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

aces

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

death

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

tessa

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.