Callan: This Man Alone – Network DVD Review

this man alone

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.

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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 …..

Target – Big Elephant

big elephant

Hackett and his colleagues have been keeping Ceti (Walter Randall) under close observation as the word is that half a million pounds worth of heroin will shortly be delivered to him by a sailor called Pink (Alan Rebbeck).  As soon as Pink is spotted entering the house the team pile in – but they find nothing.

Pink knew that he was under observation, so he passed the drugs over to Sharkey (Ken Hutchinson) for him to deliver.  But the police got there first and Sharkey beats a hasty retreat.  So he’s at loose in the city – with a fortune in drugs and both sides of the law tracking his every move.

The second of Douglas Camfield’s two Target episodes, Big Elephant was written by Bob Baker and Dave Martin (two more familiar faces from Doctor Who).  It’s grim stuff – especially when depicting the squalid reality of drug dependance.  This is highlighted by Joanne (Katy Manning) – a hopeless addict.  Best known for Doctor Who, this is obviously a major change of pace for her but Manning is convincing as a woman who can’t think any further ahead than her next fix.  Increasingly twitchy, pallid and hysterical as the episode wears on, it’s a memorable performance.

Sharkey is such a loose cannon (the pre-credits sequence see him “borrowing” a fork-lift truck and taking it for a ride along the docks, before getting nabbed by the police) it’s impossible to believe anybody would entrust him with such a package.  It’s also slightly odd that as Pink knew he was under observation he didn’t change the drop-off point for the drugs.

Ken Hutchinson starts the story as a stereotypical drunken Scot, but gradually more of a character emerges.  Sharkey forms an unlikely relationship with Joanne – they seem to be two lost souls clinging together for comfort.  He wants to help her kick her habit but Hackett tells him that it’s not worth it – she’s a junkie and she’ll never change.  Hackett does later tell him that he’ll arrange treatment, but it’s too late.  She overdoses, leaving a scribbled note on the wall which reads “Dear god I’m only little, love Joanne.”

There’s plenty of action in Big Elephant.  The initial raid on Ceti’s house is played at a frantic pace and the final confrontation between Hackett and Ceti also packs a punch.  Hackett does finally get his man, but the trail of destruction which has led to Ceti’s arrest means that there’s no real cause for celebration.  This is confirmed by the final shot of the episode which sees Hackett alone and isolated.

Target – Blow Out

blow out

We open with three men attempting to open a safe with an oxyacetylene torch.  The man operating the torch, Rocky (Michael McKevitt) is injured, so the others have to take over.  Harry Skeats (Maurice Roëves) is clearly the leader of the three and he assumes command.

Later, Harry and Rigby (Tom McCabe) drop off Rocky’s body at the hospital, but it’s too late – Rocky’s already dead. Had they not decided to continue with the job then they probably could have saved his life – but these are career criminals, with little or no conscience.

But Rocky’s body is the first solid evidence that Hackett and his team have concerning the wave of robberies which have swept the area. And since this latest robbery netted the villains a cool eighty seven thousand in uncut diamonds, the pressure is on to find the gang.

Roger Marshall’s list of credits is impressive (co-creator of Public Eye, creator of Travelling Man and a skilled writer on numerous series including The Avengers, The Sweeney, Survivors and The Gentle Touch).  This would be his only contribution to Target though, due to his unhappiness with the way it turned out, so much so that he asked for his name to be taken off the credits (the in-house BBC pseudonym David Agnew was used instead).

Douglas Camfield was a highly experienced director who specilised in precisely this sort of material (with episodes of Special Branch, The Sweeney and The Professionals to his credit).  He was able to assemble a cracking cast, featuring impressive turns from Maurice Roëves, Christopher Benjamin, Kenneth Colley and Ron Pember.

Actors who would later make an impression in other series also pop up, such as Geoffrey Leesley (later to be a regular on Bergerac) sporting a very impressive moustache and Sandy Ratcliff (one of the original series regulars on Eastenders).

Given the long-standing disagreement that existed between Camfield and Dudley Simpson (which dated back to an incident at a party in the mid sixties) it comes as no surprise that Simpson didn’t provide the music for this episode.  With no credit on the closing titles, it’s probable that the sparse incidentals were drawn from library cues.

Ex-jailbird Tom Farlow (Ron Pember) is somebody that Hackett attempts to use to infiltrate the gang.  But instead of keeping the meet, Farlow, recently released from prison, has gone to find his wife – who’s left him for another man.  This leads into the most memorable scene of the episode as Farlow methodically fills a large pan full of scalding water and walks upstairs to confront his wife and her lover.

After advising the man to leave, he throws the water over his wife.  Despite the fact that don’t actually see anything (we only hear her screams) it’s still very disturbing.  It’s a good example of how a poweful effect can be created purely in the mind of the viewer.    Tate is far from impressed with the way things have turned out and tells Hackett that “you get a phoney tip-off, she gets a face-full of scalding water. That’s one hell of a day’s work.”

The episode ends with another action-series cliche (Hackett rugby-tackles Harry Skeats into a swimming-pool).

Blow Out isn’t a particularly good example of Hackett’s detective skills as he tends to flounder from one situation to the next (and even though he catches Skeats, the story ends with the news of another robbery.  So the squad seem to be back at square one).

It’s fairly light on action, but Camfield and the excellent cast keeps things moving at a very decent pace.

Target – Shipment


If Target is remembered today, then it’s usually because of its reputation as a cheap Sweeney knock-off or possibly due to its Doctor Who connection (incoming Doctor Who producer Graham Williams created Target, outgoing Doctor Who producer Phillip Hinchcliffe would become Target’s producer).

The lack of a DVD release or recent screenings (series one aired on BSB in 1990, whilst series two hasn’t been seen since selected repeats back in 1980) have no doubt added to the series’ mystique. It’s not a classic by any means, but there’s plenty to enjoy (although Patrick Mower’s performance is an acquired taste, it must be said).

Mower had starred in the Euston Films revival of Special Branch (generally regarded as a dry-run for The Sweeney) as well as two episodes of The Sweeney itself, so was ideal casting as Det Supt Steve Hackett. Mower is never less than totally unsubtle, rampaging through the series like a bull in a china shop. I can’t decide whether he’s playing it tongue-in-cheek or if he’s being serious – either way you can’t take your eyes off him (although not always for the right reasons).

One of Hackett’s snouts gives him a tip-off that an incoming ship (containing a supply of silver) will be robbed.  Hackett and his men organise a stake-out but no attempt is made. The infuriated Hackett runs back to his car to remonstrate with his snout, only to find him murdered.

It’s a very decent pre-credits hook scene, even if it makes no sense. Who would be stupid enough to kill a police informant when there are so many police nearby?

Naturally, Hackett is out for vengeance and he’s convinced that he knows who’s responsible – Maynard (Jon Laurimore). The quality of actors is one of Target’s main strengths (we also see Bernard Kay as a forensic officer and Jack May as the ship’s Chief Officer in this episode).

Another actor it’s always a pleasure to see is Philip Madoc as Hackett’s boss, Det Chief Supt Tate. Sadly he’s got very little to do, so on the basis of this episode it seems odd to cast an actor as good as Madoc in such an unrewarding role.

It may come as no surprise that the episode ends in a punch up. David Wickes’ direction is suitably muscular (he also co-wrote the episode with Hinchcliffe) and the lessons he must have learnt earlier on The Sweeney are put to good effect here (it’s also not surprising that he directed several episodes of The Professionals the following year).

Given his work on Doctor Who, it seemed an obvious choice for Hinchcliffe to draft in Dudley Simpson to compose the theme tune and incidental music, but it’s a little distracting. Dudley always had a distinctive style, shall we say, so hearing music not dissimilar to his Doctor Who scores on Target is rather disorientating.  It’s also worth pondering how he had the time to work on Doctor Who, Target and shortly afterwards Blakes’ 7 all at the same time. It’s no wonder that occasionally all his music does sound rather similar!

A decent opener, then. Low on subtlety but high on action, with the character of Hackett clearly defined.

Callan – Amos Green Must Live


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


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.

Callan – God Help Your Friends


Written by William Emms
Directed by Peter Duguid

In Callan’s world, the innocent often have to suffer. They frequently find themselves used as pawns, sacrificed in a game they don’t even know they’re playing.  God Help Your Friends is a prime example of this – it also demonstrates Callan’s disdain for the work he has to do.

Hunter tells Callan and Cross that the engagement between Beth Lampton (Stephanie Beacham) and Mark Tedder (Michael Jayston) has to be stopped.  Beth works as a top-level interpreter for NATO whilst Tedder is suspected of being an agent for the opposition.  Hunter accepts that they have no definite evidence about Tedder, but the merest hint of suspicion is enough to make their union highly undesirable.

It’s not a job that Callan relishes, so he spends the episode in a very bad mood, taking every opportunity to rile Hunter and Cross.  Callan and Cross spend their time digging for dirt on Tedder and then making sure that Beth knows about it.  This isn’t a problem for Cross, who shares none of Callan’s scruples,  although he does come to believe that if they end the relationship it will be for the girl’s benefit.

At the start, we see that Beth and Tedder are very much in love.  But once a little suspicion and paranoia are introduced, even the strongest relationships can be destroyed.  Hunter is keen for them to achieve this as quickly as possible, but he’s adamant that he doesn’t want anything untoward to happen.  Callan bitterly reassures him that “there are other ways of killing people than with a bullet.”

Hunter assigns Cross to keep an eye on Beth (posing as a time and motion expert) whilst Callan roots around for incriminating evidence.  Initially, Callan assumes that Hunter will want him to romance the girl, but by assigning Cross we can assume that the intention is to infer that Callan’s getting slightly too old to play the lover ….

Beth is a nice girl – possibly too nice and innocent for the world she’s found herself in.  She’s surprised that, despite her sensitive job, her immediate superior wants to know about her engagement.  Given this, it seems clear it would never occur to her that the security services would be at all interested in her or her fiance.

Mark Tedder is a smooth, charming man (played to perfection by the always impressive Michael Jayston).  We never discover if he was actually an agent or not, but that’s not the point of the story.  In the shadowy world of the Section, there’s no judge or jury (although there’s certainly plenty of executioners).

As good as Russell Hunter always was (and Lonely has some nice moments in this one, especially in his first scene, when he’s dressed in a very smart suit, complete with umbrella!) by this point it was sometimes difficult to include him in the episodes without stretching credibility to breaking point.  During the first series (when Callan was still officially out of the Section) Lonely was a useful character, since he could obtain things (such as guns) which Callan couldn’t get any other way.

But by series three he doesn’t fulfill any function that a trained member of the Section couldn’t provide – so it’s sometimes harder to justify his presence.  For example, Callan asks him to break into Tedder’s flat and look for anything that could be used against him.  Callan then waits in the street below and only goes up to the flat once Lonely signals that he’s found something.  Lonely’s ability as a burglar is well-known, but do we really believe that Callan couldn’t have picked the very simple lock on the door or that he’d let Lonely search the flat by himself?

This does, however, give us the one moment of levity in the story – as Lonely excitedly thrusts a series of red-hot letters into Callan’s hand.  “Now the bird that wrote that, that is terrible, that is shocking, she’s got no shame. Now read that, read that.”

But the letters (referring to an old love-affair before Tedder met Beth) don’t do the trick and so Callan has to resort to other methods.  Eventually they succeed, but by the end of the episode there’s no particular cause for celebration.  The final words of the story go to Woodward and once again he delivers the goods.

God Help Your Friends was William Emms’ second and final script for Callan (he also wrote the wiped story The Running Dog for series two).  Active as a writer during the 1960’s and 1970’s he contributed to a number of popular series, such as Redcap, Public Eye, Doctor Who, Mr Rose, Ace of Wands, Z Cars and Owen M.D.

Peter Duguid would eventually direct eleven episodes for Callan, of which this was the eighth.  His direction here is unshowy and straightforward, but he manages to capture good performances from both Beacham and Jayston (who carry many of the key scenes).  Woodward is pushed more into the background, but he’s a constant, brooding presence and plays  Callan’s disgust with the job (and with the way it turned out) to perfection.

Callan – Act of Kindness


Written by Michael Winder
Directed by Mike Vardy

Away from the Section, David Callan has one major interest – model soldiers and fighting war-games with them.  Given that his job involves killing (and usually it’s the dirtiest and most squalid kind) it’s worth wondering if his love of re-creating famous battles from history is a yearning for the time when conflict was maybe a more honest and chivalrous pursuit.

Like the Armchair Theatre pilot, A Magnum for Schneider, Act of Kindness sees Callan tackle an opponent across the tabletop field of battle and it provides us with a very interesting clash of personalities.  Heathcote Land (Anthony Nicholls) isn’t a spy or an enemy agent – he works for a company that exports tractors worldwide (one of their biggest markets is Russia).

When Land receives incriminating photographs showing Donovan Prescott (Ray Smith) in bed with a young woman, he demands Prescott’s resignation.  Prescott refuses and tells him that since the photographs (taken on his last trip to Russia) must have been made by the KGB, he should tread very carefully.

Smith (a familiar face, thanks to his appearances as the acerbic Spikings in Dempsey and Makepeace) is very Welsh here (the odd “boyo” is thrown into the conversation).  He’s presented as a laddish man-about-town, but he also appears to have a patriotic side (since he did some unspecified low-level work for British Intelligence).  It’s this connection that makes Hunter keen that Land shouldn’t make the photographs public and so Callan is tasked to stop him by whatever means necessary.

Since Land also has an interest in model soldiers and war-games (or “toy soldiers” as Hunter dismissively calls them, much to Callan’s irritation) Callan is the obvious choice to tackle him.  “You really are a bastard aren’t you?” he says, less than happy that the one pastime he has which is separate from the Section has now been compromised.  After Callan leaves the office, Hunter confides to Cross that whenever Callan is angry, he remembers what happened to his predecessor ….

There’s one very clumsy piece of plotting in the story. This occurs just after Callan has introduced himself to Land and the pair of them begin to chat about model soldiers and battles.  For some reason, Callan is using the alias of Tucker (which is odd, since we learn in Where Else Could I Go? that Callan isn’t his real name anyway).  As Callan and Land start fighting a practice battle at the model soldier convention, Lonely passes by and refers to him as Mr Callan.  This, of course, instantly sets alarm bells ringing for Land.  It’s a rather sledgehammer way to raise Land’s suspicions and it’s a pity that something more subtle couldn’t have been done.

Later, we see Callan and Land prepare to fight a battle in the business-man’s impressive war-room.  There are two battles going on at once (the one between the model armies and the other between Callan and Land themselves).  The pair indulge in a fair bit of verbal jousting, each of them skirting around the issues, but it becomes clear that both know exactly what the other is thinking.

Eventually, Land comes to the point and calls his opponent Callan.  But even with this acknowledgment that Callan isn’t all he says, the battle goes on.  For those who favour the more action-orientated episodes, this one might seem to be a bit slow – but the battles between Callan and Land (although they don’t involve guns) are fascinating nonetheless.

At one point in the story, Prestcott tells Callan that if he wants to blackmail Land then he’d have to create something, since he seems to lead a totally blameless life.  As the pressure increases to protect Prestcott, all possibilities are debated by Hunter, Cross and Callan.  Cross favours taking Land out of circulation (either temporarily or permanently).  But a visit by Land to a toyshop might just provide them with the leverage they need …..

Anthony Nicholls (probably best known for sporting a rather unconvincing beard as Treymayne in The Champions) gives an excellent performance as the moral and principled Heathcote Land.  He shares a fair amount of the story with Woodward and the pair spark off each other very well – their conflict is definitely the highlight of the episode.  Ray Smith is rather less convincing as his business rival, but then it wasn’t such a well-crafted part.  This was the second and last of Michael Winder’s scripts for Callan (he previously wrote the stunning series two finale Death of a Hunter).

Act of Kindness must be something of a rarity for a Callan story, since it doesn’t feature any deaths, but that doesn’t stop it from being another intriguing story – thanks to Woodward and Nicholls.

Callan – Suddenly – At Home


Written by James Mitchell
Directed by Piers Haggard

Callan’s in love.  Those familiar with the parameters of the series will be probably be able to guess that his happiness is going to be very short lived.

Lady Lewis (Zena Walker) is the widow of Sir Colin Lewis, the youngest Foreign Secretary for a century.  Whilst his death hasn’t left her penniless, her financial situation is certainly a little strained (she has two sons to put through public school. which isn’t cheap).  So when the smooth-talking documentary film maker Rene Joinville (Tony Beckley) approaches her with an offer of ten thousand pounds to appear in a programme about her husband, it seems to be the answer to her prayers.

But Hunter doesn’t want the documentary to go ahead.  Sir Colin knew too many secrets and he fears that whilst Lady Lewis won’t deliberately betray any confidences, the skillful Joinville will be able to tease them out of her.  It’s interesting that. for once, the Section doesn’t have all the facts.  Joinville is a Russian agent, but this vital piece of information isn’t discovered by them until very late on.  Had they known, of course, then things might have turned out very differently.

Hunter assigns Callan to warn Lady Lewis off.  He thinks that blackmail might be a good method, but Callan is rather more subtle than that.  He appeals to Lady Lewis’ sense of duty and also hints that the establishment would view the programme with extreme disfavour.  Woodward is delightfully bashful in this scene –  he’s slightly hesitant and occasionally stumbles over his words.  We tend to see Callan as the forceful man of action, so this is a good insight into his softer side.

There’s an instant attraction between them, sparked by Callan’s love of model soldiers.  He promises to bring one to show her at a later date and once he leaves she starts to swot up on the subject.  Given how totally different they are as characters, it’s a little difficult to believe in this sudden romance – but Woodward and Walker are both so good that they make it work.

Unfortunately for Callan, he never progresses beyond a rather chaste kiss.  Since Lady Lewis won’t take part in the documentary, Joinville is ordered to kill her.  He’s told to use a gun favoured by the Section – that way they’ll be blamed and the resulting furore will be something of a propoganda coup.

The killing is carried out and when Callan receives the news it’s possible to see the light go out of his eyes.  He instantly changes back into the cold, remorseless killer and you’re left in no doubt that he will avenge her death.  Initially Cross is a suspect, but he’s cleared and when the truth about Joinville is discovered, Hunter gives the younger man the task of bringing him in.  Callan queries whether he has to be brought in alive and Hunter is quite clear that, yes, he’s not to be killed.

Cross’ bungled attempt to apprehend Joinville is another example of just how inexperienced he is.  He gives Joinville plenty of warning by making a hash of picking the lock on his hotel-room door and then is very easily disarmed.  Luckily for him (although Cross doesn’t see it like that) Callan is outside the window and deals with Joinville.  When he’s finished, Joinville is very dead.

Suddenly – At Home was James Mitchell’s third script for series three. I’ve always had a soft spot for this one – partly because, along with Breakout, they were the first episodes of Callan that I ever owned (they were released on video in the late 1980’s).  Whilst it’s a bit of stretch to accept the instant relationship between Callan and Lady Lewis, there’s plenty of incidental pleasures.  Tony Beckley sports an outrageous French accent as Joinville.  He gives a slightly off-kilter performance, but it does work (where a more naturalistic turn might not have).  Zena Walker impresses as Lady Lewis – she plays her as calm and charming, which makes her sudden, violent death all the more shocking.

Piers Haggard’s direction is quite noteworthy, with some well chosen shots.  At the start of the story we see Joinville preparing to accept an award for one of his films – and the camera shoots through the award as he’s speaking to Lady Lewis (creating a quadruple image).  Also, when Callan first meets Lady Lewis, part of the scene is shot directly at a mirror, so that we see a reflection of the characters, before the camera pans off to focus on them.  Plus there’s a number of close-ups (which help to create a claustrophobic atmosphere, especially in the immediate aftermath of Lady Lewis’ murder) and some interesting low-angle shots (these make fairly standard sets look a little more interesting).

It’s another very solid episode in an impressively consistent series.

Callan – A Village Called ‘G’


Written by James Mitchell
Directed by Mike Vardy

Hunter’s secretary, Liz, is an absolute model employee.  She’s never late and she’s never ill, so when she fails to turn up one morning it sets the alarm bells ringing.  Hunter decides to give her another hour and if she still hasn’t appeared then the department will be on red alert.  Cross queries whether that isn’t a little excessive, but Hunter spells it out to him.  “Liz has never been late here in her life, she’s never missed a day.  She’s an example to you all.  You think I’m fussing, but I’d sooner be foolish than careless.”

Hunter’s fear is that she’s been picked up by the opposition – she knows all of the Section’s secrets so she’d be an invaluable asset.  The truth of the matter is rather different though – she’s embarked on a personal mission of vengeance and Callan, naturally enough, is right in the thick of things.

Lisa Langdon made her first appearance as Hunter’s secretary at the start of series one.  It wasn’t a terribly auspicious start, as for the first few stories she was nothing more than a disembodied voice on an intercom.  After a while she started to appear in the flesh and gradually was given a little more to do.  During the black and white years, Heir Apparent is probably the best example of this – following the death of Michael Goodliffe’s Hunter, Liz was a useful character to place between Callan and Meres.

But A Village Called ‘G’ was the episode that put her firmly in the centre of the action.  Written by series creator James Mitchell, we find out about Liz’s background – and this provides the explanation for her disappearance.

After searching her flat, Callan reports on her lack of personal documents.  “There’s no letters, there’s no memos, there’s no diaries. Nothing. She’s a sad one, that. Yeah, well, it’s pretty sad if you’re that lonely.”  The lack of information means that Callan has little to go on, so he asks Hunter if he can see her file.  Hunter refuses, but fills him in on her history.

Liz was born in Poland.  Her village was totally wiped out by the Germans in 1944, when she was just three years old.  Every man, woman and child were killed (except for Liz, who had been hidden behind a bookcase by her father).  She was later adopted by a British couple called March in the early 1950’s.  March had worked as a cypher clerk, so the Section kept a watching brief on Liz.  When her foster parents were killed by a hit-and-run driver some five years earlier, it was decided that Liz would be an ideal employee for the Section (since she was fluent in numerous languages and had no family ties).  As Hunter says.  “The Section is all she has, David. Her mother, father, her home.”

Callan goes back to Liz’s flat and asks the caretaker (a wonderfully grimy performance by George Innes) if he’s noticed whether Liz has had any regular male visitors.  When he says yes, and that the man’s name was James Cross, this immediately catches Callan’s interest.  It becomes clear that Liz and Cross have been enjoying a relationship strictly against departmental regulations.  Callan, of course, makes it clear to Cross just how stupid he’s been (in the way that only Callan can!).

Cross tells Callan that he thought that Liz was worried about something, although she didn’t say what.   She did speak about her childhood though – which given what we’ve learnt, seems to be significant.  Cross and Callan hit the archive, looking for any recent activity regarding Poland.  They find a file on a war criminal called Klist and also discover that Liz checked out a file on a man called Sabovski (Joseph Fürst).

There’s evidence to suggest that Sabovski and Klist are one and the same and that Klist was involved in the massacre of Liz’s village. Hunter decided that no action would be taken and it’s this which pushes Liz over the edge as she decides to take the law into her own hands and kill Klist.

Fürst had previously appeared in the Armchair Theatre pilot A Magnum for Schneider.  Infamous in certain circles for his incredibly ripe performance as Professor Zaroff in the Doctor Who story The Underwater Menace, he’s much more restrained here.

Liz fails to kill Klist and Klist drugs her, takes her back to her flat and puts the gas on.  Luckily Callan, Cross and Lonely reach her in time (Lonely’s comment to Callan “you haven’t croaked her?” is priceless).  There’s also a nice cameo appearance by Graham Crowden as the Groper (a struck-off doctor who Callan calls in to check Liz over).  Quite why Callan didn’t call the Section is a bit of a mystery as surely they have medical staff, but if he had then we’d have missed out on Crowden’s remarkably camp performance!

Klist is dealt with by Cross, although Callan brutally tells Liz that Cross cares more about his job than he does about her.  “Listen darling, don’t you think Liz that he killed Klist for you. He didn’t. He killed him for himself. Killed him because he’s got to finish the case.”

This wasn’t the first story to feature a Nazi war criminal (see The Good Ones Are All Dead from series one).  But Klist is much less central to this story than Strauss was in that episode.  A Village Called ‘G’ is more about Liz, Cross and Callan.  It ends with Hunter and Callan sharing a drink and Hunter complimenting Callan on handling matters effectively.  The two wouldn’t always see eye-to-eye, so this is quite a notable moment.

Callan would be Lisa Langdon’s final television credit.  She only had a handful of other credits, such as a Jackanory appearance in 1968 and a few other minor roles (like ‘Woman in Street’ in an episode of Dixon of Dock Green).   But although her cv wasn’t particularly extensive, she was always worth watching in Callan – as Liz brought a welcome human touch to the often cold and unwelcoming Section.

Callan – The Same Trick Twice

same trick

Written by Bill Craig
Directed by Peter Duguid

Callan has been sent to oversee the exchange of a Russian prisoner for two British ones.  Also present is Mr Bishop (Geoffrey Chater) who apparently works for the Foreign Office.  The handover goes smoothly and Bishop welcomes both Surtees (Richard Hurndall) and Mallory (Patrick O’Connell) back to the free world.

Later, Mallory expresses his bitterness to Callan.  He’s spent five long years in a Russan jail, thanks to Surtees (who buckled under the initial interrogation and revealed everything).  And Surtees himself plans to go public and disclose how he was blackmailed into working for British Intelligence.

The only problem is that nobody in British Intelligence has ever heard of Surtees …..

The Same Trick Twice is a dense story, where nothing is quite as it seems.  It has some excellent actors and moves at a nice pace, but there are some flaws which are hard to ignore.

The first comes right at the start.  Callan tells Surtees that he’ll be looking after him and has a nice rest laid on at East Grinstead.  The clear inference is that this is a safe house where Surtees can be intensely debriefed.  Surtees seems not to care for this and throws a cup of coffee in Callan’s face.  This allows Bishop to take charge of Surtees and he’s later allowed to go public with his claim of blackmail.  If Callan had orders to keep a tight grip on Surtees, why did he let him walk free?

Shortly after, we find that Bishop doesn’t actually work for the Foreign Office, instead he’s connected with Intelligence – not directly in the Section, but he’s certainly able to come and go there as he pleases.  Geoffrey Chater would pop up during series three and four as a semi-regular and his languid demeanor ensures that Bishop enjoys some entertaining clashes with Callan, who has a much more down-to-earth attitude.  Callan asks several times exactly who Bishop is (and he’s ignored each time by both Hunter and Bishop).  It’s never made clear what his position is, but it’s obvious that he outranks Hunter.

If you’ve got a decent selection of television from the 1960’s, 1970’s and early 1980’s, then the odds are that you’ll have some programmes featuring Richard Hurndall.  Hurndall was an intense, compelling character actor who always gave striking performances.  Off the top of my head, I can pick down from my shelf appearances he made in The Power Game, Manhunt, Public Eye, Blakes Seven, Bergerac and of course The Five Doctors.

He’s very good here as a character whose motivations remain unclear for some time.  There’s several possibilities – he could be a British agent or a double-agent working for the Russians.  Or maybe he’s simply been duped into believing he was working for the British, when actually the Russians were controlling him.

This tangle leads us to our next plot flaw.  It later becomes clear that Surtees is something of an innocent – he believed that British Intelligence had blackmailed him to work as a spy, but instead it was actually the Russians who were feeding him disinformation.  But if this was the case, how was he able to blow Mallory’s network?  Only a genuine British agent would have known specifics about the network – so did the Russians give this information to Surtees?  And if so, why didn’t Surtees mention this when he was released?

Possibly the most problematic part of the story is Mallory’s reassignment to the Section.  Callan is appalled as in his opinion Mallory is far from stable – this is understandable, since he’s spent five years in a Russian prison.  It’s clear that Bishop has ordered Hunter to take Mallory on, but why?  As with Bishop steering Surtees away at the start, he seems to have his own agenda – but it’s not clear what it is.

Time’s running out and Surtees is ready to publish his story.  It’s all lies (disinformation fed to him by the opposition) but it sounds plausible enough and would certainly be damaging if it made the papers.  Hunter visits Callan’s flat (he expresses surprise that this was the best they could do for him) and speaks to him off the record.

He wants Surtees killed, but Callan is far from happy.  “You want a chopping done, you write out a chit.  You want a killing, you give an order direct, straight, in front of witnesses.”  The unofficial nature doesn’t please Callan, but he eventually agrees.

But he doesn’t have to kill him, since he’s able to convince Surtees that he was duped.  But somebody does murder Surtees later (and whilst there’s a moment of misdirection, it’s fairly obvious who did it).  There’s a droll moment when Hunter examines the body and declares that as he was shot in the back of the head it’ll be difficult to call it suicide, unless he was a contortionist!

Although the plot doesn’t quite hold together (especially the involvement of Mallory) there’s still a great deal to enjoy here, such as Lonely’s job as the lavatory attendant at Harry’s strip bar.  Or a “hygiene operative” as Lonely defensively tells Callan. Harold Innocent is delightedly camp as Freddie, the photographer who arranged the compromising photos of Surtees and Trisha Noble is gorgeous as Jean Price, who posed in those photos with a drugged Surtees.

Callan – Summoned to Appear


Written by Trevor Preston
Directed by Voytek

Callan faces a thorny moral dilemma in Summoned to Appear.  Needless to say, the other members of the Section (Cross and Hunter, for example) find it hard to understand why Callan is at all concerned …..

Callan and Cross are tailing a Czech operative called Palanka (Sylvester Morand).  Hunter doesn’t know exactly what Palanka’s up to, but it’s certainly something that needs to be stopped.  They follow him into a railway station, but lose him.  Callan takes one platform and Cross the other.  As a train pulls in, Palanka breaks cover on Cross’ platform.

Cross goes to intercept him, but barges straight into a man walking forward to catch the train.  The unfortunate man is accidentally pushed onto the tracks and is killed instantly.  Cross disappears, but the police are called, so Callan has to remain since he’s an eye-witness.

As he later tells Hunter, he was able to lie beautifully, telling Inspector Kyle (Norman Henry) that in his opinion the man committed suicide by throwing himself under the train.  But matters are complicated by another witness, Mrs Kent (Rhoda Lewis). who maintains that she somebody push the man off the platform.

It probably goes without saying, but Edward Woodward is excellent in this episode.  Callan is an oddity in the Section – a man with a conscience.  Both Hunter and Cross are only concerned with the man’s death insofar as how it affects the Palanka operation.  But Callan is more troubled that a man is dead – someone that would have left a widow and possibly children behind.

The fact that Cross doesn’t understand why Callan is upset provides us with some decent character conflict – and we’ll see this same conflict played out in various ways throughout the third series since Callan and Cross are two very different characters.

Callan is older and highly experienced.  Hunter admits that he’s the best operative in the Section (maybe the best they’ve ever had) although he regards Callan’s conscience as his one major flaw.  Cross is young and inexperienced.  His impulsiveness and rashness are highlighted in this episode and we also see, during the climax, how embarrassingly easily Palanka was able to deal with him.

Hunter elects to use a Czechoslovakian dissident called Karas (George Pravda) to lure Palanka into the open.  Callan and Hunter both know that Palanka won’t be able to resist the chance to kill Karas.  When Cross wonders how Callan can be so sure, he tells him that Palanka is “young and arrogant.  He’s got something to prove, just like you James.”

Lonely doesn’t have a great deal to do in this episode but I love the first flat scene where Callan asks Lonely to tail Palanka.  At once point Callan calls Lonely perceptive and there’s a great reaction from Russell Hunter, who makes it clear that Lonely doesn’t understand the word and is working out whether it’s an insult or a compliment!

Callan is summoned to appear at the Coroner’s inquest, which is a problem – and it’s further complicated when he’s visited beforehand by Mr Leach (Edward Burnham) who is the solicitor acting for the widow of the dead man.  He tells Callan that if a verdict of suicide is recorded then the widow, Mrs Arlen, will only receive a fraction of her husband’s insurance policy.

Callan is under no obligation to do anything.  The Section is in the clear since there’s not sufficient evidence to prove that Cross, or anybody else, pushed the man under the train.  He could simply repeat his original statement that the man committed suicide and that would be an end to it.  But of course he doesn’t – instead he changes his story (much to the annoyance of the Coroner) and a verdict of accidental death is recorded.

Meanwhile, Palanka very easily gains access to Karas’ apartment, knocking out Cross and disarming him.  In the end, it’s Karas who kills Palanka, whilst Cross looks on helplessly.  Since Karas is an invalid, it’s even more embarrassing for Cross.

Summoned to Appear is very much a human drama (both the unfortunate Mr Arlen and the dissident writer Karas).  Callan has several blazing rows with Hunter (and they won’t be the last!) which really highlight just how good an actor Edward Woodward was.  When he was on full-throttle, there was nobody better.

It’s always a pleasure to see George Pravda (as well as his real-life wife, Hana Maria Pravda who played Mrs Karas).  The supporting cast is typically solid, with the likes of Edward Burnham and Norman Henry, whilst a young Warren Clarke makes a brief appearance as a railway guard.

Callan – Where Else Could I Go?

where else

Written by James Mitchell
Directed by Jim Goddard

Where Else Could I Go? is something of a reboot for Callan.  Partly this was unavoidable.  Since a brainwashed Callan had killed his boss in the previous episode, Death of a Hunter, there had to a new Section head and William Squire fills the part perfectly.  And thanks to the fact that the colour Thames episodes were the most assessable during the last thirty years in the UK (repeats on C4 in the 1980’s and on UK Gold during the 1990’s) Squire would have been the first Hunter that many (including myself) would have seen – so he is Hunter.

His Hunter is very much in the Ronald Radd mode.  He has a respect for Callan’s abilities, but he also has no qualms in withholding information from him (especially when he knows that such knowledge would impair Callan’s ability to successfully carry out the mission).  Squire’s Hunter is also completely ruthless, able to compartmentalise his personal life from his professional duties (see God Help Your Friends for a good example of this).

We’re told that Toby Meres is on secondment in America (in reality, Anthony Valentine was filming Codename for the BBC).  Valentine is missed during series three, but it does provide an opportunity to create a new Section operative for Callan to battle with – James Cross (Patrick Mower).

As with the Callan/Meres relationship, Callan and Cross take a little time to form a reasonable working partnership.  Cross (unlike Meres) is younger than Callan, so there’s less of a feeling that the two are equals (Callan would later always call Meres by his first name, whilst Meres would usually refer to the older man as Mr Callan).

But this edge between them (like the earlier one with Meres) is useful for creating tension and drama.  Most series would have gone down the buddy route (like Bodie and Doyle) whereas Callan does something a little more interesting.  Cross is young, keen and desperate to prove himself to be as good, if not better, than Callan.  But his inexperience and rashness will often create problems (as the upcoming episodes Summoned to Appear and A Village Called G demonstrate).

There’s still some familiar faces though.  Liz (Lisa Langdon) remains Hunter’s secretary and she’ll enjoy some decent character development during series three and four (especially in A Village Called G).  Clifford Rose is still the icily amoral Dr Snell and, of course, the peerless Russell Hunter is back as Callan’s smelly friend Lonely.

Lonely is pivotal to this story, since Hunter uses him to see if Callan still has any fight or spirit left.  If he has, there’s still a place for him in the Section.  If not, then he’s finished – certainly in the Section, but also probably outside of it.  No doubt Hunter would have no qualms in ordering his permanent removal.

Where Else Could I Go? opens with Cross visiting Callan in hospital, where he’s still recovering from the events seen at the end of series two.  Although he’s clearly far from well, his ability for self-preservation is something that’s automatic.  Cross announces that he’s come from Hunter, but Callan (who’s never met Cross before) isn’t going to take anything on trust.  Unseen by Cross, he places a razor-blade in a bar of soap and keeps this weapon behind his back until he’s seen Cross’ written authorisation.

He’s then reassured enough to put his weapon down, but not before he silently shows it to Cross.  This ensures that their relationship starts off on a combative footing.  Cross knows of Callan’s reputation but considers him to be past it, nothing but a shadow of his former self.  Callan, whilst his dislike for the Section has been stated many times, still needs it – and he isn’t going to be trampled underfoot by a young upstart like Cross.

Physically, Calllan’s not in bad shape, but it’s his attitude when he meets the new Hunter that’s concerning.  He’s conciliatory and deferential – with little sign of the old, fiery operative.  Therefore Hunter decides to threaten the one person in the world (Lonely) who Callan has affection and friendship for and see what happens.

The first meeting between Callan and Lonely in this episode is very awkward.  With Callan hospitalised for several months, Lonely drifted back into crime and since he’s not the world’s brightest crook (although with Callan to watch his back, he’s a formidable thief) he’s ended up on remand and is looking at a lengthy prison sentence.  Callan offers to help, but a tearful Lonely refuses – since Callan wasn’t around when he was arrested, why should he help now?

It’s a cracking scene for both Edward Woodward and Russell Hunter.  Callan is still hurting, but the signs are there that he’s beginning to recover some of his spirit whilst Hunter manages to make Lonely seem even more pathetic than usual.  But eventually Callan is able to talk him round, thanks to the intervention of a high-powered lawyer called Henshaw (Gary Watson).

Henshaw and Callan know each other from their army days (Henshaw was Callan’s superior officer) and their meeting helps to shine a little light on Callan’s pre-Section career.  Back then he wasn’t called Callan, and was obviously far from a model solider, but he did save Henshaw’s life and now Callan is calling in the debt.  The fact that Callan chooses to use the leverage he has to try and get Lonely released is a good sign that Callan feels responsible for him (although he’s also well aware of how useful, as a thief, he can be).

The showdown between Hunter and Callan is the episode’s key moment.  Callan loses his temper when he realises that Hunter has targeted Lonely – but Hunter isn’t upset.  He’s been waiting for Callan to show some spirit and this convinces him that there’s a still a place for Callan after all.

Hunter agrees to stand bail for Lonely and then asks him if he’s happy to be back in the Section.  Anybody who knows the history of the character will also know the love/hate relationship he has with the Section in general and the various Hunters in particular.  Previously, we’ve seen that Callan was keen to leave and forge a life outside.  But this is an older, damaged Callan who knows that, at present, he needs the security that the Section offers.

So there’s no smile on his face, just bitter resignation as he says “where else could I go?”