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Callan (TV series)


Callan (TV series)

Format Action / Crime
Starring Edward Woodward
Russell Hunter
Country of origin United Kingdom
No. of series 4
No. of episodes 44 (List of episodes)
Running time 60 minutes per episode
Original channel ITV
Original run 8 July 1967 – 24 May 1972

Callan is the title of a British television series set in the murky world of espionage. Originally produced by ABC Weekend Television and later Thames Television, it was aired on the ITV network over four seasons spread out between 1967 and 1972. The series starred Edward Woodward as David Callan, a reluctant professional killer for a shadowy branch of the British Government's intelligence services known as 'the Section'.


Character 'A Magnum for Schneider' Regular Series Callan Film
David Callan Edward Woodward
Lonely Russell Hunter
Toby Meres Peter Bowles Anthony Valentine Peter Egan
Hunter Ronald Radd Ronald Radd, Michael Goodliffe, Derek Bond, William Squire Eric Porter
James Cross   Patrick Mower  
Liz, Hunter's Secretary Judy Champ Lisa Langdon Veronica Lang
Snell   Clifford Rose Clifford Rose

Series evolution

The series pilot episode aired in February 1967, in a play entitled A Magnum for Schneider by James Mitchell. Mitchell also created the equally popular When the Boat Comes In (1976–81). The haunted character of Callan caught the public's imagination to such an extent that a six-episode series was commissioned, later in the same year.

The series ran from 1967 to 1972, proving popular with audiences. A cinema film followed in 1974, directed by Don Sharp and simply entitled Callan. Callan was last seen in the 1981 feature-length television story made by ATV, entitled Wet Job.

The series' distinctive theme tune, "Girl in the Dark", was a library composition written by Dutch composer Jan Stoeckart (under one of several aliases he used, "Jack Trombey"), and issued by De Wolfe Music.[1]

A Magnum for Schneider

Callan has been fired from an anonymous government agency known as "The Section" which is run by Colonel Hunter. ("Hunter" is a pseudonym for the current Section Chief, like the C of SIS.) The Section removes those who pose a danger to the "innocent" by persuasion, blackmail, extortion or death.

David Callan had been the Section's top operator but he had become too curious about his targets and the rationale for their removal. The Section considered him vulnerable, volatile and dangerous and had laid him off to a dead-end book-keeping job for an ungrateful employer. Callan is where Hunter can keep an eye on him and also in daily, casual and unknowing contact with his next victim. If he can kill Schneider after making his acquaintance as a fellow war games enthusiast then he can kill anyone: this is the question to which Hunter urgently requires an answer.

Hunter describes Callan as "a dead shot, with the cold nerve to kill" and considers him far too useful to be allowed to retire. In this screenplay, Hunter invites Callan back to the Section to remove Schneider as a favour. Schneider's nefarious activities are known to the authorities but he is too clever to be caught by normal methods. Hunter wants Scheider eliminated but offers Callan no help from the Section—ostensibly to allow Callan to prove his loyalty and dedication. Hunter secretly sends Toby Meres to set Callan up to take the fall for the assassination, should this become necessary.

Callan's curiosity about his victims overwhelms him again and he investigates Schneider, discovering a massive gun-running operation. Satisfied, Callan formulates his plan. He calls on his petty criminal contact Lonely, played by Russell Hunter. Lonely is unsure of Callan's identity and motives but fearfully provides a "Noguchi .38 Magnum" plus 20 rounds (Callan returning the .38 revolver he had previously purchased from Lonely). Callan has a chance meeting with Schneider and finds common ground in their interest in model soldiers and war games.

At Schneider's house, where Callan and his host re-play a scenario from the Peninsular War and go on to recreate the Battle of Gettysburg, Meres breaks in, distracting Callan. Hunter sends the police in order to ensure Callan is caught red-handed. Schneider, suspicious, uncovers Meres and holds the two men at gunpoint. Schneider searches Callan but misses the Magnum and Callan kills Schneider.

Meres attempts to finish the set-up but Callan knocks Meres unconscious. Callan phones Hunter about Schneider and says he will leave Meres to the police, quitting the Section. Hunter orders Callan's file to be changed to a red folder—targeting him for removal.

ABC series

ABC then commissioned a series of six episodes in 1967.[2] In the first episode Callan rejoins the section in an unofficial capacity.

Thames series

By 1969, ABC Weekend Television had, via enforced merger, become Thames Television. A second season of fifteen episodes that had already been completed by ABC was therefore transmitted by its successor. This run ended with "Death Of A Hunter" in which the Section chief meets his demise, and Callan is shot - perhaps fatally. It had not been decided whether the show would return for a third series, so this device was used to leave open either the possibility of more stories in the future, or a way of winding-up the show. Two endings were taped, in which Callan either lived or died. In the end, Thames decided to bring the programme back for the 1970 series, this time in full colour and consisting of nine episodes.

A final set of thirteen episodes was broadcast in 1972. This saw Callan develop further than before. An unsuccessful mission meant Callan was exchanged with the Russians for one of their agents and now he was known, he was a liability. What to do with the Section's top agent was solved by promoting him into the role of Hunter - a post he disliked as much or even more than actually serving under a Hunter but which he was eventually relieved of by his predecessor when the danger had all but passed. The final three episodes were a trilogy based around the defector Richmond, played by T. P. McKenna, (and sub-titled "The Richmond Files"), at the end of which he pleads for Callan to kill him instead of capturing him - you know what they do to people like us. Having disobeyed orders to help A Man Like Me (Final episode title), Callan finally walks out of the Section.

Successive Hunters were played by Ronald Radd, Derek Bond, Michael Goodliffe and William Squire. The latter's steely exterior and ice-cold decisive nature was often the match for Callan and he is probably the best remembered of all the supporting actors. Toby Meres was brought to life by Anthony Valentine (Peter Bowles in the pilot) and when he departed for a posting in the US (in truth, to appear in the series Codename on the rival BBC network) in came the young, brash, and unpredictable Cross (played by Patrick Mower) who was just as arrogant and who needed teaching a lesson more than once in a while by his experienced teacher.

Cinema Film

Main article: Callan (film)

The cinema film was an expanded re-working of the original pilot, A Magnum For Schneider taking much of its new material from the likewise expanded novelization of its teleplay, originally published as Red File for Callan, also by James Mitchell. However, the film's credits give only the novel as source (no mention is made of the pilot teleplay or the TV series), and identify the novel as A Red File for Callan, the mild variant title under which it had been published in the United States (in 1969) by Simon & Schuster. (In 1974 Dell would reissue the book under that title in paperback, but despite coinciding with the film's release year, the edition gives no hint of being a tie-in.)

Meres was again re-cast, this time being played by Peter Egan (better known at the time as a trendy gangster from a controversial TV series Big Breadwinner Hog - now better known for sitcoms such as Ever Decreasing Circles). The only recurring actors from the TV series were Woodward as Callan, Russell Hunter as Lonely and Clifford Rose as Dr Snell (who appeared in five episodes of the series from season two, three and four (though its stated that Callan has never met Snell before)).

Reunion episode: Wet Job

In the 1981 feature-length television story Wet Job, written by Mitchell and produced by ATV (without the original theme music or logo) Callan has become the proprietor of a military memorabilia shop when he is recruited by the new Hunter for one more job. Alas, he has to do this alone: Lonely has become a dapper gent, engaged to be married, and with enough self-confidence to defy Callan's request for help. In the end, Callan completes the task, survives, and even ends up with a girlfriend.


The original TV play was screened in 1967, followed by a first season of six episodes, a second season of fifteen episodes, a third season of nine episodes, and a fourth season of thirteen episodes.

DVD releases

Region 2

Clear Vision Video released three DVDs subtitled "Series 1 Parts 1 - 3 of 3", also available in a box titled Callan - The Complete Series One, in 2001. In fact these DVDs comprise the nine episodes of Series 3, the first colour season, although the back cover blurbs incorrectly state that "This edition comes from the first series that was ever shown on Thames Television in 1970".

Prism Leisure released the cinema film as Callan - The Movie on Region 0 PAL in 2001. The DVD also includes an interview with Woodward.

Network DVD released Callan - The Monochrome Years on 22 February 2010.[3] This four DVD set includes the remaining 2 episodes (out of 6) from the first season and 9 episodes (out of 15) from the second season, plus the Armchair Theatre pilot play 'A Magnum For Schnieder'. Network also released Callan - The Colour Years in 2010. Callan - Wet Job is released by Network in 2011.

Region 4

Umbrella Entertainment released the third and fourth seasons on DVD in the Australia in 2007.

Region 1

Acorn Media released Callan- Set 1 on 7 July 2009 which includes all 9 episodes from series 3. On 26 January 2010, Callan- Set 2 was released featuring all 13 episodes from series 4. It has not yet been decided whether further seasons will be released to DVD in Region 1.[4]

Colour-coded files

The Section used a series of colour-coded files to indicate targets of different priorities;

Red File Dangerous targets of most urgent priority, marked for death
Yellow File A subject under occasional surveillance
Blue File Members of the 'wrong' party
White File People to be put out of action by sending them into divorce courts, bankruptcy, prison or mental homes

Callan in the archives

The Armchair Theatre play exists as a film recording of the original black-and-white television broadcast. The first two series (or seasons) were recorded in black-and-white video, with filmed inserts, and several episodes from these have been lost or wiped. The surviving episodes from Series 1 appear to have been re-shot onto 625-line videotape by pointing a camera at a monitor displaying the original 405-line version. The surviving Series 2 episodes exist on 625-line videotapes.[5] In the case of "The Worst Soldier I Ever Saw", the Network DVD cover blurb states that the episode only survived as an unedited studio block, which had to be edited into its proper format for DVD release.

All of the colour episodes exist, and the 1970 series was released on DVD in the UK in 2001. The episodes were edited to remove captions which would have led into the commercial breaks in the original transmission. This resulted in some awkward visual and audio jump cuts. The subsequent British DVD releases all retain the commercial break captions. The 1974 movie was released on DVD separately.

Both the 1970 and 1972 series have had Region 4 DVD releases by Umbrella Entertainment. The 1972 series also includes the movie.

The DVD releases of the movie include an interview, recorded in 2000, with Edward Woodward.

Echoes of Callan

The Equalizer

In the 1980s, Woodward starred in the American series, The Equalizer, playing a conscience-stricken former secret agent who becomes a protector of people in need, yet finds himself being called back into service by his former employers from time to time.

Unlike the speculation that John Drake of Danger Man is also Number 6 of The Prisoner, it is clear that Robert McCall (dubbed "Equalizer" by a fellow operative) is not related in any way to Callan. Though the characters share similarities, McCall had retired from an American intelligence agency, and other backstory (including a failed marriage and a son in his early 20s) eliminate any possibility that Callan had become McCall.

La Femme Nikita

Another TV series made at the end of the 1990s, La Femme Nikita was inspired by the French movie of the same name (not the remakes) and starring Peta Wilson as Nikita. Framed for murder and forced into joining Section One, she displays all of the reluctance to kill shown by Callan, and a need to know why? In a strange sort of reprise, Edward Woodward enters the final season as the head of Center 'Mr Jones' who turns out to be Nikita's father.

The Novels

  • A Magnum for Schneider - also published as Red File for Callan and Callan - (1969)
  • Russian Roulette (1973)
  • Death and Bright Water (1974)
  • Smear Job (1975)
  • Bonfire Night (2002)


External links

  • British Film Institute Screen Online
  • Internet Movie Database
  • Internet Movie Database
  • Internet Movie Database
  • Internet Movie Database


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