Callan – The Worst Soldier I Ever Saw

tessa

Written by James Mitchell
Directed by Robert Tronson

Since Colonel Leslie (Ronald Radd) left the post of Hunter, he’s been working for the British government as an adviser on the Middle East.  One particular Middle Eastern country concerns him – it’s oil-rich, but there are indications that the Sultan is keen to expand his empire (which would mean encroaching on areas protected by the British).

The Sultan needs somebody to head his army though and he’s chosen Brigadier Pringle (Allan Cuthbertson).  This automatically puts Pringle in a red file and Callan is assigned to watch him.  He has a way in – it was Pringle who was responsible for Callan’s dismissal from the army.

Posing as a down-and-out, Callan catches the sympathy of Pringle’s daughter Sarah (Tessa Wyatt).  Pringle offers him a job as his valet, but he clearly could use a man like Callan in his new army.  Whilst Pringle might regard him as the worst solider he ever saw, that was only in peace-time.  In war, Callan would be a valuable asset.

The Worst Soldier I Ever Saw sheds some light on Callan’s life in the army.  Pringle’s description of him back then shows that he’s changed very little over the years.

SARAH: He must have been a very good soldier.
PRINGLE: Depends what you mean by a soldier. He was brave enough, certainly, but far too much of an individualist for the army. He always questioned orders, went his own way, that’s why he stayed a private. I made him up to corporal twice and I broke him twice. Finally I got him chucked out.
SARAH: So why do you bother now?
CALLAN: My dear, an army’s simply a device for killing the enemy. And as a killer, Callan was unequaled.

At the end of the episode, Callan is able to forcibly tell Pringle that “you bloody taught me how to kill, and when I got too rough, mate, you didn’t like it, did you?”.  The skills that Callan learnt in the army have subsequently been put to very good use by the Section.  This reinforces the notion that Callan is a man who’s trapped by his past and is therefore reluctantly forced to carry on fighting and killing (something he’s very good at).

Allan Cuthbertson was a familiar face from television and films and he’s characteristically solid as the autocratic Brigadier Pringle.  Tessa Wyatt is his idealistic daughter, who decides that she doesn’t want to follow him to the Middle East. Instead she’d sooner stay in Britain and help those less fortunate than herself.  They live in totally different worlds, he’s a solider through and through – as he admits, it’s the only thing he knows how to do – whilst she’s non-political and views the prospect of war with horror.  Their relationship helps to humanise Pringle as well as providing some dramatic tension.

The episode has some lighter moments – Edward Woodward is good value as a servile domestic who can’t help but let his more truculent nature shine though from time to time.  Anthony Valentine gets to play lower-class for a change, which is quite amusing.

Plot-wise, given that it’s clear from the outset that Pringle is keen to go to the Middle East, why didn’t the Section simply warn him off or take other, more permanent, measures?  As Meres says “there’s no need to speak to him nicely, he’s in a red file”.

The next episode (Nice People Die At Home) was held over from the first series, which explains why Ronald Radd pops up in this one.  As it would have been a bit odd to have a story where Radd returns as Hunter with no explanation, here he’s asked to take over temporarily whilst the current Hunter makes a trip to Russia.

This gives the episode a lovely final scene as Callan comes into the office and is confronted by his old nemesis. Callan’s relationship with Colonel Leslie was always very combative.  So as soon as he sees him, Callan asks for leave – which is refused.  Instead, he’s offered a choice of assignments – all of them in red files.

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