Callan (TV series)

Callan (TV series)

Infobox Television
show_name = Callan

network = ITV
first_aired = 1967
last_aired = 1972
num_episodes = 44
imdb_id = 0061238 |

"Callan" was the title of a British television series, set in the murky world of espionage, that aired on ITV broadcasting over four seasons spread out between 1967 and 1972.

The series starred British actor Edward Woodward as David Callan, a reluctant professional killer for a shadowy branch of the British Government's intelligence services known as 'the Section'.

"A Magnum for Schneider"

Viewers first saw Callan in an edition of ABC television's celebrated "Armchair Theatre" strand in February 1967, in a play entitled "A Magnum for Schneider" by James Mitchell, (creator of the equally popular "When The Boat Comes In" in the 1970s).

Callan has been retired from the anonymous Government agency known only as "The Section" run by the calculating Colonel Hunter. ("Hunter" is a pseudonym for the current Section Chief, much like Number Two from "The Prisoner" which aired the same year.) The Section specialises in removing those who are a danger to the innocent (whoever that may be) by whatever means necessary: persuasion, blackmail, extortion, or even death.

David Callan was the Section's top operator - even though he mostly despised his work - and we learn he'd developed an inquisitive tendency to discover just what were his intended victims' crimes to deserve his administering them the ultimate punishment. This made him vulnerable, volatile and dangerous, hence his enforced lay-off to a dead-end book-keeping job for an ungrateful employer who simply believed he was doing Callan - an otherwise unskilled man with a criminal record - a favour.

Hunter describes Callan as "a dead shot, with the cold nerve to kill" and needs to call on the services of the man who is far too useful to be allowed to retire and indeed, this first outing has Callan 'invited' back to the Section for what should be one last job as a favour to his old boss. Schneider's nefarious activities are known to the authorities but he is too clever to be caught by normal methods. The Section puts enemies of the British government out of action by whatever means possible, from energetic persuasion to blackmail and even death itself - and Schneider must be stopped. Hunter wants him eliminated but if Callan is to prove he has changed he must achieve this without help from the Section. In reality, with assistance from the eager-to-please Toby Meres, Hunter is setting Callan up to be framed for the murder.

Callan's problem is that he must know what his intended victim has done to deserve the final punishment and in Schneider's case discovers an extremely profitable sideline of large-scale gun-running. Satisfied, Callan determines his plan and calls on Lonely, a petty crook who needs a bath more than most, something which is more apparent when scared. Actor Russell Hunter played the recurring character Lonely who is unsure of Callan's true identity and motives but is dead-scared of him, so provides the goods - a Noguchi Magnum plus rounds. This is ironic as Callan has already discovered this weapon features in Schneider's sideline activities. Callan's "chance" meeting with Schneider outside his neighbouring office allows the two men to find common ground in their passion for model soldiers and war games.

Toby Meres is the current top-dog at the Section and is less than pleased to find Callan returning to the fold. His exuberant youth and constant niggling of Callan eventually proves Meres' undoing: At Schneider's house, where Callan and his host engage in war games from the American Civil War, Meres breaks in to ensure Callan carries out his job on time but blunders by distracting Callan, just as the Police arrive. This was Hunter's little ploy to ensure Callan was caught red-handed; Schneider is now suspicious and uncovers Meres' presence and holds the two men at gunpoint. Callan is searched and is clean, however the Magnum is still secreted in his sock and while sitting on the floor a distracted Schneider is shot clean dead.

Meres is still intent on manufacturing Callan's demise, however the tables are turned when Callan knocks Meres unconscious. After leaving the safe open for the Police to discover, Callan phones a guardedly pleased Hunter and then informs his erstwhile boss that he will not bring Meres out and quits, having had enough. Thus aggravated, Hunter orders Callan's file to be changed from a standard yellow folder to a red one - the colour for those who are to be deemed a danger to the innocent, whose removal from society will be by whatever means necessary.

ABC Series

Callan was human, but not necessarily a nice human, who could kill in cold blood with the best of them. Nevertheless the memorably haunted lead character caught the public's imagination to such an extent that he was brought back in a six-episode season which followed later that year, and which built on the strengths of the characters involved, the claustrophobic atmosphere cleverly eked out by inventive directors despite being shot on stark monochrome videotape within the confines of a television studio, with a few filmed inserts for good measure. The series proved popular with audiences, and consolidated Edward Woodward's position as a bona-fide TV star.

Thames series

By 1969, ABC television had lost its ITV franchise and had been replaced as service provider for London and the south-east of England by Thames. Thames decided to continue making Callan, and a second season of fifteen episodes followed. This run ended with "Death Of A Hunter" in which the Section chief meets his demise, and Callan is shot - perhaps fatally. It had not been decided whether the show would return for a third series, so this device was used to leave open either the possibility of more stories in the future, or a way of winding-up the show. Two endings were taped, in which Callan either lived or died. In the end, Thames decided to bring the programme back for the 1970 series, this time in full colour.

A final set of thirteen episodes was broadcast in 1972. This saw Callan develop further than before. An unsuccessful mission meant Callan was exchanged to the Russians for one of their agents and now he was known, he was a liability. What to do with the Section's top agent was solved by promoting him into the role of Hunter - a post he disliked as much or even more that actually serving under a Hunter but which he was eventually relieved of by his predecessor when the danger had all but passed. The final three episodes were a trilogy based around the defector Richmond (and sub-titled "The Richmond Files"), at the end of which he pleads for Callan to kill him instead of capturing him- you know what they do to people like us. Having disobeyed orders to help A Man Like Me (Final episode title), Callan finally walks out of the Section.

A feature of the series was its ability to attract a good class of actors which helped its reputation no end: successive Hunters were played by Ronald Radd, Derek Bond, Michael Goodliffe and William Squire. The latter's steely exterior and ice-cold decisive nature was often the match for Callan and is probably the best remembered of all the supporting actors. Toby Meres was brought to life by Anthony Valentine (Peter Bowles in the pilot) and when he departed for a posting in the US (in truth, to appear in the series "Codename" on the rival BBC network) in came the young, brash, and unpredictable Cross (played by Patrick Mower) who was just as arrogant and who needed teaching a lesson more than once in a while by his experienced teacher.

Cinema Film

A mildly successful cinema film followed in 1974, directed by Don Sharp and simply entitled "Callan", the bigger budget allowing much more location work and action set-pieces, but at the expense of the atmospheric close-ups which were a big part of the original series. It was an expanded re-working of the original pilot, "A Magnum For Schneider" which was the basis of the novel "Red File for Callan", also by James Mitchell. Meres was again re-cast, this time being played by Peter Egan (better known at the time as a trendy gangster from a controversial TV series "Big Breadwinner Hog" - now better known for sitcoms such as "Ever Decreasing Circles").

"Wet Job"

Callan was last seen in the 1981 feature-length television story made by ATV, entitled "Wet Job" which while felt by some fans to not quite be up to the standard of the series, was nevertheless felt to be a welcome final appearance for both characters of Callan and his odoriferous helper Lonely who - ironically - was probably the most human of all the characters in the entire run. In Wet Job, Callan has become the proprietor of a military memorabilia shop when he is recruited by the new Hunter for one more job. Alas, he has to do this alone: Lonely has become a dapper gent, engaged to be married, and with enough self-confidence to defy Callan's request for help. In the (satisfying) end, Callan completes the task, survives, and even ends up with a girlfriend.

The appeal of the deadly secret service agents have been recycled over the years but the haunted character of David Callan endures in the mind of those who saw him arguing with his superiors and wrestling with his conscience; yet he continually saw off young upstarts of his profession with his inbuilt ability to kill coldly and efficiently.

"The Equalizer"

In the 1980s, Woodward would go on to star in the American series, "The Equalizer", playing a conscience-stricken former secret agent who becomes a protector of people in need, yet finds himself being called back into service by his former employers from time to time. There are many noted similarities between this series and "Callan" to the point where it is speculated that Robert McCall (Woodward's "Equalizer" character) may in fact be David Callan.

"La Femme Nikita"

Another TV series made at the end of the 90's, inspired by the French movie of the same name (not the remakes which were quite ordinary) and starring Peta Wilson as Nikita. Framed for murder and forced into joining Section One, she displays all of the reluctance to kill shown by Callan, and a need to know why? In a strange sort of reprise, Edward Woodward enters the final season as the head of Center 'Mr Jones' who turns out to be Nikita's father....

Callan in the archives

The Armchair Theatre play exists as a film recording of the original black-and-white video broadcast. The first two series (or seasons) were recorded in black-and-white video, with filmed inserts, and several episodes from these have been lost or wiped.

All of the colour episodes exist, and the 1970 series was released on DVD in the UK in 2001. Unfortunately the episodes were edited to remove captions which would have led into the commercial breaks in the original transmission. This resulted in some awkward visual and audio jump cuts. The 1974 movie was released on DVD separately.

Both the 1970 and 1972 series have had Region 4 DVD releases by [ Umbrella Entertainment] . The 1972 series also includes the movie.

The DVD releases of the movie include an interview, recorded in 2000, with Edward Woodward.

Other Regular Characters

*'Lonely' - Russell Hunter.
*Toby Meres - Peter Bowles ('A Magnum for Schneider' only), Anthony Valentine, Peter Egan (film only).
*'Hunter' - Ronald Radd, Michael Goodliffe, Derek Bond, William Squire, Eric Porter (film only).
*Cross - Patrick Mower.
*Liz, Hunter's Secretary - Lisa Langdon, Veronica Lang (film only).
*Snell - Clifford Rose.


Pilot Episode

*Armchair Theatre: 'A Magnum for Schneider' (4 February, 1967)

eries One

*'The Good Ones Are All Dead' (8 July, 1967)
*'Goodbye, Nobby Clarke' (15 July, 1967)
*'The Death of Robert E Lee' (22 July, 1967)
*'Goodness Burns Too Bright' (29 July, 1967)
*'But He's a Lord, Mr Callan' (5 August, 1967)
*'You Should Have Got Here Sooner' (12 August, 1967)

eries Two

*'Red Knight, White Knight' (8 January, 1969)
*'The Most Promising Girl of Her Year' (15 January, 1969)
*'You're Under Starter's Orders' (22 January, 1969)
*'Little Bits and Pieces of Love' (29 January, 1969)
*'Let's Kill Everybody' (5 February, 1969)
*'Heir Apparent' (12 February, 1969)
*'Land of Light and Peace' (19 February, 1969)
*'Blackmailers Should Be Discouraged' (26 February, 1969)
*'Death of a Friend' (5 March, 1969)
*'Jack-On-Top' (12 March, 1969)
*'Once a Big Man, Always a Big Man' (19 March, 1969)
*'The Running Dog' (26 March, 1969)
*'The Worst Soldier I Ever Saw' (2 April, 1969)
*'Nice People Die at Home' (9 April, 1969)
*'Death of a Hunter' (16 April, 1969)

eries Three

*'Where Else Could I Go?' (8 April, 1970)
*'Summoned to Appear' (15 April, 1970)
*'The Same Trick Twice' (22 April, 1970)
*'A Village Called G' (13 May, 1970)
*'Suddenly - at Home' (20 May, 1970)
*'Act of Kindness' (27 May, 1970)
*'God Help Your Friends' (3 June, 1970)
*'Breakout' (10 June, 1970)
*'Amos Green Must Live' (24 June, 1970)

eries Four

*'That'll Be the Day' (1 March, 1972)
*'Call Me Sir!' (8 March, 1972)
*'First Refusal' (15 March, 1972)
*'Rules of the Game' (22 March, 1972)
*'If He Can, So Could I' (29 March, 1972)
*'None of Your Business' (5 April, 1972)
*'Charlie Says It's Goodbye' (12 April, 1972)
*'I Never Wanted the Job' (19 April, 1972)
*'The Carrier' (26 April, 1972)
*'The Contract' (3 May, 1972)
*'The Richmond File: Call Me Enemy' (10 May, 1972)
*'The Richmond File: Do You Recognise the Woman?' (17 May, 1972)
*'The Richmond File: A Man Like Me' (24 May, 1972)

Reunion Episode

*'Wet Job' (2 September, 1981)

The Novels

*"A Magnum for Schneider" - also published as "Red File for Callan" and "Callan" - (1969)
*"Russian Roulette" (1973)
*"Death and Bright Water" (1974)
*"Smear Job" (1975)
*"Bonfire Night" (2002)

External links

* [ British Film Institute Screen Online]

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