Friday, 13 January 2012

Edward Woodward is Callan (1967)


Callan is the classic British television series set in the murky world of espionage. Originally produced by ABC Weekend Television and later Thames Television, it was aired on the ITV network over four seasons spread out between 1967 and 1972. The series starred the late, lamented Edward Woodward as David Callan, a reluctant professional killer for a shadowy branch of the British Government's intelligence services known as 'the Section'.
The series pilot episode aired in February 1967, in a play entitled A Magnum for Schneider by James Mitchell. Mitchell also created the equally popular When the Boat Comes In (1976–81). The haunted character of Callan caught the public's imagination to such an extent that a six-episode series was commissioned, later in the same year.
The series ran from 1967 to 1972, proving popular with audiences. A cinema film followed in 1974, directed by Don Sharp and simply entitled Callan. Callan was last seen in the 1981 feature-length television story made by ATV, entitled Wet Job.
Callan has been fired from an anonymous government agency known as "The Section" which is run by Colonel Hunter. ("Hunter" is a pseudonym for the current Section Chief, like the C of CIS.) The Section removes those who pose a danger to the "innocent" by persuasion, blackmail, extortion or death.
David Callan had been the Section's top operator but he had become too curious about his targets and the rationale for their removal. The Section considered him vulnerable, volatile and dangerous and had laid him off to a dead-end book-keeping job for an ungrateful employer. Callan is where Hunter can keep an eye on him and also in daily, casual and unknowing contact with his next victim. If he can kill Schneider after making his acquaintance as a fellow war games enthusiast then he can kill anyone: this is the question to which Hunter urgently requires an answer.
Hunter describes Callan as "a dead shot, with the cold nerve to kill" and considers him far too useful to be allowed to retire. In this screenplay, Hunter invites Callan back to the Section to remove Schneider as a favour. Schneider's nefarious activities are known to the authorities but he is too clever to be caught by normal methods. Hunter wants Scheider eliminated but offers Callan no help from the Section—ostensibly to allow Callan to prove his loyalty and dedication. Hunter secretly sends Toby Meres to set Callan up to take the fall for the assassination, should this become necessary.
Callan's curiosity about his victims overwhelms him again and he investigates Schneider, discovering a massive gun-running operation. Satisfied, Callan formulates his plan. He calls on his petty criminal contact Lonely, played by Russell Hunter. Lonely is unsure of Callan's identity and motives but fearfully provides a "Noguchi .38 Magnum" plus 20 rounds (Callan returning the .38 revolver he had previously purchased from Lonely). Callan has a chance meeting with Schneider and finds common ground in their interest in model soldiers and war games.
At Schneider's house, where Callan and his host re-play a scenario from the Peninsular War and go on to recreate the the Battle of Gettysburg , Meres breaks in, distracting Callan. Hunter sends the police in order to ensure Callan is caught red-handed. Schneider, suspicious, uncovers Meres and holds the two men at gunpoint. Schneider searches Callan but misses the Magnum and Callan kills Schneider.
Meres attempts to finish the set-up but Callan knocks Meres unconscious. Callan phones Hunter about Schneider and says he will leave Meres to the police, quitting the Section. Hunter orders Callan's file to be changed to a red folder—targeting him for removal.
By 1969, ABC Weekend Television had, via enforced merger, become Thames Television. A second season of fifteen episodes that had already been completed by ABC was therefore transmitted by its successor. 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 with 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 than 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, played by T.P. McKenna, (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.
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 he 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.
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