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

Edward Woodward as Callan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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1990 – Series 2. Simply Media DVD Review

Broadcast between February and April 1978, series two of 1990 continued to chronicle Jim Kyle’s (Edward Woodward) fight against the all-powerful Public Control Department (PCD). My thoughts on series one can be found here.

Several key cast changes had been made since the conclusion of the first series. Although Robert Lang returned as PCD supremo Herbert Skardon, Clifton Jones and Barbara Kellerman (who played deputy PCD controllers Henry Tasker and Delly Lomas during S1) didn’t. It’s fairly easy to understand why Jones might have been dropped (Tasker was by far the least developed of the three and therefore often seemed to be surplus to requirements) but Kellerman’s absence was more perplexing.

The relationship between Kyle and Delly provided the first series with dramatic impetus (especially the “will they, won’t they” conundrum) and the introduction of the new deputy PCD controller, Lynn Blake (Lisa Harrow), could be seen as an attempt to replicate a similar relationship. Kyle and Lynn have a history – they used to be lovers – which instantly creates a source of tension, since her new job will inevitably bring her into direct conflict with Kyle.

Lisa Harrow & Edward Woodward

It’s possible that Lynn’s character was a hastily written replacement for Delly Lomas (maybe because Kellerman was unavailable for S2) otherwise it rather stretches credibility that Delly’s replacement was also someone whose relationship with Kyle had the same uneasy mix of business and pleasure.

Home Secretary Dan Mellor (John Savident) is another absentee, with Kate Smith (Yvonne Mitchell) taking his place. 1990 was Mitchell’s final television role (she died in 1979, aged 63). Although primarily a stage actress, she had notched up some notable film and television credits during her career – for example, Nigel Kneale’s 1954 adaptation of Nineteen Eighty Four in which she played Julia opposite Peter Cushing’s Winston Smith.

Series two kicked off with Wilfred Greatorex’s Pentagons. Kyle is now a member of Pentagon, one of a growing number of dissident groups. But whilst he favours non-violent action (“words have won more batttles than bullets”) others, such as Thomson (John Nolan), are more keen to fight fire with fire ….

Nolan (probably best known for his semi-regular role in Doomwatch) is one of a number of familar faces who pop up in this one – Barry Lowe, Oscar James and Edward de Souza also feature. Lisa Harrow, debuting as Lynn, makes an immediate impression. Harrow and Woodward share a series of strong two-handed scenes which form the core of the episode (Lynn has been tasked to discover the identity of the PCD mole who has been passing sensitive material to Kyle). Juggling several plotlines – including the complex relationship between Kyle and Lynn – Pentagons is a solid season opener.

Lisa Harrow & Robert Lang

As with the first series, the second run of 1990 used a small pool of writers. Creator Wilfred Greatorex penned four episodes, Edmund Ward contributed three whilst the remaining episode was provided by Jim Hawkins (his sole contribution to the series).

Edmund Ward’s three episodes – Trapline, Ordeal by Small Brown Envelope and Hire and Fire – were broadcast third, fourth and fifth and therefore form the heart of the second series.

In Trapline, Commissioner Hallam (John Paul) seeks Kyle’s assistance. Hallam may be a senior officer in the civil police, but he bitterly tells Kyle that it’s “the second-class police force. The street sweepers that clear up after the politicals”. Private security firms such as Careguard, run by William Grainger (John Carson), are where the real power lies, thanks to their links to the PCD.

It’s always a pleasure to see John Paul (Doomwatch‘s Spencer Quist) as well as John Carson (one of the most dependable and watchable character actors of his generation). The episode explores how the authorities (both Hallam and the new Home Secretary, Kate Smith) have grown increasingly concerned about the unregulated power wielded by the PCD and Careguard. The fact they want Kyle to help them is an irony which amuses him greatly.

Edward Woodward & John Paul

The verbal fencing between Skardon and Smith, as both jostle for supremacy, is highly entertaining as is the interaction between Kyle and Smith, who become unlikely allies. When Kyle calls her “love” (a rather Callan-like touch) watch how Yvonne Mitchell moves from mild disapproval to amusement in a heartbeat.

Robert Lang is well served by this one. Not only has Skardon gained a girlfriend, the very attractive Barbara Fairlie (Sandra Payne), but he’s also given some killer lines. When informed that the Home Secretary is beating a path to his door, he replies on the intercom that he’s preparing to genuflect. Smith overhears this, leading Skardon to respond that on reflection he can’t. “Injury sustained in youth. Choirboy’s knee”!

In the intriguingly-tiled Ordeal by Small Brown Envelope, Skardon puts his latest plan into action – Authorised Systematic Harassment (ASH). Described as “an authorised version of the Chinese water torture” it uses the most deadly weapon of all – bureaucracy.

The unfortunate targets – Kyle’s editor Tom Doran (Clive Swift) and his family – find themselves under close surveillance, but that’s only the beginning. When the state bailiff moves to evict them from their home and into a slum area then the pressure really begins to tell. As a way of breaking somebody’s spirit, mindless officialdom can be more effective than kicks and blows.

Skardon succinctly sums it up. “The slow and noiseless steamroller of the state, the daily brown envelope dropping on the mat”. Doran used to be a fighter like Kyle, but now he’s older and more frightened of making waves, which makes this persecution even crueller. It’s all been arranged in order to put pressure on Kyle, but Lynn argues that by targeting Kyle’s friends they’ll simply turn him into an even more implacable enemy …

Because it’s so horribly plausable and shockingly bleak, Ordeal by Small Brown Envelope is one of the most memorable S2 episodes. Woodward, as usual, is electrifying.

A vicious protection racket, centered around a state factory, is the theme of Hire and Fire. Another first-rate cast – Colin Douglas, Joseph Brady, Simon Cadell – power a story which sees Kyle and the PCD (in the shape of Lynn) form an uneasy alliance for the common good. Skardon is less than impressed when he learns that Kyle has been brought in – which leads to an entertaining confrontation between them (Woodward once again in sparkling form). Also amusing is Kyle’s luncheon with Lynn and the Home Secretary, where he likens himself to “a rose between two thorns”.

Robert Lang & Yvonne Mitchell

Skardon’s pursuit of Kyle continues across the remaining episodes, with matters coming to a head in the series finale, What Pleasess The Prince. Will Kyle and his friends emerge victorious or can the beleaguered PCD fight back?

As with the first series, Edward Woodward shines. Kyle may be more of a thinker than a man of action like Callan, but their core characteristics (a disdain for authority and a highly developed conscience) aren’t too dissimilar. Robert Lang, Lisa Harrow and Yvonne Mitchell are all strong enough actors to hold their own against Woodward in full flight whilst Tony Doyle impresses again as Dave Brett, one of Kyle’s staunchest allies.

Even after all these years, it’s interesting to see how 1990 can be fashioned into a political weapon.  This article from Conservative Woman makes great play of the fact that the government in 1990 was left-wing, although it has to be said that series rarely made party political points (if 1990‘s government had been of the opposite persuasion there would have been little need for any serious redrafting of the scripts – it’s easy to see a fascistic right-wing police state operating in pretty much the same way).

But whatever your political leanings, 1990‘s dystopian future continues to resonate.  At the time of its original broadcast the show was tapping into contemporary concerns about the state of the country (numerous other examples can be found across many different series – Reggie Perrin’s brother-in-law Jimmy, feverishly planning for the day when “the balloon goes up”, is just one example).  Forty years on, 1990 still raises talking points and stimulates the imagination – the year 1990 may be behind us, but many of the issues encountered by Jim Kyle and the others remain.

Tightly scripted and well cast, the second series of 1990 offers another eight episodes of thought-provoking, character-based drama. Both this and series one come highly recommended.

1990 Series Two is released by Simply Media on the 1st of May 2017.  RRP £19.99.

1990 – Series One. Simply Media DVD Review

1990, which ran for two seasons during 1977 and 1978, was set in a Britain tyrannised by the Public Control Department (PCD), a Home Office organisation dedicated to crushing free speech and any other signs of dissent.  Given the parlous state of Britain during the 1970’s, it wasn’t surprising to find a series which posited what might happen if the economy finally and irrevocably disintegrated.  And given the way things are today, many of 1990‘s themes seem eerily topical  ….

Some background to the collapse is teased out as the series progresses.  We learn that the country went bankrupt in 1983, which led to a series of swingeing restrictions from the newly-formed PCD.  These included strict rationing – not only of food, but also of housing and other essential services.  Virtually everything has been nationalised, meaning that the government has almost complete control.  Dissidents are harshly dealt with – via Adult Rehabilitation Centres – where they are treated with electro-convulsive therapy.

1990 is a grim place then, but there are still a few people attempting to resist the state.  One is Jim Kyle (Edward Woodward), a journalist on The Star, one of the last independent newspapers. The PCD, in the form of Controller Herbert Skardon (Robert Lang) and his two deputies, Delly Lomas (Barbara Kellerman) and Henry Tasker (Clifton Jones), keep him under close surveillance, which leads to a tense battle of nerves.

Robert Lang, Barbara Kellerman and Clifton Jones

Series creator Wilfred Greatorex (1922–2002) started his career writing for Probation Officer (1962) and quickly moved onto The Plane Makers (1963 – 1965) and its sequel The Power Game (1966 – 1969) where he acted as the script-editor.  Character conflict was key to both The Plane Makers and The Power Game and it’s plain to see that a similar format was carried over to 1990.  The heart of the series is concerned with the way the main characters (especially Kyle, Skardon and Lomas) interact.

Edward Woodward (1930 – 2009) had been acting since the mid 1950’s but it was Callan (1967 – 1972) which really established him as a household name.  His success as the world-weary state-sponsored killer allowed him to diversify (pursing his love of singing in The Edward Woodward Hour, for example) whilst cult films like The Wicker Man (1973) enhanced his profile even more.  Woodward was a quality actor and his central performance is one of the reasons why 1990 works as well as it does.

The series opened with Greatorex’s Creed of Slaves (“Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves” – William Pitt the Younger).  Kyle is penning a piece for his newspaper on the Adult Rehabilitation Centres (ARCs) which causes Skardon considerable irritation.  But that’s merely the tip of the iceberg as Kyle is also part of an organisation dedicated to smuggling people out of the country ….

There’s more than a little touch of 1984 about the series of course (Greatorex referred to it as 1984 plus six).   This is particularly evident in the opening few minutes as we observe how the PCD are able to monitor everybody, both visually and aurally, although wise old hands like Kyle are able to give them the slip with embarrassing ease.  The relationship between Kyle and the members of the PCD is already well established before the episode begins and it’s his interaction with Delly Lomas which particularly intrigues.  Since Skardon mentions that Kyle likes her cooking, it’s plain that, despite the fact they’re on different sides, there appears to be some sort of spark between them.  Or are both simply playing games? At one point Kyle directs this comment to her. “How do you look like you do and do the job that you do?”

Edward Woodward & Barbara Kellerman

The next episode, When Did You Last See Your Father?, continues one of the plotlines from episode one, concerning Dr Vickers (Donald Gee), a man who is keen to take his wife and family out of the UK. This proves to be impossible via official means, as exit visas are severely restricted.

The banality of evil runs throughout the series. On the one hand, Skardon, Lomas and Tasker are simply bureaucrats doing a job (in their minds they no doubt see themselves on the side of law and order). It’s this blurring between “good” and “evil” which is so compelling – the PCD may be oppressive, but their public face can appear to be reasonable. This is key – if you can keep the nastiness buried then maybe you stand a chance of fooling most of the people.

The first non-Greateorex script, Health Farm, stars the imposing Welsh actor Ray Smith as union leader Charles Wainwright.  Following a disastrous trip to America in which he gave a speech littered with criticisms of the British government, Wainwright is sent to an ARC for “correction”.  The shocking change in him (from the firebrand we first meet to an adjusted patient keen to toe the party line) brings home the true horror of the ARCs.

Strong guest stars continue to appear throughout the remainder of series one, such as Graham Crowden as Sondeberg in Decoy and Richard Hurndall as Avery in Voice from the Past.

The last two episodes – Witness and Non-Citizen ramp up the conflict between Kyle and the PCD. Dr Vickers, who escaped from the UK in episode two with Kyle’s help, is persuaded to return in order to testify in a show-trial against Kyle – if he does then his family will be granted exit visas.  Prior to the trial (featuring John Bennett as the prosecutor) Kyle’s office and home are targeted by PCD thugs, which causes distress to his wife Maggie (Patricia Garwood) and children.  Woodward gives a typically powerful performance, especially when Kyle finds his family are under threat.

Edward Woodward

Series one concluded with Non-Citizen. Considering how much of a thorn Kyle has been in the PCD’s side, it’s odd they’ve taken so long to decisively deal with him. But here at last they finally seem to have broken him. With his family missing, no money, no job, no home and no status, Kyle is pushed to the limit by a sadistic Skardon. It’s not surprising that Woodward once again excels here.

Although the themes of the first series of 1990 tapped into contemporary fears and neuroses, it’s fascinating how most of it still remains topical some forty years on.  The official face presented in 1990 appears to be fair and reasonable – tribunals are held which claim to offer the public an unbiased hearing and the ARC we visit is located in a palatial country home with well-manicured lawns – but scratch a little beneath the surface and it’s plain there’s something very rotten in this state.  You don’t need jackbooted guards on every street corner to create a true sense of fear, there are far more subtle ways than that ….

The way that language, spin and bureaucracy are all utilised in order to obfuscate the truth is especially instructive.  When you hear a politician complaining that the press, in the shape of Kyle, is spreading disinformation and therefore creating disharmony about the state of the economy (i.e. disseminating fake news) then the parallels to the modern world are perfectly clear.  In many ways 1990 is something of a chess game with all the major players – especially Kyle and Lomas – engaged in a game of manoeuvre and counter-manoeuvre.

Barbara Kellerman & Edward Woodward

As I’ve said, Edward Woodward is a fine leading man whilst Barbara Kellerman and Robert Lang (who receive second and third billing) offer strong support.  The gravelly-voiced Lang graced many a film and television programme with his presence and is perfect as the harassed mandarin Tasker whilst Kellerman (possibly best known for playing the White Witch in the 1980’s BBC production of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe) is intriguing as Della, the apparently acceptable face of the PCD.  Kellerman didn’t return for series two, which was a shame, although this did allow the format to be shaken up a little.

Interviewed by the Radio Times prior to the broadcast of the first episode, Woodward said that the series was “either going to create a furore or pass without comment” (Radio Times, 17th September 1977).  Although it didn’t quite go unnoticed, the fact it was tucked away on BBC2 was probably part of the reason why it never became a mainstream hit. But it clearly impressed enough to be renewed for a second series.

Although largely forgotten today, 1990 is a series which deserves to be much better known, especially since its power to disturb and unsettle remains undimmed after forty years.  It’s pleasing to have the first series available on DVD, with the second to follow in May, and for those who appreciate well-crafted British character drama of the seventies it’s certain to appeal.

1990 – Series One is released by Simply Media on the 20th of March 2017.  RRP £19.99.

Callan – Wet Job

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The television series Callan seemed to have come to a pretty permanent end with A Man Like Me in 1972, but that wouldn’t be the last we’d hear of David Callan.  First came the 1974 movie, adapted by James Mitchell from his 1969 novel Red File for Callan, which in turn had been based on his 1967 Armchair Theatre pilot A Magnum for Schneider.  Despite the rehashed plot, the film probably works better as a coda to the television series than it did as an introduction (since it features a retired Callan brought back, unwillingly, for one final mission).

Mitchell would continue to pen a number of novels featuring Callan (Russian Roulette, Death and Bright Water and Smear Job) during the 1970’s, which suggested that he felt there were still stories to tell.  So it wasn’t too much of a surprise when David Callan returned to television in 1981, in a one-off eighty minute ATV play entitled Wet Job.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t the conclusion that anybody – not James Mitchell, Edward Woodward, Russell Hunter or indeed the audience – deserved.

Before we look at what didn’t work, let’s consider the positives.  Nearly a decade has passed since the events of A Man Like Me and Callan is a changed man.  Physically he looks older (he has grey hair and glasses) and he’s also somewhat better dressed than he used to be.  It would have been easy enough for Woodward to dye his hair, put in contact lenses and pretend that no time at all had passed, but there’s something pleasing in the way that Mitchell acknowledges that he’s not the man he was.

Callan, now lodging in a plush house owned by Margaret Channing (Angela Browne), also moves in more rarefied circles than before and jokes with one of Margaret’s party guests that he hasn’t killed anybody for years.  This throwaway moment is touched upon later, when he has a rare spasm of self doubt – after being dragged back into Section business against his will he has to face that fact that he may be forced to kill again, but can he do so?  This is an interesting point, but alas it’s never really developed – which given the lengthy running time is a disappointment.  We do get flashes of an older, wearier Callan, but it shouldn’t come as any surprise that when the firing starts he’s still as deadly as ever.

The main joy of Wet Job is the reunion of Callan and Lonely.  The obvious respect shared by Woodward and Hunter is plain to see and this means that their scenes together are wonderfully entertaining.  Again, Mitchell is keen to show how time has moved on – Lonely is now a man of means with a successful business and an impending marriage.  We never see his fiancé, but Callan’s reaction to her photograph indicates that Lonely’s a lucky man.

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My favourite moment of the story comes during Callan and Lonely’s first meeting.  Lonely admits that Margaret is quite a looker, although he goes on to say that she’s rather old (after all, she won’t see forty again).  Callan, who sometimes shares her bed, is rather affronted by this, asking Lonely how old his fiancé is.  When he’s told she’s twenty seven it’s yet another indication that Lonely’s far removed from the man we knew.

He makes that point himself – it’s not the old days anymore and he has no wish to get dragged back into Callan’s illegal activities.  There’s something a little tragic in the way that Callan admits there’s no-one else he could ask (the power dynamic in that relationship has certainly shifted).  In plot terms, Lonely does nothing of significance but the story would have been much poorer had he not been there.

Hugh Walters as the latest Hunter is also a plus.  Walters had a habit of playing effete characters and his Hunter is no different (it’s a little jarring to hear Hunter refer to Callan as “dear heart”).  Much may have changed, but the Section is still a cheerless and impersonal place and the lengthy early scene between Callan and Hunter is another highlight (even if, as we’ll come to soon, the incidental music does its best to destroy the mood).

Wet Job has two main plot-threads.  The first concerns Daniel Haggerty (George Sewell), an ex-MP who blames Callan for the death of his daughter and is writing his memoirs which threaten to expose Callan as a government assassin.  Margaret’s niece, Lucy Robson Smith (Helen Bourne), is helping Haggerty with the book and she’s also attempting to ensure that a dissident Russian philosopher, Dobrovsky (Milos Kerek), gains safe passage to the UK.

It’ll come as no surprise to learn that Hunter (who called Callan in to warn him about Haggerty’s book) hasn’t told him everything, but because both plot-lines are so drawn out it’s probable that eventually the audience will cease to care.  Sewell’s solid enough as Haggerty, but apart from one scene early on, he’s kept apart from Callan until the very end.  Kerek makes little impression as Dobrovsky, so it’s hard to feel invested in his fate.

There are a few nods to the past – Hunter tells Callan that Meres is dead (this may be a joke though) and Callan has a brief reunion with Liz.  But since Liz is now played by Felicity Harrison rather than Lisa Langdon, it rather falls flat.

Wet Job was shot entirely on videotape.  This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem (quite a few of the Thames Callan episodes were as well) but everything looks dull and lifeless – when the early 1970’s VT Callan‘s look sharper and more vibrant than this 1981 effort you know you’re in trouble.

The worst thing about Wet Job is, of course, the music.  Firstly, it’s a shame that Jack Trombey’s iconic library track – used as the series’ theme – wasn’t pressed into service again, but that’s a minor irritation compared to the horrors of Cyril Ornadel’s incidental score.  If the music could be removed then there’s no doubt that my appreciation of the story would increase considerably.  Any time that Ornadel can spoil the mood he does so – tinkling piano, electronica, it’s a masterclass in awfulness.

There are so many examples, but I’ll restrict myself to three. The first meeting between Callan and Hunter is a cracking scene, but what it didn’t need was a heavy piano underscore.  Watch from 17:20 as the camera focuses on Callan, musing how he’ll never be free of the Section (without the music this moment would play so much better).  The end of part one (from 26:00) as Haggerty confronts Callan is another time when the intrusive music is simply breathtaking.  And the moment where Haggerty discusses Callan with Lucy (55:50) is just a cacophony of noise – electric piano, twanging guitar – that builds to a crescendo until (at 56:22) it suddenly and unexpectedly stops and the relief felt is palpable ….

There was a decent fifty minute episode here, but unfortunately it was expanded to eighty.  Edward Woodward and Russell Hunter are their usual immaculate selves, but it’s sad to say that this is a very average story.  There was plenty of scope to really dig into Callan’s character – showing that whilst he may now have a veneer of respectability, underneath the darkness still lurks – but sadly Mitchell didn’t go down that route.  And any goodwill that the audience has towards the project is surely slowly sapped as Cyril Ornadel’s music drones on and on (he certainly should have gone into a Red File).

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Callan: This Man Alone – Network DVD Review

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Callan: This Man Alone is a three disc set released in 2015 by Network.  The feature attraction, This Man Alone, is an exhaustive 130 minute documentary which covers every aspect of the character – from the Armchair Theatre pilot, the four series, the spin-off short stories and novels, the 1974 film and the not terribly well received one-off revival in 1981.

A host of key personnel who worked on the series (both in front of and behind the cameras) – Reginald Collin, Mike Vardy, James Goddard, Piers Haggard, Patrick Mower, Trevor Preston, Clifford Rose, Robert Banks Stewart, Ray Jenkins – were interviewed for the documentary, whilst Dick Fiddy is on hand to set Callan in its cultural and historical context.  Another very enlightening interviewee is Peter Mitchell, the son of Callan‘s creator, James Mitchell.  The pride he feels in his father’s legacy is palpable and, like the others, he has plenty to contribute.

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Although a number of people, including James Mitchell, Edward Woodward, William Squire and Russell Hunter, are no longer with us, they are represented via archive material.  This is mainly derived from a series of audio interviews conducted in 1987.  Presumably these were intended for transcribing purposes and not for broadcast as they’re a little indistinct in places.  Although Woodward sadly passed away before the documentary came to fruition, there’s still a family connection as This Man Alone is narrated by Peter Woodward, Edward Woodward’s son.

All of the key parts of the production – developing a series from the pilot, casting the regulars (and in the case of Hunter, numerous re-castings), moving from ABC to Thames, from black and white into colour, the public’s reception of the show and the decision to bring it to an end – are all covered.  Possibly the only aspect that I was surprised wasn’t discussed concerns the reasons for writing out Cross, Patrick Mower’s character, in series four (I’ve always assumed it was done in order to facilitate the return of Meres, played by Anthony Valentine).

Although the pair do have a brief cross-over period, it seems that once Valentine was available again (he’d declined to appear in series three) it was decided to write out Mower.  It would have been interesting to hear from Mower as to whether he thought that was the case, or if he was happy to leave on a high (his final story certainly was a dramatic one).

Unlike some series, Callan seems to have been a very harmonious production, so there aren’t too many story of back-stage bust ups.  The second Hunter, Michael Goodliffe, found the role not to his liking and was quickly written out, whilst Woodward wasn’t entirely sure that promoting Callan to Hunter in series four was a good idea, but that’s about it.

With an additional twenty five minutes of interview footage that didn’t fit into the documentary, disc one is as comprehensive as you’d might hope.

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Disc two has new transfers of two episodes, the Armchair Theatre pilot  A Magnum for Schneider and the first story of series one, The Good Ones Are All Dead.  The previously issued version of A Magnum for Schneider came from the transmission tape, but since the story was transferred to film prior to transmission (a not uncommon practice for VT programmes at the time, as it offered more flexibility for editing) Network were able to locate the original film recording and have produced a new transfer from it.  Both episodes offer a considerable upgrade on the previous versions issued on DVD.

Also on disc two is the complete studio tape for The Worst Soldier I Ever Saw.  Running to 78 minutes, this offers the viewer a unique chance to see how an episode of Callan was recorded, as all the takes and re-takes are included.  To be honest it sounds more interesting than it actually is, but it’s obviously nice to have.

Disc three has a real curio – the only surviving episode of The Edward Woodward Hour.  It’s taken from a domestic recording, so the picture quality isn’t quite broadcast standard, but that’s no problem.  It offers us a chance to see Woodward flex his singing muscles and the unforgettable comedy sketch in which Callan and Lonely meet the cast of Father Dear Father!  This bizarre encounter is touched upon in the documentary, with both Edward Woodward and Russell Hunter (especially Hunter) remembering it with a distinct lack of fondness.  Amusing or toe-curling?  I think that’s up to personal taste.

Semi-mute rushes of James Mitchell from 1969, recorded for A World of My Own, are also featured on disc three, but the main attraction is the extensive PDF archive.  All the scripts for the series are included (many of the early ones have both rehearsal and camera versions) whilst there’s also the original series outline, publicity material, audience research, etc.  There’s certainly a wealth of reading here and most importantly it’s lovely to be able to read the scripts for those episodes which are missing from the archives.

Whilst Callan: This Man Alone might feel like a three disc set of special features, if you have all of Network’s previous Callan releases (the monochrome series, the colour series, Wet Job, Andrew Pixley’s book) then it’s the perfect companion piece.  Quite why all these individual elements haven’t been collected into a boxset is a slight mystery, but no matter – if you love the series then it’s a very worthwhile purchase.

callan 03

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

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

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 – Charlie Says It’s Goodbye

charlie

Written by James Mitchell. Directed by Peter Duguid

Hunter believes that a top civil servant called James Palliser (Dennis Price) is due to defect to Eastern Europe shortly.  Palliser is under the impression that the man he loves is waiting for him in Poland – Callan, of course, knows this is the oldest trick in the book.  So before we’ve even met him, the character of Palliser has been quite clearly defined – he may be an important man, but he’s also a gullible one (it’s later reveled that Palliser’s lover died under interrogation some time before, but faked messages are being used to lure him out).

Callan is assigned to watch him and it seems to be a quite straightforward brief.  But there’s a distraction as Palliser has a friend called Susan Morris (Beth Harris).  He introduces himself to both Palliser and Susan and makes no secret that he works for security (Hunter’s suggestion – as he thinks it might spook Palliser into running earlier than planned).  Susan reacts sharply when she meets Callan for the first time – her husband was investigated by security and later took his own life.  But a later meeting is more cordial and Callan becomes more and more attracted to her ….

With Charlie Says It’s Goodbye, series creator James Mitchell crafts a story which takes a closer look at Callan the man.  There’s already been plenty of evidence provided during the series to date which makes it clear that Section operatives like Callan can hardly expect to lead a normal life.  All the previous relationships we’ve seen him enjoy have tended to be short (and usually terminated by death of the female  – such as Suddenly – At Home, for example).

He makes a valiant effort here to try and convince Susan that he’s nothing more than a nine to five pen-pusher, but she senses that he’s not being honest with her.  And finding he wears a gun is something of a giveaway of course.  It makes a change to see a more vulnerable Callan.  This is demonstrated when he gives her a present of a box of chocolates and she remarks that it’s a little old-fashioned.  Callan (obviously somewhat out of date when it comes to any form of relationship) is rather discomforted by her gentle chiding.

If the Callan/Susan relationship is the emotional heart of the story then Palliser’s attempted defection provides the more conventional spy angle.  Dennis Price, best remembered for the classic Ealing film Kind Hearts and Coronets, is a solid presence as Palliser whilst Richard Morant plays the hip-and-happening Trent, who’s been assigned by Komorowski (John G. Heller) to guard Palliser until he’s cleared to leave for Poland.

Trent does seem to be an unequal opponent for Callan as he’s far too young and casual.  There is a reason for this – Komorowski wishes to defect to Britain and therefore deliberately sabotages Palliser’s defection by entrusting him to someone he knew would be no match for Callan.

Callan is easily able to disable Trent and bring Pallsier in, but there’s a complication.  Hunter’s received an anonymous letter stating that Callan has been spending his free time with Susan.  There’s a telling moment when Hunter questions Liz about it, and she declines to answer his questions.  It’s a sign that her affection for Callan has overridden her duty to the Section.  And for somebody like Liz, who has even less of a life outside the Section than Callan does, this is quite noteworthy.

Is there a happy ending for Callan? He loves Susan and would be happy to leave the Section, but he knows in his heart he wouldn’t be allowed to walk away, whilst Susan loves him in return but detests the job he has to do.  It’ll probably come as no surprise that things don’t end well.  Trent targets both of them and Callan kills him (with a harpoon, no less).  He had no choice, since both their lives were under threat, but Susan’s total shock at seeing violent death close-up brings their relationship to an end.

Nearly everybody loses in this one.  Palliser’s hopes of being with the man he loves are cruelly dashed when Hunter tells him he’s dead, whilst Susan’s revulsion at seeing the sort of violent man Callan is can only serve to harden him a little more and make it unlikely he’ll ever decide to open up again.  The only winner therefore is Komorowski, who will no doubt be able to live a comfortable life as a defector.

Whilst not the absolute best the series can offer, Charlie Says It’s Goodbye is still pretty compelling, thanks to the emotional dramas that are played out over its fifty minutes.

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 – Rules of the Game

rules of the game

Written by Ray Jenkins. Directed by Voytek

Bishop orders the Section to harass a Russian cultural attache called Medov (Mike Pratt).  Callan is told that a British diplomat was recently expelled from Moscow, so this is in the nature of a tit-for-tat exercise.  Cross is assigned to wage psychological warfare on him and ultimately engineer a situation that will force him to be recalled.  But Bishop hasn’t been entirely honest with Callan and when Cross decides to involve Medov’s family it has dire consequences …..

Rules of the Game could be seen as the first of a two-parter which concludes the story of James Cross (the repercussions from the events here are a major factor in the following episode).  Ever since Cross was introduced at the start of series three – Where Else Could I Go? – he’s been something of a loose cannon.  But since the Section is such a dehumanising place it’s not surprising that it breeds a certain type of very dysfunctional person.

Rules of the Game offers us a close examination of exactly how he operates.  Medov seems to be a blameless figure, but that’s of little concern to Cross since he’s got his orders and is happy to carry them out.  He therefore stands in complete contrast to Callan – a man who never stops questioning.  As Callan later tells Bishop.  “I was trained never to take anyone or anything on trust. You start off with one simple premise – everything smells. Yourself, the job you’re doing and the man who tells you to do it. You’re told something, you test the opposite.”

Any available resource is fair game for Cross, so Medov’s wife Alevtina (Virginia Stride) and daughter Danera (Verna Harvey) are simply there to be used (Callan tells him at the start that they aren’t his concern, but he reluctantly agrees later they can be used as leverage).  Nuisance phone calls help to ramp up the pressure, but it’s not enough to force Medov’s hand – so more extreme measures have to be taken.

As might be expected, it’s a messy ending.  Medov’s daughter is critically injured by Cross and Medov surprises Callan by asking to defect.  The brief meeting between Callan and Medov is a powerful ending to the story.  Medov’s life has been destroyed – but who was ultimately to blame?  Was it Cross for lashing out at Danera or was Bishop, the man who gave the orders, more culpable?

Patrick Mower is excellent in this episode.  It’s a pity that he didn’t stay on for the remainder of series four as the Callan/Cross/Meres triangle would have been an interesting one.  Presumably it was felt that now Anthony Valentine had returned the character of Cross was somewhat surplus to requirements.

But it’s also just as much Mike Pratt’s episode as it is Patrick Mower’s.  Although Pratt will always be best known for Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) he packed a great deal into a relatively short career (he died in 1976, aged just 45).  Apart from many other film and television credits, he also was a skilled musician and turned his hand to script-writing, penning episodes for several television series, including Randall and Hopkirk.

With the battle of wills between Medov and Cross taking centre stage, it does mean that Callan is rather pushed to the sidelines.  But on the plus side Woodward shares some nice scenes with James Cossins (who plays the effete spy Neville Dennis).  Cossins was always such a reliable supporting actor (and if you don’t know the name, you’re certain to recognise his face and voice).  His byplay with Woodward provides some light relief in an otherwise dark episode.

One slight script flaw is that Bishop tells Callan this will be his first job as Hunter (which rather ignores the previous episode).  But on the plus side this scene gives us a chance to see Bishop’s office – which is very large and very sparsely furnished (it certainly impresses Callan).

A character-heavy piece with little action, Rules of the Game is another quality installment of a very consistent series.

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.

Callan – Call Me Sir!

call me sir!

Written by Bill Craig. Directed by Mike Vardy

Callan is tired of being a field operative and wants a desk job – he tells Hunter that he’ll do anything.  But he’s not expecting to be offered Hunter’s own job ….

Call Me Sir! certainly shakes up Callan‘s format and has the potential to move the series into new and interesting areas.  Although it might seem strange that the position of Hunter was offered to the anti-authority, anti-establishment Callan, on the other hand it makes perfect sense – poacher turned gamekeeper, as it were.

The moment when Hunter offers Callan the job is electrifying.  Hunter invites Callan into his office and asks him to sit down.  Callan looks around in confusion as the only free chair is Hunter’s own, but after a few beats he understands.  It takes some coaxing to get him into the chair though, as it’s much more to Callan than just a piece of furniture – it’s an object that (along with its occupants, of course) has dominated his adult life.

But eventually Callan takes the job and it’s instructive to see how he then interacts with the other members of the Section.  In many ways it’s no different from anybody who’s suddenly promoted – the reaction he gets is a mixture of awkwardness and resentment.

The awkwardness is highlighted by his relationship with Liz.  In That’ll Be The Day Liz was tearful at Callan’s mock funeral and later warmly welcomed him back from the dead.  Here, things start promisingly enough as she decorates his office with fresh flowers, but Callan oversteps the mark by asking her to call him David, rather than Hunter, when they’re alone.  It’s plain from the expression on her face that this upsets the ultra-professional Liz and is responsible for a temporary chill in their relationship – highlighted by the fact that when the flowers die they aren’t replaced.

But if there’s faint unease between Callan and Liz, it’s nothing compared to how Cross takes the news of Callan’s elevation.  During the first two series, Callan and Meres were presented as equals – in age and ability (the only difference being that Meres lacked any sort of conscience).  When Anthony Valentine was unavailable for series three, Patrick Mower was introduced as Cross.

As previously touched upon, Cross is younger and much more inexperienced than Callan – so they’ve never been on the same level (this was highlighted by the fact that during the later part of the previous series Callan would regularly use Cross’ first-name whilst Cross still referred to Callan as Mr Callan).  Callan’s sudden and unexpected promotion has simply widened the gulf between them and the older man wastes no time in establishing his authority.

When Cross meets Callan as Hunter for the first time, he immediately sits down only to be told by Callan that he hasn’t been given permission!  There then follows a brief battle of wills which Callan naturally wins – forcing the younger man to accept the situation and show the necessary respect (including calling him Sir, which Cross does through gritted teeth).

With Callan now promoted, he’s in an ideal position to protect his friend Lonely.  But there are various forces moving against the smelly little man and in a rather convoluted part of the story Callan elects to furnish him with a new identity and send him out of the country as a merchant seaman.  Lonely’s far from keen, but Callan tells him it’s for his own safety.  Lonely’s being hunted by the Section because he was put in a Red File during the previous episode (as he didn’t believe that Callan was dead).  Now that Callan’s back (and he’s got the position of Hunter) it would seem logical for Callan to take Lonely out of the Red File.  He could do it – he has the authority – so why didn’t he?  It’s a part of the story that doesn’t make a great deal of sense.

As so often, the interaction between Edward Woodward and Russell Hunter is highly entertaining.  Lonely is now convinced that Callan’s a spy – but he believes he’s working for the Russians!  The scenes between the pair of them at the doss house (where Lonely is hiding out) are first rate.

Earlier, we see that Lonely has made the acquaintance of Flo Mayhew (Sarah Lawson) who tells him that there’s something fascinating about his face and elects to paint him (with his clothes on, thankfully).  Her painting perfectly captures him in all his glory and Callan’s expression when he sees it is priceless.

But it turns out that Flo is a member of the opposition and has ensnared Lonely in order to draw Callan out.  This is another part of the story that feels a little contrived and over-complicated.  Flo is captured and led away and it’s assumed that, like Richmond, we’ll never see her again.  But as with Richmond, she does return much later in the series to haunt Callan …..

Bill Craig’s first script for the series had been The Same Trick Twice back in series three and this clearly impressed since he ended up penning four stories during the fourth series.  He was always a very dependable writer, and although I have a few quibbles with parts of the plot, Call Me Sir! is a very strong episode.

Callan – That’ll Be The Day

that'll be the day

Written by James Mitchell. Directed by Mike Vardy

That’ll Be The Day certainly has a strong opening – we begin at David Callan’s funeral.  The mourners include Hunter, Bishop, Colonel Leslie, Cross and a clearly distraught Liz.  A late arrival is Lonely, who comes complete with an impressive floral display (which he’s naturally pinched).

One of the few moments of levity in the episode occurs when a disbelieving Lonely hears the vicar’s fulsome tribute.  He describes Callan as a humble man of peace – a far cry from the person that Lonely knew.  So Lonely comes to the conclusion that they’re burying the wrong man!

Arresting as this is, it’s not very logical.  If Callan had been a public figure (a politician, say, or a civil servant) it would have made sense to stage a mock funeral.  But as he’s not, the only thing the funeral does is to make Lonely convinced that Callan isn’t dead after all.

In Mitchell’s original draft script, Callan and his Russian counterpart (originally called Lonsdale, later renamed Richmond) were apprehended at the same time – both sides then agree on a publicity blackout so they could be exchanged.  This makes the reason for the mock funeral slightly more plausible, but it’s still a problem.

Also present at the funeral in Mitchell’s draft script was Toby Meres.  He didn’t feature in the final program, but he is mentioned (and will return later in the series).  Somebody who does make an appearance is a previous Hunter, Colonel Leslie (Ronald Radd).  Since he doesn’t speak a word, for anybody not familiar with the first two series he could be taken for just another extra.  But for those who’ve seen the black and white episodes it’s a lovely touch.

Callan isn’t dead of course, he’s a prisoner of the Russians and currently undergoing interrogation at the Lubyanka.  The first time I saw this episode I assumed it was the second part of an existing story – mainly because of the cold open.  We’re told that Callan was on assignment in East Germany, that the girl he was with was killed and that he was then taken to the Lubyanka.  It’s very jarring that this is all tell, not show.  A modern series would have no doubt set this plot-line up at the end of the previous series, closing on a cliffhanger of Callan’s abduction.

He’s clearly in a bad way – his head is shaven and he’s been pumped full of drugs.  In many ways he’s in a similar state to how he appeared in Death of a Hunter, although it’s true that here he’s more aware of what’s happening – in Death of a Hunter his moments of lucidity were few and far between.

Karsky (Julian Glover) is given the task of interrogating Callan.  Just as Callan has his counterpoint in Richmond, Karsky has an obvious opposite number in Snell (Clifford Rose).  Whilst Karsky is using drugs to interrogate Callan, Snell is doing the same to Richmond.  And Karsky and Snell are very similar character types – neither are cackling villains, instead they view their subjects with detachment and, especially in Karsky’s case, seeming compassion.

Karsky knows that Callan will eventually tell them everything – the drugs will ensure that.  But if Callan cooperates then the drugs won’t destroy him.  So why fight?  Naturally Callan replies in the negative, but it doesn’t shake Karsky’s composure at all.  As might be expected, Julian Glover is excellent in these scenes, as is Woodward, and these two-handed moments are the highlight of the episode.

T.P, McKenna’s Richmond is an interesting character.  At this point he seems to have been created simply to solve the problem about how to extract Callan from the clutches of the Russians.  But he makes an unexpected return towards the end of the series in several key episodes.  He doesn’t have a great deal of screen-time here, but he still manages to make an impression.

Another indication that Callan and Richmond are two sides of the same coin is demonstrated when it’s decided to exchange them (much to Hunter’s displeasure – he considers swapping Richmond for Callan is a bad bargain).  Both Callan and Richmond are holed up in adjoining hotel rooms in Helskini – and they each offer their handlers a drink (which are refused).

Callan’s miraculous return from the dead comes as a shock to some, especially Cross.  You get the sense that he’s just started to enjoy being the top man in the Section and now that’s cruelly taken away from him.  Patrick Mower would leave the series after episode five, so Cross only has a limited character arc in series four, but it’s still quite effective.

In series three, Cross was several rungs below Callan – the older man was quicker, sharper and always more capable.  He’s maybe slightly closer in ability now, but he also possesses character flaws which will prove to be his undoing.  He’s always had a certain sadistic attitude – witness how he plays Russian Roulette with Lonely (admittedly with blanks) – and over the course of the next few episodes we’ll see how he gradually steps further and further over the mark.

Hunter’s meeting with Callan is a rather frosty affair.  He admits that if it was his choice he wouldn’t have had him back.  But Callan is back and since Richmond was a top man it’s a matter of prestige for the Section that they can’t be seen to have swapped him for a lesser prize.  But how can they prove to the Russians that Callan is Richmond’s equal?

Promotion is the obvious course …..

Callan – Amos Green Must Live

amos

Written by Ray Jenkins
Directed by James Goddard

Amos Green Must Live is a bit of a misfire.  Although Amos Green’s views are just as topical today as they were over forty years ago, a slightly incoherent script does tend to drag the story down.

Amos Green (Corin Redgrave) is a politician with a clear message – Britain is full to bursting point, so he advocates sending the immigrants back home.  He’s clearly a man who likes to court controversy and when his life seems to be under threat, the Section are tasked to protect him.

Corin Redgrave is by far the best thing about this story.  He’s very watchable in all his scenes and Ray Jenkins’ script provides him with plenty of good material.  Whether Green actually believes what he says or whether he’s simply making political capital is left to the view to decide.  Later in the story, Hunter (who for some inexplicable reason is attending one of Green’s dinner-parties) does make the point that before 1967 Green never spoke about immigration, which does visibly ruffle the politician’s feathers.

As for the worst, Annette Crosbie as Green’s housekeeper May Coswood, takes some beating.  It’s probably not Crosbie’s fault, rather it’s the way the part has been written.  May is besotted with a black man called Casey (Stefan Kalipha).  Naturally, she keeps this from Green, but she starts to act very oddly – stealing a dress, for example.  Her erratic behaviour only draws attention to herself (and Casey).

If May’s motivations are sometimes hard to understand, then the same can be said of Casey.  Towards the end we learn that he’s the prime mover behind the plot to kill Green – but there are various plot-holes along the way which are never resolved.

The Section are originally drawn into the case after a black civil rights activist from America called Arrillo is fished out of the river.  In his pocket was a book of matches with a picture of the Ace of Spades.  A similar book of matches is sent to Green, so it’s surmised that his life will also be under threat.

Casey admits that he was the taxi-driver who picked up Arrillo.  As the American was carrying a considerable sum of money, we can surmise that Casey killed him for it – which he planned to use to finance an attack against Green.  If this is so, why would he place the matches in Arrillo’s pocket and why send a similar matchbook to Green?  If it hadn’t been for the matches, then Green wouldn’t have known that his life was in danger.  But frankly, it’s a very obscure clue – what are the chances that somebody would have made the connection between Arrillo and Green?

Although Casey is organising the attack against Green (with gas weapons and guns) it’s actually carried out by several Americans (well, I think they’re attempting American accents, it’s hard to be sure).  Were they recruited with the money Casey stole from Arrillo?  Or since Arrillo was an American, did they follow him over?

Whilst there are a few nice moments (Lonely buying Callan the most hideous tie imaginable as a thank you present, for example) it’s certainly one of the less engaging episodes of the series.  When a General Election was called in 1970, the episode was pulled from the schedule and transmitted later in the run (as previously mentioned, Breakout should have been the series finale).  So there is a certain historical curiosity in watching this (albeit-temporarily) “banned” episode.

The character of Amos Green tapped into the debates of the day (he’s clearly a thinly-veiled portrait of Enoch Powell, notorious for his “Rivers Of Blood” speech) but whilst Redgrave is fine, the episode in general is just a little too heavy handed and from a modern viewpoint feels rather crude.

Callan – Breakout

break

Written by James Mitchell
Directed by Reginald Collin

Hunter wants KGB agent Lubin (Garfield Morgan) picked up.  He possesses a list of names that would prove incredibly damaging to the Section if he were able to deliver them to his masters.  And since Hunter knows that Lubin hasn’t had the chance to communicate with them yet, speed is of the essence.

But Lubin surrenders himself to the police.  He faces a lengthy spell in prison, but Hunter knows exactly why he’s done it (inside prison he’d be out of Hunter’s reach).  Hunter has a plan though – Lubin will expect to be broken out by the KGB, so he plans to arrange for Callan to spring him and then kill him.

Breakout is more of a straightforward action story than many episodes of Callan, but though it lacks the depth of characterisation that we usually see, it still has plenty of interest – not least for the central role played by Lonely.

In Where Else Could I Go? we saw Callan stand bail for Lonely.  Now, Lonely finally faces trial for his numerous petty crimes.  As ever, Russell Hunter is a pleasure to watch – even when he has no dialogue he’s capable of expressing so many emotions.  This is highlighted when the judge comments that Lonely’s crimes were carried out with “great expertise ” (a pleased expression plays across his face) but “little intelligence” (which instantly changes to downcast).

When he’s sentenced to six months imprisonment for each of the twenty-five offences (to run concurrently) he displays a whole range of shocked emotions, especially when he sees Callan laughing.  Eventually he understands that he only has to serve six months instead of twelve and a half years, but it’s clear that it doesn’t quite sink in (as he still asks Callan for reassurance later on).

If there’s a major flaw in Breakout, then it’s the idea that Lubin is untouchable in prison.  It’s hard to believe that Hunter lacks the ability to transfer him and it’s even harder to accept that he couldn’t pull some strings to infiltrate a man into the prison to eliminate him without having to break him out first.

But whilst these possibilities are never discussed, they are able to put a man on the inside – the unfortunate Lonely.  Lubin is on remand at Castle View (where Callan once spent “six lovely months”).  Lonely is dismayed to hear that he’ll be transferred there – but Callan is delighted, as he tells him that he’ll be able to do a little job for him.

Woodward and Hunter shared many lovely two-handed scenes during the four series of Callan and there’s another cracking one here.  When Callan tells him that he’s arranging a breakout from Castle View, Lonely’s first response is that he doesn’t mind doing his time.  Callan gently tells him that he’s not the person to be sprung – Lubin is.  Lonely is dismayed. “I don’t hold with spies. Mr Callan, that man is a traitor to the Queen.”  To which Callan ironically mutters “Rule Britannia”!

Russell Hunter continues to have good material to work with, especially in the aftermath of the breakout.  As Callan enters the cell, he says “good luck, Mr Ca-” before Callan brutally pistol-whips him.  This was because Lubin knew Callan’s name (although he didn’t know what he looked like) so it was vital that Callan silenced Lonely before he revealed all.  Of course, in the light of this, it was rather silly to put Lonely in his cell (as we later learnt he spent most of his time taking about Callan!).

Callan is the leader of the small group tasked to breakout Lubin.  Cross and Mellor (Billy Cornelius) are the others.  Something we’ve seen over the years is that the Section seems to have very few decent agents and Mellor is the latest, somewhat inept, example.  Lubin is easily able to deal with him – but Callan is a different proposition.  After a brief gun-battle, Callan finishes him off.

Breakout was originally intended to be the final story of the third series and this is reflected in the final scene which sees Hunter and Callan sharing a cup of tea on a cold and deserted beach.  Hunter tells him that the KGB now regard him as a top man and so in the future he’s bound to be targeted.  This would have lead nicely into the opening story of series four, That’ll be the Day, in which Callan was picked up by the KGB and underwent a harrowing interrogation.

Unfortunately, the running order was re-juggled at the last minute – so the rather less satisfying Amos Green Must Live was the last transmitted story of this series.