Callan – Wet Job

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The television series Callan seemed to have come to a pretty permanent end with A Man Like Me in 1972, but that wouldn’t be the last we’d hear of David Callan.  First came the 1974 movie, adapted by James Mitchell from his 1969 novel Red File for Callan, which in turn had been based on his 1967 Armchair Theatre pilot A Magnum for Schneider.  Despite the rehashed plot, the film probably works better as a coda to the television series than it did as an introduction (since it features a retired Callan brought back, unwillingly, for one final mission).

Mitchell would continue to pen a number of novels featuring Callan (Russian Roulette, Death and Bright Water and Smear Job) during the 1970’s, which suggested that he felt there were still stories to tell.  So it wasn’t too much of a surprise when David Callan returned to television in 1981, in a one-off eighty minute ATV play entitled Wet Job.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t the conclusion that anybody – not James Mitchell, Edward Woodward, Russell Hunter or indeed the audience – deserved.

Before we look at what didn’t work, let’s consider the positives.  Nearly a decade has passed since the events of A Man Like Me and Callan is a changed man.  Physically he looks older (he has grey hair and glasses) and he’s also somewhat better dressed than he used to be.  It would have been easy enough for Woodward to dye his hair, put in contact lenses and pretend that no time at all had passed, but there’s something pleasing in the way that Mitchell acknowledges that he’s not the man he was.

Callan, now lodging in a plush house owned by Margaret Channing (Angela Browne), also moves in more rarefied circles than before and jokes with one of Margaret’s party guests that he hasn’t killed anybody for years.  This throwaway moment is touched upon later, when he has a rare spasm of self doubt – after being dragged back into Section business against his will he has to face that fact that he may be forced to kill again, but can he do so?  This is an interesting point, but alas it’s never really developed – which given the lengthy running time is a disappointment.  We do get flashes of an older, wearier Callan, but it shouldn’t come as any surprise that when the firing starts he’s still as deadly as ever.

The main joy of Wet Job is the reunion of Callan and Lonely.  The obvious respect shared by Woodward and Hunter is plain to see and this means that their scenes together are wonderfully entertaining.  Again, Mitchell is keen to show how time has moved on – Lonely is now a man of means with a successful business and an impending marriage.  We never see his fiancé, but Callan’s reaction to her photograph indicates that Lonely’s a lucky man.

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My favourite moment of the story comes during Callan and Lonely’s first meeting.  Lonely admits that Margaret is quite a looker, although he goes on to say that she’s rather old (after all, she won’t see forty again).  Callan, who sometimes shares her bed, is rather affronted by this, asking Lonely how old his fiancé is.  When he’s told she’s twenty seven it’s yet another indication that Lonely’s far removed from the man we knew.

He makes that point himself – it’s not the old days anymore and he has no wish to get dragged back into Callan’s illegal activities.  There’s something a little tragic in the way that Callan admits there’s no-one else he could ask (the power dynamic in that relationship has certainly shifted).  In plot terms, Lonely does nothing of significance but the story would have been much poorer had he not been there.

Hugh Walters as the latest Hunter is also a plus.  Walters had a habit of playing effete characters and his Hunter is no different (it’s a little jarring to hear Hunter refer to Callan as “dear heart”).  Much may have changed, but the Section is still a cheerless and impersonal place and the lengthy early scene between Callan and Hunter is another highlight (even if, as we’ll come to soon, the incidental music does its best to destroy the mood).

Wet Job has two main plot-threads.  The first concerns Daniel Haggerty (George Sewell), an ex-MP who blames Callan for the death of his daughter and is writing his memoirs which threaten to expose Callan as a government assassin.  Margaret’s niece, Lucy Robson Smith (Helen Bourne), is helping Haggerty with the book and she’s also attempting to ensure that a dissident Russian philosopher, Dobrovsky (Milos Kerek), gains safe passage to the UK.

It’ll come as no surprise to learn that Hunter (who called Callan in to warn him about Haggerty’s book) hasn’t told him everything, but because both plot-lines are so drawn out it’s probable that eventually the audience will cease to care.  Sewell’s solid enough as Haggerty, but apart from one scene early on, he’s kept apart from Callan until the very end.  Kerek makes little impression as Dobrovsky, so it’s hard to feel invested in his fate.

There are a few nods to the past – Hunter tells Callan that Meres is dead (this may be a joke though) and Callan has a brief reunion with Liz.  But since Liz is now played by Felicity Harrison rather than Lisa Langdon, it rather falls flat.

Wet Job was shot entirely on videotape.  This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem (quite a few of the Thames Callan episodes were as well) but everything looks dull and lifeless – when the early 1970’s VT Callan‘s look sharper and more vibrant than this 1981 effort you know you’re in trouble.

The worst thing about Wet Job is, of course, the music.  Firstly, it’s a shame that Jack Trombey’s iconic library track – used as the series’ theme – wasn’t pressed into service again, but that’s a minor irritation compared to the horrors of Cyril Ornadel’s incidental score.  If the music could be removed then there’s no doubt that my appreciation of the story would increase considerably.  Any time that Ornadel can spoil the mood he does so – tinkling piano, electronica, it’s a masterclass in awfulness.

There are so many examples, but I’ll restrict myself to three. The first meeting between Callan and Hunter is a cracking scene, but what it didn’t need was a heavy piano underscore.  Watch from 17:20 as the camera focuses on Callan, musing how he’ll never be free of the Section, without the music this moment would play so much better.  The end of episode one (from 26:00) as Haggerty confronts Callan is another time when the intrusive music is simply breath-taking.  And the moment when Haggerty discusses Callan with Lucy (55:50) is just a cacophony of noise – electric piano, twanging guitar – that builds to a crescendo until (at 56:22) it suddenly and unexpectedly stops and the relief is blessed ….

There was a decent fifty minute episode here, but unfortunately it was expanded to eighty.  Edward Woodward and Russell Hunter are their usual immaculate selves, but it’s sad to say that this is a very average story.  There was plenty of scope to really dig into Callan’s character – showing that whilst he may now have a veneer of respectability, underneath the darkness still lurks – but sadly Mitchell didn’t go down that route.  And any goodwill that the audience has towards the project is surely slowly sapped as Cyril Ornadel’s music drones on and on (he certainly should have gone into a Red File).

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Callan: This Man Alone – Network DVD Review

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Callan: This Man Alone is a three disc set released in 2015 by Network.  The feature attraction, This Man Alone, is an exhaustive 130 minute documentary which covers every aspect of the character – from the Armchair Theatre pilot, the four series, the spin-off short stories and novels, the 1974 film and the not terribly well received one-off revival in 1981.

A host of key personnel who worked on the series (both in front of and behind the cameras) – Reginald Collin, Mike Vardy, James Goddard, Piers Haggard, Patrick Mower, Trevor Preston, Clifford Rose, Robert Banks Stewart, Ray Jenkins – were interviewed for the documentary, whilst Dick Fiddy is on hand to set Callan in its cultural and historical context.  Another very enlightening interviewee is Peter Mitchell, the son of Callan‘s creator, James Mitchell.  The pride he feels in his father’s legacy is palpable and, like the others, he has plenty to contribute.

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Although a number of people, including James Mitchell, Edward Woodward, William Squire and Russell Hunter, are no longer with us, they are represented via archive material.  This is mainly derived from a series of audio interviews conducted in 1987.  Presumably these were intended for transcribing purposes and not for broadcast as they’re a little indistinct in places.  Although Woodward sadly passed away before the documentary came to fruition, there’s still a family connection as This Man Alone is narrated by Peter Woodward, Edward Woodward’s son.

All of the key parts of the production – developing a series from the pilot, casting the regulars (and in the case of Hunter, numerous re-castings), moving from ABC to Thames, from black and white into colour, the public’s reception of the show and the decision to bring it to an end – are all covered.  Possibly the only aspect that I was surprised wasn’t discussed concerns the reasons for writing out Cross, Patrick Mower’s character, in series four (I’ve always assumed it was done in order to facilitate the return of Meres, played by Anthony Valentine).

Although the pair do have a brief cross-over period, it seems that once Valentine was available again (he’d declined to appear in series three) it was decided to write out Mower.  It would have been interesting to hear from Mower as to whether he thought that was the case, or if he was happy to leave on a high (his final story certainly was a dramatic one).

Unlike some series, Callan seems to have been a very harmonious production, so there aren’t too many story of back-stage bust ups.  The second Hunter, Michael Goodliffe, found the role not to his liking and was quickly written out, whilst Woodward wasn’t entirely sure that promoting Callan to Hunter in series four was a good idea, but that’s about it.

With an additional twenty five minutes of interview footage that didn’t fit into the documentary, disc one is as comprehensive as you’d might hope.

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Disc two has new transfers of two episodes, the Armchair Theatre pilot  A Magnum for Schneider and the first story of series one, The Good Ones Are All Dead.  The previously issued version of A Magnum for Schneider came from the transmission tape, but since the story was transferred to film prior to transmission (a not uncommon practice for VT programmes at the time, as it offered more flexibility for editing) Network were able to locate the original film recording and have produced a new transfer from it.  Both episodes offer a considerable upgrade on the previous versions issued on DVD.

Also on disc two is the complete studio tape for The Worst Soldier I Ever Saw.  Running to 78 minutes, this offers the viewer a unique chance to see how an episode of Callan was recorded, as all the takes and re-takes are included.  To be honest it sounds more interesting than it actually is, but it’s obviously nice to have.

Disc three has a real curio – the only surviving episode of The Edward Woodward Hour.  It’s taken from a domestic recording, so the picture quality isn’t quite broadcast standard, but that’s no problem.  It offers us a chance to see Woodward flex his singing muscles and the unforgettable comedy sketch in which Callan and Lonely meet the cast of Father Dear Father!  This bizarre encounter is touched upon in the documentary, with both Edward Woodward and Russell Hunter (especially Hunter) remembering it with a distinct lack of fondness.  Amusing or toe-curling?  I think that’s up to personal taste.

Semi-mute rushes of James Mitchell from 1969, recorded for A World of My Own, are also featured on disc three, but the main attraction is the extensive PDF archive.  All the scripts for the series are included (many of the early ones have both rehearsal and camera versions) whilst there’s also the original series outline, publicity material, audience research, etc.  There’s certainly a wealth of reading here and most importantly it’s lovely to be able to read the scripts for those episodes which are missing from the archives.

Whilst Callan: This Man Alone might feel like a three disc set of special features, if you have all of Network’s previous Callan releases (the monochrome series, the colour series, Wet Job, Andrew Pixley’s book) then it’s the perfect companion piece.  Quite why all these individual elements haven’t been collected into a boxset is a slight mystery, but no matter – if you love the series then it’s a very worthwhile purchase.

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Callan – The Richmond File: A Man Like Me

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Written by James Mitchell. Directed by Reginald Collin

A Man Like Me opens with Hunter under extreme pressure to locate Richmond.  He tells Meres that he’s offered fifty thousand pounds to any freelancer who can find him, but as yet there’s nothing.  Quite why Hunter should be so keen to run him to ground isn’t clear.  Richmond did kill Flo in the previous episode, but since she was a fellow Russian agent that can’t be the reason why they want him so badly.

Snell suggests using a computer to locate Richmond.  Today, of course, that would be the first thing they’d do, but back in the early 1970’s it would have been a much more novel idea.  Hunter is initially reluctant – but he eventually appreciates that a computer could cross-check all the available information they have on Richmond (and suggest likely people who would assist him) much quicker than a team of people could.  Meres tells Hunter that the FBI computer in Washington could produce half a dozen suspects out of million possibilities in six seconds – although the British computer will take a little longer (a day).

Callan keeps fairly quiet during this exchange, although he does close the scene by wondering if human beings are becoming redundant.  Hunter and Snell’s visit to the computer, run by the boffin Routledge (Peter Sallis), is an eye-opener.  It’s located in the sort of area that’s quite typical for computers of this period – a windowless room packed with shelves of magnetic tapes.  Routledge is very proud of Edna (Electronic Distributed Numbers Assessor) although Hunter still remains jaded – his only interaction with computers has been when he receives his bank statements, which is why he’s not confident!

Edna eventually spits out a list of nine possible people that Richmond could contact.  The one that he’s actually visited is Harris (Robin Ellis).  Harris has been a sleeper agent since the mid sixties and this is the first time he’s been called on to do anything.  The arrival of Richmond out of the blue is obviously unwelcome, but he has little choice but to obey.  Ellis (later the star of Poldark) starts by sporting a lovely tanktop, which, perhaps thankfully, he changes shortly afterwards.

Callan’s dislike for computers only increases when Hunter tells him that he’s been named as one of the nine possible contacts.  A running theme during the Richmond trilogy is how alike Callan and Richmond are – which is one of the reasons why the computer has linked them together.  But to be fair to the computer it did also come up with Harris’ name, although Callan also tracked him down the old-fashioned way (by pounding the streets, asking questions).

Callan seems confident that Richmond is holed up in Harris’ house, although the way they attempt to flush him out is odd (to say the least).  Firstly, they lure Harris away, drug him, and then bring him back.  By the time they return it’s not surprising that Richmond has left – so it’s difficult to understand why they didn’t simply stake-out the house and wait for Richmond to leave.

Hunter has a lead – Richmond’s likely to be at a Russian Vodka factory, waiting for a ship to take him out of the country.  Although the majority of Callan‘s location work was shot on videotape, all of the factory scenes (which take up most of part three) are shot on film and this does help to give the sequences an extra sheen.  But it does seem more than a little contrived that Callan has to go to the factory alone (apart from Lonely) since Hunter can’t spare anybody else.  It helps to make the final showdown between Callan and Richmond more tense, but it’s a pity that it was set up in a rather artificial way.

Callan is a man who rarely shows fear – at the end of If He Can, So Could I he told Lonely how he had to constantly maintain an aura of hardness – but here he does show a twinge before he enters the factory.  This scene is notable for Lonely calling Callan by his first name – something he hardly ever did, which demonstrates that Lonely has picked up Callan’s sense of unease.

There’s a nice nod to the iconic title sequence as Callan shoots a light-bulb (although it’s not swinging).  He then proceeds to stalk Richmond through the factory, eventually shooting him just after Richmond looses off a shot at Lonely.  Richmond is still alive, but begs Callan to finish him off – he doesn’t want to end up in Snell’s hands.

Callan may be a killer, but he’s always been a reluctant one.  To murder somebody in cold blood – and who’s asking to die as well – is clearly hard, but he does it (although he closes his eyes as he pulls the trigger).  Woodward and Hunter then share a lovely scene together, in which Lonely decides that after all they’ve been through they’re now pretty much equal – although he still ranks Callan as his friend, indeed the only friend he has.  In some ways, this points towards the restructured relationship that we’d see in the comeback episode The Wet Job (1981).

Hunter promises to break Callan for deliberately killing Richmond but Callan tells him that he’s too late and walks away.  Callan’s future therefore remains uncertain – we’ve seen before how leaving the Section isn’t an option, so it seems inevitable that Hunter will now place him in a Red File.

Although A Man Like Me was the final regular episode, it wasn’t quite the end of the story.  There would be a film two years later (based on the original Armchair Theatre story A Magnum for Schneider). And in some ways the story does work better as a postscript to the series (since it deals with Callan being brought back into the Section after leaving) as it did when it was a prologue.

Alas, the story didn’t end there as in 1981 a one-off television special was broadcast (the aforementioned The Wet Job).  Although it was written by Mitchell and starred Woodward and Hunter, it was in so many ways a massive disappointment.  It’ll be something that I’ll rewatch in due course, but it seems wrong to do so immediately after the end of A Man Like Me.

A Man Like Me offers no happy ending or comfortable closure, just the image of Callan walking out into an uncertain future.  Callan is a series that may be superficially dated in certain aspects, but the core themes of deceit and dubious morality remain just as relevant today.  Thanks to the magnetic central performance by Edward Woodward and the impressive supporting cast headed by Russell Hunter it’s a programme that’s still so compelling – nearly fifty years after the Armchair Theatre pilot first aired.

Callan – The Richmond File: Do You Recognise The Woman?

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Written by Bill Craig. Directed by Peter Duguid

Richmond makes contact with two sleeper agents, Dowsett (John Moore) and Norah (Sheila Fay).  Dowsett is a radio operator whose job is to ensure that Richmond’s messages are relayed back to Moscow.

This is one of the most obvious ways that Do You Recognise The Woman? can be dated to the early 1970’s.  Today it would be the matter of a few seconds to send an email to a location anywhere in the world – back then communications were much more limited.  Dowsett’s receiver is deliberately not very powerful (the greater its range, the easier it would be for the British to detect it) and they also have to rely a Russian trawler being close at hand.  When the trawler is in position it can pick up Dowsett’s Morse message and relay it onto Moscow.

This part of the story does have a rather WW2 feel about it, since it appears this type of technology has stayed the same for decades.  It’s a frustrating time for Meres, who’s been cooped up in a television detector van for the past week.  The van has been reconnoitering the area, constantly on the lookout for any suspect transmissions, but Meres ironically mentions that they’ve achieved very little – except panicking people to rush to the post office to renew their television licences!

With it proving difficult to track Richmond down this way, the Section try a different tack.  Flo Mayhew (Sarah Lawson) was a Russian spy arrested in the episode Call Me Sir! and both Callan and Hunter believe she can lead them straight to Richmond.  Flo is currently in prison and is looking at a sentence of some fourteen years.  Callan and Flo had an uneasy relationship in Call Me Sir! (which wasn’t really surprising since Flo was coordinating an attempt on his life) and it continues in this episode.

If the radio transmitter used by Dowsett seems like a relic of a different age, then so does the prison where Flo is currently incarcerated.  Due to Callan‘s regular use of VT for outside broadcast shooting it’s not clear whether the prison was a well-designed studio set or shot on location.  Either way, it has a very bleak and Victorian institutional feel – enhanced by the uniform of the warder (played by Bella Emberg).

Although Callan tells Hunter that he has no qualms about using Flo to serve their purposes, as he spends more time with her he starts to unbend a little.  Later, they take a walk in the park (handcuffed of course – he doesn’t trust her that much) where she muses that “people like us, you and me. Are we really committed to any cause or do we just do what comes naturally and enjoy the game?”

Hunter and Bishop demonstrate their ability as arch manipulators.  They’ve allowed Flo to have a taste of freedom and she’s also been told that she’ll be exchanged for another prisoner (similar to the Callan/Richmond handover in That’ll Be The Day). But after expressing their regret, they inform her that the Americans have asked them not to continue – so she’ll be going back to prison.

To have the prospect of freedom suddenly taken away creates the correct psychological atmosphere to enable them to make their intended play – Richmond’s location.  If Callan had initially approached her with this request it seems obvious she would have refused.  But now, with her hopes raised and dashed, she should be more pliable.  Callan’s expression makes it clear that whilst this might be necessary, he doesn’t have to like it.

But in Callan nothing can ever be taken for granted and Flo isn’t quite the broken woman she appears to be.  She manages to overpower Callan and leaves him handcuffed in the bathroom (much to Meres’ amusement).  Flo’s able to make contact with Richmond, but both he and Norah are suspicious – is she now working for the British?

The last minute twist that Richmond and Flo have a daughter has all the more impact when he executes her shortly after.  Part of him might believe she hadn’t been turned by the Section (as well as the personal regard he felt for her) but his duty to the KGB overrides everything else.

Four characters dominate this episode – Callan/Flo and Richmond/Norah.  Given that we later learn of Flo’s links to Richmond, it’s possibly not surprising (and obviously intentional) that Flo tells Callan they have more in common with each other than they do with their respective employers.  In some ways the Callan/Flo interaction is similar to the sparring between Callan and Richmond.  Both are so steeped in deceit that it’s difficult to know when to believe them – but it’s evident that her death does affect him.

In this episode we see a Richmond effortlessly in command (although his ultimate objective is still nebulous).  His decisions are questioned by his subordinate Norah though and it’s the tension between them which gives T.P. McKenna’s scenes a certain spark.

Do You Recognise The Woman? moves the Callan/Richmond story on, although they don’t actually meet in this one.  But there’s a sense that their story is entering its final chapter as we reach the episode A Man Like Me.

Callan – The Richmond File: Call Me Enemy

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Written by George Markstein. Directed by Bill Bain

Call Me Enemy, the first in a trilogy of stories which closed Callan‘s fourth and final series, sees the return of the KGB agent Richmond (played by T.P. McKenna, who had previously appeared in the series four opener That’ll Be The Day).  Richmond is, in some ways, Callan’s opposite and equal and this might be the reason why Hunter has decided to leave him in his care.

We open with Lonely driving the pair of them down to a palatial country house, where Callan and Richmond will stay until their business is concluded.  All the rooms are wired for sound, which means that every word is recorded and relayed to Hunter back in London.  Richmond is well aware of this, hence his ironic toast “to the British taxpayer” as he and Callan tuck into a particularly fine meal (with some decent wine).  For Hunter, listening to their exchanges back in London (and with only a sandwich) it’s rather galling!

Jarrow (Brian Croucher) has been seconded to the Section to maintain the recording equipment.  His long hair appalls the highly traditional Hunter, who’s astonished to discover that Jarrow was formerly a captain in the Royal Signals.

Why is Richmond speaking to the British?  He doesn’t want to defect, but he does want to fade away.  Richmond asks Callan if he’s ever “wanted just to disappear. Have you never got tired of the whole business? Had just one wish, to forget and be forgotten.”  He has something to sell.  Whilst he has no intention of betraying his own people, he’s happy to reveal the identity of a mole within the Section.

George Markstein had story-edited the first thirteen episodes of The Prisoner (he’s the man behind the desk in the title sequence) and following his departure from that series joined Thames as a writer and story editor.  Apart from serving as Callan‘s story editor during the third and fourth series, he worked on several other series, including Special Branch, in the same capacity.  He always had an interest in spy and espionage stories (he would later write several episodes of the mid eighties series Mr Palfrey of Westminster, which had something of a Callan feel) so it’s rather surprising that this was the only episode of Callan that he wrote.

Call Me Enemy is a character piece and it’s very much a two-hander with Woodward and McKenna both excelling.  Richmond is an arch dissembler – he’s made a career out of lying, so how much credence can we place on his claims of there being a traitor in the Section?  Possibly he’s only here in order to sow dissent and confusion.

This seems to be working as he starts to needle Callan.  Richmond claims to do what he does out of strong ideological convictions, whilst Callan does it because “it’s a job.”  Richmond decides that Callan owes the Section everything.  “Your father was on the dole, you never had a decent schooling. The army even took away your medal. You owe them a lot, don’t you?”  This section of the story offers a brief insight into Callan’s earlier life (something that’s rarely been mentioned before) with Richmond asserting that the Section blackmailed him into joining.  It’s notable that Callan doesn’t contradict him.

We also learn something of Mere’s backstory.  He was an officer in the Brigade of Guards, but was kicked out after the death of a private soldier.  However, his father (a Lord no less) was able to pull some strings and ensure that he wasn’t court-martialed.

Richmond names Meres as the mole and makes a compelling case.  Meres’ sudden appearance comes as something of a surprise – has he come to silence Richmond, Callan or both of them?  But it becomes clear that Meres is there with Hunter’s blessing.  So if Richmond is playing an elaborate game it appears the Section is doing so as well, although Callan’s life is very much at risk.  Hunter seems sanguine about this, but it’s telling that Bishop is much more agitated.  He rates Callan as the Section’s best man and doesn’t want to lose him.

In the closing minutes, Richmond asks Callan to defect. “For people like you and me, safety can only be found amongst our enemies. It’s our friends who will kill us.” They seem on the verge of leaving together, when Richmond knocks Callan out and escapes on his own.

Meres congratulates Callan.  He believes that Richmond hadn’t convinced Callan and so decided to cut his losses and leave.   What does Callan believe?  He seemed very keen to leave with Richmond – was this simply part of the plan, or did he genuinely see an exit?  Like so much of the episode, it’s open to interpretation and this is one of the reasons why Call Me Enemy is an episode that only gets better with each rewatch.

Callan – The Contract

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Written by Bill Craig. Directed by Reginald Collin

Callan, Meres and Lonely are keeping Major Harcourt (Robert Urquhart) under observation.  Harcourt was an officer and is still a gentlemen, but these days he earns his living as a hit-man.  He’s worked for the Section in the past (which will become important later on) but his current contract is very much against the Section’s interests.

Harcourt has been hired to kill a nameless Field Marshall from a nameless country (we never learn any more details than this, but the actual assassination isn’t the point of the story).  Although he’s slightly over the hill he’s still a professional – and therefore dangerous – so Callan and Meres approach with care.

It’s quite interesting that both Meres and Callan are captured by Harcourt at different points in the episode and that they also exhibit a certain amount of fear as Harcourt threatens them with death.  Early in the episode Meres shadows him but ends up as his prisoner.  Callan’s able to overpower him though, but their victory is short-lived as Harcourt escapes.

This isn’t a particularly good episode from the point of view of demonstrating how efficient the Section is.  Meres is captured and then both Callan and Meres lose Harcourt.  It’s all a bit sloppy really and not quite what we’ve come to expect.

Harcourt being at large does cause a problem, but Hunter presses on with his plan of allowing Callan to impersonate the Major.  To do this Callan asks Meres for his coat (which he gives up with a little reluctance!).  Callan’s not really officer and gentleman material, so it would have been more logical for Meres to undertake the masquerade.  But since Callan’s impersonation of Harcourt is the centre of the episode it’s not surprising that Woodward features (and he’s excellent, of course).

It turns out that Harcourt is one of three assassins, all of whom will take four hour shifts.  They know that the Field Marshall will pass a certain window at the Embassy some time over the next few days, but they don’t know exactly when – which is why they require more than one shooter.

This is where the plot starts to feel a little contrived.  One of the other assassins is Lafarge (Michael Pennington).  Lafarge harbours a grudge against Harcourt, since the Major (acting for the Section as a freelancer) killed his friend and partner some years previously.  It’s something of a coincidence that both Lafarge and Harcourt should be selected for the same job – plus it’s also a little difficult to believe that Lafarge knew the identity of his friend’s killer.  And even this is negated at the end when Meres tells Callan that the Major missed and he did the killing anyway.  So why did Lafarge believe it was Harcourt rather than Meres?

Also present is Kristina (Jane Lapotaire).  Kristina claims to be a member of the country’s resistance and wishes to kill the Field Marshall purely for ideological reasons.  Callan gently baits her about this, whilst Lafarge remains aloof.  Indeed, Callan doesn’t get on with either Lafarge or Kristina (Lafarge is young and arrogant, and Callan delights in rubbing him up the wrong way).

Events get more complicated when Harcourt turns up and we see genuine fear from Callan (quite a rarity) as Harcourt comes close to killing him. It doesn’t happen of course, as Lafarge kills the Major first.  It’s a great pity that as the camera switches to a close-up of what should be Harcourt’s lifeless body, we see Robert Urquhart’s eyes move.  Presumably there was no time for a second take.

It turns out that Kristina isn’t all she appears – she’s working for the same party that the Field Marshall belongs to.  Since he’s become too soft and conciliatory they see a chance to kill two birds with one stone – remove the Field Marshall and tarnish the reputation of the resistance groups operating in the UK.

It’s the interaction between Callan/Lafarge/Kristina as all three are holed up in the attic, waiting for the call to kill the Field Marshall, that’s the stand-out part of the episode.  Edward Woodward has two very good actors to bounce off against – Michael Pennington and Jane Lapotaire.  Both have enjoyed lengthy and successful careers – Pennington is a notable Shakespeare actor (who also has plenty of film credits, including Return of the Jedi, to his name) whilst Lapotaire has an equally impressive cv.  They have to sport foreign accents, which can potentially be a problem, but they do so with aplomb.

Apart from this, there’s the usual banter between Callan and Lonely as well as some nice byplay between Callan and Meres.  The tension that existed between the two of them during the time that Callan was Hunter seems to have now dissipated.

Although The Contract does feel a little insubstantial (probably due to the low-stakes feel of the story) the performances help to carry it along.

Callan – The Carrier

carrier

Written by Peter Hill. Directed by Jonathan Alwyn

The Carrier opens with Callan and Lonely indulging in a spot of breaking and entering.  This was something they did on a regular basis during the first three series, but this episode marks the first time they’ve indulged during series four.

What’s very noticeable about this section of the story (which lasts for the first fifteen minutes) is that neither of them speaks a word.  It’s reasonable enough that they would want to keep noise to a minimum, but the complete lack of dialogue was presumably Peter Hill’s choice.  And it does help to make what would otherwise be a fairly routine sequence slightly more interesting.

Lonely’s cab is parked right outside and this will lead to both of them getting arrested.  As they continue to work inside the house, outside we see a policeman take an interest in the parked cab.  Bizarrely, he’s able to open the door (did neither of them think to lock it?) and he then proceeds to spend the next few minutes walking around it.

It’s not entirely clear why the cab should be of such interest.  Did no cab driver ever park their vehicle outside their house?  If this was an usual sight on a London street in the early 1970’s then it probably would have been wiser for Callan to have used an unmarked car, rather than something so distinctive as a black cab.

As Callan and Lonely work on, we cut back to the Section where Hunter explains to Meres (and the viewers) exactly what’s going on.  The house belongs to Professor Rose (Peter Copley), a notable scientist who intends to hand over the plans of a new radar network to the Russians.  The Professor is a familiar character-type from television drama of this era – the misguided scientist.  He’s not selling secrets for personal gain, he simply wants to ensure that all sides have access to the same knowledge.  This doesn’t cut any ice with Callan who later tells him that “you’re not even a real traitor are you? You’re just a woolly headed do-gooder trying to play god.”

Everything seems to go off fine – Callan photographs the documents that the Professor is intending to hand over to his contact (who he believes is a Dutch bookseller called Amstell, but is actually a KGB hitman called Tamaresh) and returns to the Section.  But Lonely took a fancy to a small trophy in the Professor’s study and steals it.  When the Professor returns home the next day he notices that it’s missing and calls the police.

This is a part of the plot which stretches credibility a little.  It might have been possible to believe that the series one Lonely would have been so foolish, but not the series four Lonely.  Since the police have a record of the cab parked outside the Professor’s house they put two and two together and pick up Lonely and Callan.

Callan and Lonely aren’t in police custody for long though, as they’re bailed out by Detective Superintendent Brown (Windsor Davies) of Special Branch.  This disgusts Detective Inspector Vanstone (Michael Turner), the officer in charge of investigating the break-in.  Vanstone might accept that people like Callan are necessary to defend the security of the realm, but it’s the type of person he is (an ex-con) which seems to upset him the most.

Hunter’s far from pleased, since he had to ask Special Branch to release Callan and Lonely.  This then develops into the major theme of the remainder of the episode – the uneasy relationship between the Section and Special Branch.  Both organisations operate in similar areas, which often means that their interests overlap – but neither Hunter or Brown would dream of pooling information with the other.  This, as we’ll see, will have tragic consequences.

Special Branch also have an interest in Tamaresh (Ralph Nossek).  Two officers, Mary (Jean Rogers) and Allan (Roy Herrick) are assigned to tail him, but it’s clear that neither know who he really is.  We see Callan and Meres monitoring their radio transmissions as they follow Tamaresh to Epping Forest and both Section men know that the officers are going to their deaths.  They could have warned them, but since they shouldn’t have been monitoring their radio in this first place it’s not surprising that they didn’t.

Tamaresh quickly kills Allan (who followed him into the wood) and then emerges to find Mary.  Whilst he killed Allan without speaking, he’s slightly more sadistic with Mary – he tells her that her partner’s dead and lets the news of that sink in before he kills her as well.

When Callan realises that Special Branch had no idea who they were trailing, he launches an angry tirade against Hunter.  Hunter’s unmoved though – the Section doesn’t share information with other departments and that’s an end to it.  It’s an attitude which Callan finds hard to take – at least when he goes up against men like Tamaresh he knows what to expect, but the two unarmed police officers (who Callan says were little more than kids) never had a chance.  Hunter orders Callan to kill Tamaresh (which he naturally does) and the Professor is brought in.  Nothing will happen to him, but he’ll have to live the rest of his life knowing that nobody will ever trust him again.

Peter Hill’s only script for Callan is a decent effort, although several parts of the story (Lonely’s cab and his light-fingered pilfering) do detract a little. It’s possibly no surprise that the police feature strongly in this episode since Hill had worked for the Metropolitan Police for thirteen years, ending up as a Detective Inspector in the Murder Squad.  He left the police in 1969 to pursue a writing career and by this time had already contributed to several popular series, such as Public Eye, Armchair Theatre and Special Branch.

Since there was no real need for Callan and Lonely to be arrested, it might have been better to remove those scenes from the script (it wouldn’t have affected the later conflict with Special Branch).  But it does give us another one of those wonderful scenes where Callan browbeats Lonely.  When Lonely calls, Callan is unblocking the sink (another thing you never see James Bond doing) and Callan proceeds to berate Lonely whilst waving a sink plunger at him!