1990 – Series 2. Simply Media DVD Review

Broadcast between February and April 1978, series two of 1990 continued to chronicle Jim Kyle’s (Edward Woodward) fight against the all-powerful Public Control Department (PCD). My thoughts on series one can be found here.

Several key cast changes had been made since the conclusion of the first series. Although Robert Lang returned as PCD supremo Herbert Skardon, Clifton Jones and Barbara Kellerman (who played deputy PCD controllers Henry Tasker and Delly Lomas during S1) didn’t. It’s fairly easy to understand why Jones might have been dropped (Tasker was by far the least developed of the three and therefore often seemed to be surplus to requirements) but Kellerman’s absence was more perplexing.

The relationship between Kyle and Delly provided the first series with dramatic impetus (especially the “will they, won’t they” conundrum) and the introduction of the new deputy PCD controller, Lynn Blake (Lisa Harrow), could be seen as an attempt to replicate a similar relationship. Kyle and Lynn have a history – they used to be lovers – which instantly creates a source of tension, since her new job will inevitably bring her into direct conflict with Kyle.

Lisa Harrow & Edward Woodward

It’s possible that Lynn’s character was a hastily written replacement for Delly Lomas (maybe because Kellerman was unavailable for S2) otherwise it rather stretches credibility that Delly’s replacement was also someone whose relationship with Kyle had the same uneasy mix of business and pleasure.

Home Secretary Dan Mellor (John Savident) is another absentee, with Kate Smith (Yvonne Mitchell) taking his place. 1990 was Mitchell’s final television role (she died in 1979, aged 63). Although primarily a stage actress, she had notched up some notable film and television credits during her career – for example, Nigel Kneale’s 1954 adaptation of Nineteen Eighty Four in which she played Julia opposite Peter Cushing’s Winston Smith.

Series two kicked off with Wilfred Greatorex’s Pentagons. Kyle is now a member of Pentagon, one of a growing number of dissident groups. But whilst he favours non-violent action (“words have won more batttles than bullets”) others, such as Thomson (John Nolan), are more keen to fight fire with fire ….

Nolan (probably best known for his semi-regular role in Doomwatch) is one of a number of familar faces who pop up in this one – Barry Lowe, Oscar James and Edward de Souza also feature. Lisa Harrow, debuting as Lynn, makes an immediate impression. Harrow and Woodward share a series of strong two-handed scenes which form the core of the episode (Lynn has been tasked to discover the identity of the PCD mole who has been passing sensitive material to Kyle). Juggling several plotlines – including the complex relationship between Kyle and Lynn – Pentagons is a solid season opener.

Lisa Harrow & Robert Lang

As with the first series, the second run of 1990 used a small pool of writers. Creator Wilfred Greatorex penned four episodes, Edmund Ward contributed three whilst the remaining episode was provided by Jim Hawkins (his sole contribution to the series).

Edmund Ward’s three episodes – Trapline, Ordeal by Small Brown Envelope and Hire and Fire – were broadcast third, fourth and fifth and therefore form the heart of the second series.

In Trapline, Commissioner Hallam (John Paul) seeks Kyle’s assistance. Hallam may be a senior officer in the civil police, but he bitterly tells Kyle that it’s “the second-class police force. The street sweepers that clear up after the politicals”. Private security firms such as Careguard, run by William Grainger (John Carson), are where the real power lies, thanks to their links to the PCD.

It’s always a pleasure to see John Paul (Doomwatch‘s Spencer Quist) as well as John Carson (one of the most dependable and watchable character actors of his generation). The episode explores how the authorities (both Hallam and the new Home Secretary, Kate Smith) have grown increasingly concerned about the unregulated power wielded by the PCD and Careguard. The fact they want Kyle to help them is an irony which amuses him greatly.

Edward Woodward & John Paul

The verbal fencing between Skardon and Smith, as both jostle for supremacy, is highly entertaining as is the interaction between Kyle and Smith, who become unlikely allies. When Kyle calls her “love” (a rather Callan-like touch) watch how Yvonne Mitchell moves from mild disapproval to amusement in a heartbeat.

Robert Lang is well served by this one. Not only has Skardon gained a girlfriend, the very attractive Barbara Fairlie (Sandra Payne), but he’s also given some killer lines. When informed that the Home Secretary is beating a path to his door, he replies on the intercom that he’s preparing to genuflect. Smith overhears this, leading Skardon to respond that on reflection he can’t. “Injury sustained in youth. Choirboy’s knee”!

In the intriguingly-tiled Ordeal by Small Brown Envelope, Skardon puts his latest plan into action – Authorised Systematic Harassment (ASH). Described as “an authorised version of the Chinese water torture” it uses the most deadly weapon of all – bureaucracy.

The unfortunate targets – Kyle’s editor Tom Doran (Clive Swift) and his family – find themselves under close surveillance, but that’s only the beginning. When the state bailiff moves to evict them from their home and into a slum area then the pressure really begins to tell. As a way of breaking somebody’s spirit, mindless officialdom can be more effective than kicks and blows.

Skardon succinctly sums it up. “The slow and noiseless steamroller of the state, the daily brown envelope dropping on the mat”. Doran used to be a fighter like Kyle, but now he’s older and more frightened of making waves, which makes this persecution even crueller. It’s all been arranged in order to put pressure on Kyle, but Lynn argues that by targeting Kyle’s friends they’ll simply turn him into an even more implacable enemy …

Because it’s so horribly plausable and shockingly bleak, Ordeal by Small Brown Envelope is one of the most memorable S2 episodes. Woodward, as usual, is electrifying.

A vicious protection racket, centered around a state factory, is the theme of Hire and Fire. Another first-rate cast – Colin Douglas, Joseph Brady, Simon Cadell – power a story which sees Kyle and the PCD (in the shape of Lynn) form an uneasy alliance for the common good. Skardon is less than impressed when he learns that Kyle has been brought in – which leads to an entertaining confrontation between them (Woodward once again in sparkling form). Also amusing is Kyle’s luncheon with Lynn and the Home Secretary, where he likens himself to “a rose between two thorns”.

Robert Lang & Yvonne Mitchell

Skardon’s pursuit of Kyle continues across the remaining episodes, with matters coming to a head in the series finale, What Pleasess The Prince. Will Kyle and his friends emerge victorious or can the beleaguered PCD fight back?

As with the first series, Edward Woodward shines. Kyle may be more of a thinker than a man of action like Callan, but their core characteristics (a disdain for authority and a highly developed conscience) aren’t too dissimilar. Robert Lang, Lisa Harrow and Yvonne Mitchell are all strong enough actors to hold their own against Woodward in full flight whilst Tony Doyle impresses again as Dave Brett, one of Kyle’s staunchest allies.

Even after all these years, it’s interesting to see how 1990 can be fashioned into a political weapon.  This article from Conservative Woman makes great play of the fact that the government in 1990 was left-wing, although it has to be said that series rarely made party political points (if 1990‘s government had been of the opposite persuasion there would have been little need for any serious redrafting of the scripts – it’s easy to see a fascistic right-wing police state operating in pretty much the same way).

But whatever your political leanings, 1990‘s dystopian future continues to resonate.  At the time of its original broadcast the show was tapping into contemporary concerns about the state of the country (numerous other examples can be found across many different series – Reggie Perrin’s brother-in-law Jimmy, feverishly planning for the day when “the balloon goes up”, is just one example).  Forty years on, 1990 still raises talking points and stimulates the imagination – the year 1990 may be behind us, but many of the issues encountered by Jim Kyle and the others remain.

Tightly scripted and well cast, the second series of 1990 offers another eight episodes of thought-provoking, character-based drama. Both this and series one come highly recommended.

1990 Series Two is released by Simply Media on the 1st of May 2017.  RRP £19.99.

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1990 – Series One. Simply Media DVD Review

1990, which ran for two seasons during 1977 and 1978, was set in a Britain tyrannised by the Public Control Department (PCD), a Home Office organisation dedicated to crushing free speech and any other signs of dissent.  Given the parlous state of Britain during the 1970’s, it wasn’t surprising to find a series which posited what might happen if the economy finally and irrevocably disintegrated.  And given the way things are today, many of 1990‘s themes seem eerily topical  ….

Some background to the collapse is teased out as the series progresses.  We learn that the country went bankrupt in 1983, which led to a series of swingeing restrictions from the newly-formed PCD.  These included strict rationing – not only of food, but also of housing and other essential services.  Virtually everything has been nationalised, meaning that the government has almost complete control.  Dissidents are harshly dealt with – via Adult Rehabilitation Centres – where they are treated with electro-convulsive therapy.

1990 is a grim place then, but there are still a few people attempting to resist the state.  One is Jim Kyle (Edward Woodward), a journalist on The Star, one of the last independent newspapers. The PCD, in the form of Controller Herbert Skardon (Robert Lang) and his two deputies, Delly Lomas (Barbara Kellerman) and Henry Tasker (Clifton Jones), keep him under close surveillance, which leads to a tense battle of nerves.

Robert Lang, Barbara Kellerman and Clifton Jones

Series creator Wilfred Greatorex (1922–2002) started his career writing for Probation Officer (1962) and quickly moved onto The Plane Makers (1963 – 1965) and its sequel The Power Game (1966 – 1969) where he acted as the script-editor.  Character conflict was key to both The Plane Makers and The Power Game and it’s plain to see that a similar format was carried over to 1990.  The heart of the series is concerned with the way the main characters (especially Kyle, Skardon and Lomas) interact.

Edward Woodward (1930 – 2009) had been acting since the mid 1950’s but it was Callan (1967 – 1972) which really established him as a household name.  His success as the world-weary state-sponsored killer allowed him to diversify (pursing his love of singing in The Edward Woodward Hour, for example) whilst cult films like The Wicker Man (1973) enhanced his profile even more.  Woodward was a quality actor and his central performance is one of the reasons why 1990 works as well as it does.

The series opened with Greatorex’s Creed of Slaves (“Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves” – William Pitt the Younger).  Kyle is penning a piece for his newspaper on the Adult Rehabilitation Centres (ARCs) which causes Skardon considerable irritation.  But that’s merely the tip of the iceberg as Kyle is also part of an organisation dedicated to smuggling people out of the country ….

There’s more than a little touch of 1984 about the series of course (Greatorex referred to it as 1984 plus six).   This is particularly evident in the opening few minutes as we observe how the PCD are able to monitor everybody, both visually and aurally, although wise old hands like Kyle are able to give them the slip with embarrassing ease.  The relationship between Kyle and the members of the PCD is already well established before the episode begins and it’s his interaction with Delly Lomas which particularly intrigues.  Since Skardon mentions that Kyle likes her cooking, it’s plain that, despite the fact they’re on different sides, there appears to be some sort of spark between them.  Or are both simply playing games? At one point Kyle directs this comment to her. “How do you look like you do and do the job that you do?”

Edward Woodward & Barbara Kellerman

The next episode, When Did You Last See Your Father?, continues one of the plotlines from episode one, concerning Dr Vickers (Donald Gee), a man who is keen to take his wife and family out of the UK. This proves to be impossible via official means, as exit visas are severely restricted.

The banality of evil runs throughout the series. On the one hand, Skardon, Lomas and Tasker are simply bureaucrats doing a job (in their minds they no doubt see themselves on the side of law and order). It’s this blurring between “good” and “evil” which is so compelling – the PCD may be oppressive, but their public face can appear to be reasonable. This is key – if you can keep the nastiness buried then maybe you stand a chance of fooling most of the people.

The first non-Greateorex script, Health Farm, stars the imposing Welsh actor Ray Smith as union leader Charles Wainwright.  Following a disastrous trip to America in which he gave a speech littered with criticisms of the British government, Wainwright is sent to an ARC for “correction”.  The shocking change in him (from the firebrand we first meet to an adjusted patient keen to toe the party line) brings home the true horror of the ARCs.

Strong guest stars continue to appear throughout the remainder of series one, such as Graham Crowden as Sondeberg in Decoy and Richard Hurndall as Avery in Voice from the Past.

The last two episodes – Witness and Non-Citizen ramp up the conflict between Kyle and the PCD. Dr Vickers, who escaped from the UK in episode two with Kyle’s help, is persuaded to return in order to testify in a show-trial against Kyle – if he does then his family will be granted exit visas.  Prior to the trial (featuring John Bennett as the prosecutor) Kyle’s office and home are targeted by PCD thugs, which causes distress to his wife Maggie (Patricia Garwood) and children.  Woodward gives a typically powerful performance, especially when Kyle finds his family are under threat.

Edward Woodward

Series one concluded with Non-Citizen. Considering how much of a thorn Kyle has been in the PCD’s side, it’s odd they’ve taken so long to decisively deal with him. But here at last they finally seem to have broken him. With his family missing, no money, no job, no home and no status, Kyle is pushed to the limit by a sadistic Skardon. It’s not surprising that Woodward once again excels here.

Although the themes of the first series of 1990 tapped into contemporary fears and neuroses, it’s fascinating how most of it still remains topical some forty years on.  The official face presented in 1990 appears to be fair and reasonable – tribunals are held which claim to offer the public an unbiased hearing and the ARC we visit is located in a palatial country home with well-manicured lawns – but scratch a little beneath the surface and it’s plain there’s something very rotten in this state.  You don’t need jackbooted guards on every street corner to create a true sense of fear, there are far more subtle ways than that ….

The way that language, spin and bureaucracy are all utilised in order to obfuscate the truth is especially instructive.  When you hear a politician complaining that the press, in the shape of Kyle, is spreading disinformation and therefore creating disharmony about the state of the economy (i.e. disseminating fake news) then the parallels to the modern world are perfectly clear.  In many ways 1990 is something of a chess game with all the major players – especially Kyle and Lomas – engaged in a game of manoeuvre and counter-manoeuvre.

Barbara Kellerman & Edward Woodward

As I’ve said, Edward Woodward is a fine leading man whilst Barbara Kellerman and Robert Lang (who receive second and third billing) offer strong support.  The gravelly-voiced Lang graced many a film and television programme with his presence and is perfect as the harassed mandarin Tasker whilst Kellerman (possibly best known for playing the White Witch in the 1980’s BBC production of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe) is intriguing as Della, the apparently acceptable face of the PCD.  Kellerman didn’t return for series two, which was a shame, although this did allow the format to be shaken up a little.

Interviewed by the Radio Times prior to the broadcast of the first episode, Woodward said that the series was “either going to create a furore or pass without comment” (Radio Times, 17th September 1977).  Although it didn’t quite go unnoticed, the fact it was tucked away on BBC2 was probably part of the reason why it never became a mainstream hit. But it clearly impressed enough to be renewed for a second series.

Although largely forgotten today, 1990 is a series which deserves to be much better known, especially since its power to disturb and unsettle remains undimmed after forty years.  It’s pleasing to have the first series available on DVD, with the second to follow in May, and for those who appreciate well-crafted British character drama of the seventies it’s certain to appeal.

1990 – Series One is released by Simply Media on the 20th of March 2017.  RRP £19.99.

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

this man alone

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?

do you

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

call me

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.