ghosts of her past and it’s her performance (along with the usual high-quality acting from the regulars) that makes this episode such a memorable one.

Callan – The Most Promising Girl of Her Year


Written by James Mitchell
Directed by Peter Duguid

Joan Mather (Elizabeth Bell) is a research scientist working at the Biological Research Centre.  Although her project is close to a breakthrough, she tells her superior, Dr Bradford (Raymond Young), that she wishes to leave because she has concerns that their work could developed into a deadly weapon.

But as Joan is blessed with a photographic memory she’s a grave security risk.  And when it’s discovered that her boyfriend Carl Donner (David Hargreaves) is an East German agent, the situation becomes critical.  Callan is designated to watch her – much to his dismay as “birds with brains” are not a combination that appeals to him.

The Most Promising Girl of Her Year is a strong episode with a down-beat ending.  Joan is a naive figure who believes implicitly that Carl Donner is the same sort of person that she is – someone who doesn’t care about politics and is only interested in their relationship.  When the Section pick up Horst (one of Donner’s colleagues) they are able to demonstrate to Joan exactly what Donner’s true feelings for her are.  Horst is pumped full of drugs by Snell (Clifford Rose) and repeats in her presence the joke he had shared before.  “You said to me how did Donner feel about the girl?  And I say how does a carpenter feel about wood?”

Even after this, Joan isn’t convinced and Callan has to keep plugging away – providing an example of a previous girl that Donner had deceived, for example.  “He squeezed her dry and then he left her. She killed herself. I wouldn’t want you to kill yourself, Joan”.  When he tells her that Donner is a highly trained agent who is well versed in killing, Joan still can’t believe him.

JOAN: Carl told me he hated killing
CALLAN: I hate killing, I sometimes do it
JOAN: You don’t hate it, you love it
CALLAN: Look, I don’t have to justify myself to you, darling
JOAN: It doesn’t make any difference what you say, I love him and I trust him.

Although this is a pretty bleak episode, there are a few moments of light relief.  For example, Callan asks Lonely to keep an eye on Joan (and also burgle her flat).  This he does, although he seems more interested in the lingerie of Joan’s flatmate.  “Cor, you wanna seem some of the stuff that Sonia’s got. Well you can hardly see some it it, nearly all transparent it is, with bows on”.  To which Callan asks him whether he’s been eating raw meat again.

We get a first look at Snell in this episode.  He would become a semi-regular character, always on hand when Hunter needed answers from people – although the cost would be high for his unfortunate victims.  Clifford Rose was always chilling as Snell – a man who clearly enjoyed his work and seemed to approach it from the angle of scientific research.  The fact that many of his subjects became vegetables seemed not to be something that overly concerned him.  This is highlighted when Joan tells Snell that the drugs given to Horst will destroy his mind.  Snell agrees but then tells her that it was a rush job, arranged primarily for her benefit.

It’s a slightly messy ending (both story-wise and also the direction, which does seem slightly miscued when the big moment comes).  With only a few minutes screen-time at the end, David Hargreaves still manages to make an impression as Donner.  He’s able to demonstrate to Callan (and the audience) exactly how little he cared for the unfortunate Joan.

Callan – Red Knight, White Knight

red knight

Written by James Mitchell
Directed by Peter Duguid

The Section has a new Hunter (Michael Goodliffe).  Meres is present to greet him, although he can’t help grumbling at the early time.  “Why the devil he wants to start at the crack of dawn, god only knows”.  First impressions are that this Hunter will be a stickler for the rules – he berates his secretary (Lisa Langton) for leaving secret files on his desk where anybody can read them and also insists that nobody is let into his office when he isn’t present.

Hunter and Meres review the Section’s personnel files – including Callan’s.  Meres thought that the new Hunter should take a look at him, although not for reasons of friendship, as Meres says, “I detest him. But he knows the job. The only thing is,sir, he likes to know why it has to be done”.

After reading Callan’s file, Hunter sums him up.  “He’s emotionally unstable, a one-time crook, he has a dubious circle of acquaintances and he tends to take the law into his own hands.  We don’t want heroes in the Section, this is a team”.

The new Hunter (Michael Goodliffe)
The new Hunter (Michael Goodliffe)

It doesn’t sound like the beginning of a beautiful friendship and the first meeting between the new Hunter and Callan is as awkward and spiky as you might expect.  It isn’t helped by the fact that Meres didn’t warn him that there had been a change at the top.  But even though Hunter has expressed his doubts over Callan’s character, he still wants him back – he tells him that he’ll be safer in the Section than he would be outside.  And when that doesn’t work, he says it would be quite easy to put him back in prison.

They appear to have reached an uneasy truce for now, although Callan’s interest is piqued when Hunter asks him if the name Bunin (Duncan Lamont) means anything to him.  It certainly does, Callan was sent to kill him in 1963.  Hunter tells him that Bunin wishes to defect – a statement that Callan finds impossible to believe.  When Hunter, Callan and Meres meet Bunin, he has an interesting proposal.  Miersky (a top-ranking Soviet agent) also wishes to defect – but he’ll only do so to the Section’s top man in Russia.

The first story of the second series, Callan was now a Thames production rather than an ABC one.  From the point of view of the quality of the existing prints this is good news (the two surviving ABC stories from series one were both in pretty poor shape, this episode looks much better).

Bunin (Duncan Lamont)
Bunin (Duncan Lamont)

Given how good Ronald Radd had been in the first series, I assume that it was his decision to leave.  In story terms though, it’s a positive plus as a new Hunter allows everything to be shaken up.  Callan may have disliked and distrusted the old Hunter, but at least he knew that he understood the job.  Early impressions are that the new man is more of a civil servant, with no practical knowledge.  “He’s never been out in the field, mate, that’s for sure. He doesn’t know how bloody cold it gets out there”.

When Bunin disappears (after killing a Section operative) Hunter now accepts that Callan’s original idea (Bunin had come to kill him) was probably correct.  And if Miersky had met the Section’s top man in Russia, that would have been two key British operatives neutralised by the Russians.

Hunter decides to act as a tethered goat in order to bring Bunin into the open.  This is something that Callan simply doesn’t understand and his professional sensibilities are also appalled by the risks that Hunter takes (for example, by attempting to open the curtains he provides a clear target for anybody outside).  Hunter is quite calm, though.  “I’m assured you’re the two best men I’ve got. I’ve every confidence. Bunin’s alone, gentlemen. Even if he gets one of you, one of you will get onto him before he can deal with me. I’m quite safe”.

The relationship between Callan and Meres is developing (although it may also have advanced in the four wiped episodes of series one).  Whist Meres still professes to detest him, he does appreciate just how good Callan is, and at the start of the story he’s lobbying hard for him to be reinstated.  They also share a nice moment when Bunin proposes a meeting between Miersky and the Section’s agent in Russia.  It’s just a quick glance – but it’s enough to signify that they both believe that Bunin’s playing them, whilst Hunter still remains convinced he’s telling the truth.

Whilst a good chunk of the story revolves around the relationship between Callan and the new Hunter, there’s also time for some decent two-handed scenes between Callan and Bunin.  They’re very much two of a kind – and Callan is quite clear from the start that he doesn’t believe a word of what Bunin says.  Duncan Lamont is very solid and is a formidable foe.  It’s a pity that he’s killed off at the end of the episode (shot by Callan, of course, as he attempted to assassinate Hunter) as it’s possible to imagine this storyline could have been developed over several episodes.

This is also the first surviving episode where we see Hunter’s secretary (Lisa Langton).  She was a voice on the phone in the two existing series one episodes, and as the series progresses she’ll have her moment in the spotlight (especially the series three episode A Village Called G).

Although Callan has saved Hunter’s life, it’s quite clear that he still doesn’t understand or trust him.  But it seems he’ll have to, as Callan’s now firmly back in the Section.