Callan (TV series)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Callan title.jpg
Starring Edward Woodward
Russell Hunter
Country of origin United Kingdom
No. of series 4
No. of episodes 44 (list of episodes)
Running time 50 minutes per episode approx. (60 with adverts)
Original network ITV
Original release 8 July 1967 – 24 May 1972

Callan was a late sixties-early seventies British action/drama television series created by James Mitchell. It starred Edward Woodward as Callan, an agent of a state secret service dealing with internal security threats to the United Kingdom. Though portrayed as having responsibilities similar to the real life MI5, Callan's fictional "Section" has carte blanche to use the most ruthless of methods. In the storylines interrogation is by means of torture, while extrajudicial killings are so routine they have a colour coded filing system. With the possible exception of La Femme Nikita, no TV series has ever presented a Western government agency in so sinister a light as Callan. Despite being an assassin who stays in the socially isolating job because it is the only thing he is good at, Callan is a sympathetic character by comparison to his sadistic upper class colleagues and implacable superior. The downbeat cover for the Section's headquarters was the scrap metal business of "Charlie Hunter" (a reference to The Richardson Gang). Produced by ABC Weekend Television and Thames Television, the program proved extremely popular and apart from four seasons between 1967 and 1972 there was a film.[1]


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 overview[edit]

The series pilot episode aired in February 1967, in a play entitled A Magnum for Schneider by James Mitchell. Mitchell was later responsible for creating 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 and broadcast, later in the same year. A further series of 16 followed, though with both ABC and Associated Rediffusion (broadcasters in the London region) going through the process of merging, by the time the second series was broadcast in 1969 it was attributed to "Thames" television.

Overall, the series was popular with audiences, running between 1967 and 1972. The closing episode of the 1969 series saw a severely under-pressure Callan get shot, with a clever campaign following ensuring viewers cared whether the character survived or not (of course he did). The last two series were in colour and proved as popular as ever. A cinema film simply entitled Callan followed in 1974, directed by Don Sharp. Callan was last seen in the 1981 feature-length television story made by ATV, entitled Wet Job. Though less satisfactory than the preceding series, it was a final chance for viewers to see the main characters of Callan and Lonely one more time.

Colour-coded files[edit]

The Section used a series of colour-coded files to indicate targets of different priorities (with much relevance for the title of the novel "Red File for Callan");

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

A Magnum for Schneider[edit]

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.

Series 1 - ABC (monochrome) - 6 episodes[edit]

ABC then commissioned a series of six episodes in 1967. In the first episode Callan rejoins the section in an unofficial capacity. The series was characterized by Callans stand-off, barely-respectful relationship between him and his boss. Hunter schemed to retain Callan on his side and would play him off in little divide-and-rule scenarios with or against his fellow agents to keep control. It was not always apparent that it worked. Callan's contact Lonely (Russell Hunter) developed into an unofficial sidekick, whose shadowing qualities outshone his sense of personal hygiene, something Meres in particular took joy in pointing out. Lonely remained ignorant of Callan's real work and believed him to be something of a gangland villain.

Series 2 - Thames (monochrome - 15 episodes)[edit]

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.

In the television series, successive Hunters were played by Ronald Radd, Derek Bond, Michael Goodliffe and William Squire. The latter's portrayal of a steely exterior, delivering ice-cold decisions with an underplayed theatrical flair, made for a match for Callan. Squire is probably the best remembered of all the supporting actors who played Hunter as a result.

Toby Meres was brought to life by Anthony Valentine (Peter Bowles in the pilot), an upper class thug whose demeanour barely concealed the cold and calculating thug he truly was. Meres enjoyed his work very much without questioning, a value Hunter found extremely useful and one which irritated Callan no end. Yet, as colleagues in the field, whose lives may depend on each other at a moments' notice, Meres and Callan developed an edgy, mutual respect. Meres departed for a posting in the US at the end of the second series (in truth, Valentine left to appear in the series Codename on the rival BBC network).

Series 3 - Thames (colour) - 9 episodes[edit]

The third series of nine episodes, the first in colour, saw Callan still recovering from having been shot and struggling to come to terms with his situation. Interviews with Snell (the Section's doctor) and poor shooting range results portray Callan as a barely-functioning human being, whose future with the Section look to be in serious doubt. If Callan is to be of any use to Hunter, something has spark him into life. In league with Meres' younger, brasher, edgier and unpredictable replacement, James Cross (played by Patrick Mower), hunter concocts a scenario whereby Calln's energies are incited into real emotion that can be turned against the enemy. The remaining eight episodes see the revitalized yet ever-more world-weary assassin cover more ground, including one episode where love comes unexpectedly into his life, and which has the (expected) unexpected ending.

Cross is an agent whose arrogance more than matches that of his predecessor Meres, however his lack of years meant he required more nurturing by his vastly more experienced mentor. This included the necessary teaching of lessons more than once in a while. When it became known that Patrick Mower would be leaving halfway-through Series 4 (to head up the new filmed series of "Special Branch"), Cross' character was developed, getting increasingly unpredictable and coming under the scrutiny of Snell, the Section's doctor, until his ultimate demise which was apparently of his own choosing. This paved the way for a more mature Meres to return from his secondment in Washington and help finish the series off.

Series 4 - Thames (colour) - 13 episodes[edit]

The final set of thirteen episodes was broadcast in 1972. This saw Callan develop further than before. An unsuccessful mission meant Callan is being interrogated in a Russian prison, but is exchanged with the Russians for one of their agents. Now he is known, he has become a liability. What to do with the Section's top agent is later solved by promoting him into the role of Hunter - a post he disliked as much or even more than actually serving under a Hunter. However, this move by his masters has motives and he is eventually relieved of his duties after an incident where Callan entered the field of duty, which was against the rules. He was replaced as Hunter by his predecessor. The final three episodes formed a trilogy based around the defecting Soviet agent Richmond (played by T. P. McKenna) which was sub-titled "The Richmond Files".

After an attempt at subtle interrogation and de-briefing in a remote location, Richmond dodges Callan and the other guards outside. The 'defecting' line proven to be an elaborate cover, Richmond' brief is to carry out an assassination on British soil and the section need to stop him. At the end of the lengthy cat-and-mouse games, both men are dueling it out amongst crowds of containers inside a warehouse. Callan finally gained the upper hand. Richmond - knowing exactly how he would be treated - pleads for Callan to kill him instead of capturing him, which Callan does. Having disobeyed orders in order to help A Man Like Me (final episode title), Callan finally walks out of the Section, with the knowledge his file will undoubtedly be placed into a red folder.

Cinema film[edit]

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.)

Callan's boss "Charlie" Hunter was played by Eric Porter and 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 it's stated that Callan has never met Snell before)).

Reunion episode: Wet Job[edit]

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.


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.[2] That said, Billboard newspaper, dated 15 November 1975,[3] reported on the end of a seven-year copyright case brought by Mood Music (a subsidiary of the Sparta-Florida Music Group). They contended that "Girl In The Dark" was "sufficiently" similar to an Italian song as to be an infringement of copyright. That song, "Sogno Nostalgico", was claimed to have been composed in 1963; copyright was assigned the following year; records made in Italy the same year; and that song was made available from the company's library in 1965. (Interestingly, the Billboard article also states that "Sogno Nostalgico" was used as the theme for British television series The Rat Catchers, whereas the theme song has always been credited to UK composer Johnny Pearson.[4])

DeWolfe alleged that "Girl In The Dark" was the work of a Dutch composer in 1960 and submitted to other people before the copyright was assigned in 1966. They lost the case and ordered to pay all costs, estimated to be around $70,000. Sparta-Florida chief Jefferey S. Kruger was quoted as saying that the seven-year struggle "brought vindication of our claim and, as a result, a new precedent has brought about the admissibility of 'similar fact' evidence, usually connected with criminal cases, into a copyright suit."

Incidental music was not a feature of the main Callan series except "A Magnum for Schneider" where "Girl In The Dark" was repeatedly played in scenes where Callan got to work.

DVD releases[edit]

Region 2[edit]

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.[5] 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 was released by Network in 2011. Network were to released the complete series containing all extant episodes, The Definitive Collection the following year, but this was delayed and eventually the special features announced for the set began to be released individually in 2015.[6] This suggests the collection may have been abandoned.

Region 4[edit]

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

Region 1[edit]

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.[7]

Callan in the archives[edit]

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.[8] 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[edit]

The Equalizer[edit]

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 do share some similarities, McCall had retired from an American intelligence agency whereas Callan had been terminated from a British one, and other backstory elements (including a failed marriage and a son (William Zabka) in his early 20s) eliminate any possibility that Callan had become McCall. That said, there are clear echoes of Callan in Woodward's portrayal of McCall, such as an early episode where a female character encounters McCall in emotional distress after having to kill a group of muggers and his realization that killing is all he is good at doing. (This plot point also exists in "A Magnum for Schneider" and the 1974 Callan film.) McCall and Callan also share eclectic leisure interests away from their work.

La Femme Nikita[edit]

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.


  • 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)


  1. ^ The Callan File - 1
  2. ^ Callan info page, IMDB
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)[dead link]

External links[edit]