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

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

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.

Callan – God Help Your Friends

god

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

act

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

suddenly

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.