Callan – The Richmond File: A Man Like Me

a man

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.

Advertisements

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.

Callan – That’ll Be The Day

that'll be the day

Written by James Mitchell. Directed by Mike Vardy

That’ll Be The Day certainly has a strong opening – we begin at David Callan’s funeral.  The mourners include Hunter, Bishop, Colonel Leslie, Cross and a clearly distraught Liz.  A late arrival is Lonely, who comes complete with an impressive floral display (which he’s naturally pinched).

One of the few moments of levity in the episode occurs when a disbelieving Lonely hears the vicar’s fulsome tribute.  He describes Callan as a humble man of peace – a far cry from the person that Lonely knew.  So Lonely comes to the conclusion that they’re burying the wrong man!

Arresting as this is, it’s not very logical.  If Callan had been a public figure (a politician, say, or a civil servant) it would have made sense to stage a mock funeral.  But as he’s not, the only thing the funeral does is to make Lonely convinced that Callan isn’t dead after all.

In Mitchell’s original draft script, Callan and his Russian counterpart (originally called Lonsdale, later renamed Richmond) were apprehended at the same time – both sides then agree on a publicity blackout so they could be exchanged.  This makes the reason for the mock funeral slightly more plausible, but it’s still a problem.

Also present at the funeral in Mitchell’s draft script was Toby Meres.  He didn’t feature in the final program, but he is mentioned (and will return later in the series).  Somebody who does make an appearance is a previous Hunter, Colonel Leslie (Ronald Radd).  Since he doesn’t speak a word, for anybody not familiar with the first two series he could be taken for just another extra.  But for those who’ve seen the black and white episodes it’s a lovely touch.

Callan isn’t dead of course, he’s a prisoner of the Russians and currently undergoing interrogation at the Lubyanka.  The first time I saw this episode I assumed it was the second part of an existing story – mainly because of the cold open.  We’re told that Callan was on assignment in East Germany, that the girl he was with was killed and that he was then taken to the Lubyanka.  It’s very jarring that this is all tell, not show.  A modern series would have no doubt set this plot-line up at the end of the previous series, closing on a cliffhanger of Callan’s abduction.

He’s clearly in a bad way – his head is shaven and he’s been pumped full of drugs.  In many ways he’s in a similar state to how he appeared in Death of a Hunter, although it’s true that here he’s more aware of what’s happening – in Death of a Hunter his moments of lucidity were few and far between.

Karsky (Julian Glover) is given the task of interrogating Callan.  Just as Callan has his counterpoint in Richmond, Karsky has an obvious opposite number in Snell (Clifford Rose).  Whilst Karsky is using drugs to interrogate Callan, Snell is doing the same to Richmond.  And Karsky and Snell are very similar character types – neither are cackling villains, instead they view their subjects with detachment and, especially in Karsky’s case, seeming compassion.

Karsky knows that Callan will eventually tell them everything – the drugs will ensure that.  But if Callan cooperates then the drugs won’t destroy him.  So why fight?  Naturally Callan replies in the negative, but it doesn’t shake Karsky’s composure at all.  As might be expected, Julian Glover is excellent in these scenes, as is Woodward, and these two-handed moments are the highlight of the episode.

T.P, McKenna’s Richmond is an interesting character.  At this point he seems to have been created simply to solve the problem about how to extract Callan from the clutches of the Russians.  But he makes an unexpected return towards the end of the series in several key episodes.  He doesn’t have a great deal of screen-time here, but he still manages to make an impression.

Another indication that Callan and Richmond are two sides of the same coin is demonstrated when it’s decided to exchange them (much to Hunter’s displeasure – he considers swapping Richmond for Callan is a bad bargain).  Both Callan and Richmond are holed up in adjoining hotel rooms in Helskini – and they each offer their handlers a drink (which are refused).

Callan’s miraculous return from the dead comes as a shock to some, especially Cross.  You get the sense that he’s just started to enjoy being the top man in the Section and now that’s cruelly taken away from him.  Patrick Mower would leave the series after episode five, so Cross only has a limited character arc in series four, but it’s still quite effective.

In series three, Cross was several rungs below Callan – the older man was quicker, sharper and always more capable.  He’s maybe slightly closer in ability now, but he also possesses character flaws which will prove to be his undoing.  He’s always had a certain sadistic attitude – witness how he plays Russian Roulette with Lonely (admittedly with blanks) – and over the course of the next few episodes we’ll see how he gradually steps further and further over the mark.

Hunter’s meeting with Callan is a rather frosty affair.  He admits that if it was his choice he wouldn’t have had him back.  But Callan is back and since Richmond was a top man it’s a matter of prestige for the Section that they can’t be seen to have swapped him for a lesser prize.  But how can they prove to the Russians that Callan is Richmond’s equal?

Promotion is the obvious course …..

Blakes 7 – Bounty

bounty 01

Sarkoff (T.P. McKenna) was formally the president of Lindor, but following a crushing election defeat he now lives a comfortable, if restrictive, existence on an unnamed planet as an effective prisoner of the Federation.  Blake and Cally attempt to persuade him that he needs to return to Lindor as he’s the only man who can unite his people and resist the Federation’s plans to invade.

But Sarkoff appears to be a broken man, haunted by his past defeats.  Eventually Blake does convince him, but when they teleport back to the Liberator they find it eerily deserted.  The ship has been captured by a number of Amagon bounty hunters, led by Tarvin (Mark Zuber), who plans to sell the crew and the ship to the Federation …..

Bounty is the first example of a Blakes 7 episode that opens “cold” – we see Cally in a forest, hiding from Federation troops, and shortly after she’s joined by Blake.  We don’t know where they are or what they’re doing – which gives us a strong hook into the story.  Previously, we’ve opened with at least several minutes exposition on the bridge of the Liberator (as in Project Avalon) before they teleport down.  The absence of this helps to move the story along a little quicker.

To be honest, this is very much an episode of two halves – the first concerns Blake’s attempts to persuade Sarkoff that he needs to return to Lindor and the second takes place on the Liberator as Blake and the others attempt to overpower the Amagons.  The first is by far the stronger, helped no end by T.P. McKenna.

McKenna was an incredibly prolific actor, with a list of credits far too numerous to mention (although his appearances as Richmond in the final series of Callan are especially good).  He’s perfect as the ex-politician who lives in comparative luxury (surrounded by various treasures from 20th Century Earth) but appears to have an inability to grasp the reality of his situation.

It’s obvious to Blake that Sarkoff is a prisoner of the Federation and that they’ll return him to his planet only after they’ve taken it over – so he can rule as a puppet President.  Sarkoff, on the other hand, tells Blake he’s merely their guest and the guards are there to prevent his assassination.  But Tyce (Carinthia West) is convinced that Sarkoff knows the truth of the situation, even if he won’t admit it.

bounty 02

But whether Sarkoff is a guest or a prisoner, he declines Blake’s invitation to return to Lindor and he tells him why.  “I’ve wasted my life listening, listening to people who are arrogant, or vacuous, or just plain vicious. I smiled and acquiesced in the face of prejudice and stupidity. I’ve tolerated mediocrity and accepted the tyranny of second-class minds. But now all that is over. I am ready to die, here among the things I value.”

Sarkoff is a spent force and even though he redeems himself at the end of the episode, the question has to be, will he ever be anything more than a figurehead?  He could very well unite his people in the short-term, but beyond that there’s the uncomfortable possibility he’ll find himself manipulated by others for their own ends.  It’s interesting that Blake latches onto Sarkoff as a unifying figure.  Later in Blakes 7 (especially in the final episode, Blake) Roj Blake himself becomes a figurehead capable of inspiring trust and loyalty in others – which is the reason why Avon attempts to find him again.

Whilst I like Bounty (mainly for McKenna’s performance) it’s fairly sloppily scripted.  Firstly, Sarkoff is guarded by very inept Federation troops.  Although they know that at least two intruders are at large, they don’t exactly leap into action (and one of them also misses the fairly obvious sight of Cally climbing a wall and pulling a rope up behind her!).  It’s also baffling that none of them decide it might be a good idea to check on Sarkoff – thus allowing Blake plenty of time to win him round.  Added to this, the actor (Mark York) playing the guard commander is, shall we say, not terribly impressive.

Whilst Blake and Cally are down on the surface, the others discover a ship which seems to be in distress.  You’d have thought that by now (especially after the events of Time Squad) they’d be rather cautious – but instead they just blunder straight into the trap.  Gan teleports over and a few minutes later we hear him report back that everything’s fine.  It’s clear that something’s not right – he’s talking in a slightly strange, emotionless way – but nobody twigs.  And by the time they do, it’s too late and the Amagons (all three or four of them) have taken over the ship.

It’s difficult to take them seriously, mainly because of their exotic clothing.  Mark Zuber does do his best though and Tarvin’s past relationship with Jenna is an intriguing touch – as it allows her a reason to apparently change sides.  Had this been earlier in the series, her shifting allegiance might have been more believable, but it’s not really a surprise that she hasn’t really betrayed her friends.

An interesting part of Bounty is that it shows us that Blake does have some purpose.  So far in his fight against the Federation, he’s actually done very little – destroying the transceiver complex on Saurian Major (which seemed to have little effect) and stealing the Federation’s cypher machine (which was detected almost immediately) have been his main achievements.  But although they weren’t able to get a great deal of useful material from the cypher machine before the Federation changed the code, at least they managed to learn about the Federation’s plans for Lindor, which initiated Blake’s visit.  In the general scheme of things, helping to keep one planet out of the Federation’s clutches is still pretty small beer, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Apart from McKenna, another noteworthy appearance comes from Carinthia West as Tyce.  Late on, it’s revealed that Sarkoff is her father – prior to this, the exact nature of their relationship (older man, younger woman) was open to other interpretations.  Tyce operates as her father’s conscience and there’s good reason to suppose that she’ll be as important, if not more so, than Sarkoff himself when the new government on Lindor is established.

One odd moment occurs after Blake, Cally, Sarkoff and Tyce teleport back to the ship.  Blake and Cally are captured and locked up with Avon, Gan and Vila, whilst Sarkoff and Tyce are allowed to remain on the flight-deck with Tarvin.  What’s strange is that despite all the commotion, Tyce is able to change her top and hairstyle!

Thanks to T.P. McKenna (and some nice banter between the regulars) Bounty is a decent watch.

bounty 03