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.

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