Callan (TV series)

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Callan title.jpg
StarringEdward Woodward
Russell Hunter
Country of originUnited Kingdom
No. of series4
No. of episodes44 (list of episodes)
Running time50 minutes per episode approx. (60 with adverts)
Original networkITV
Original release8 July 1967 – 24 May 1972

Callan is a British action/drama television series created by James Mitchell, first airing between 1967 and 1972. It starred Edward Woodward as David Callan, an agent of a state secret service dealing with internal security threats to the United Kingdom. Though portrayed as having responsibilities similar to those of 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.[citation needed] 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 programme proved extremely popular; as well as four series between 1967 and 1972, there was a film in 1974[1] and a tv movie in 1981.


Character 'A Magnum for Schneider' Regular Series Callan Film 'Wet Job', TV movie
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 Hugh Walters
James Cross   Patrick Mower    
Liz, Hunter's Secretary Judy Champ Lisa Langdon Veronica Lang Felicity Harrison
Snell   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 (the result of the merger).

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 publicity campaign following to ensure that 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 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


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

Pilot – A Magnum for Schneider (1967)[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.

Series 1 – 6 episodes (1967)[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 characterised by Callan's 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 – 15 episodes (1969)[edit]

By 1969, ABC Weekend Television had, via an enforced merger, become Thames Television. A second series 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.

Series 3 – 9 episodes (1970)[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 looks to be in serious doubt. If Callan is to be of any use to Hunter, something has to 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 Callan's energies are incited into real emotion that can be turned against the enemy. The remaining eight episodes see the revitalised 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.

Series 4 – 13 episodes (1972)[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".

Reunion episode – Wet Job (1981)[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.

Documentary – This Man Alone (2015)[edit]

A Callan documentary entitled This Man Alone was released on DVD in November 2015. Narrated by Edward Woodward's son Peter Woodward, it includes contributions from Peter Mitchell, Reginald Collin, Mike Vardy, and James Goddard. Additionally the DVD includes a new transfer of A Magnum for Schneider and The Good Ones Are All Dead, the music-themed The Edward Woodward Hour and a documentary on James Mitchell, A World of My Own.[2]

In other media[edit]

Film – Callan (1974)[edit]

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 novelisation 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 series two, three and four (though it's stated that Callan has never met Snell before)).


  • A Magnum for Schneider by James Mitchell – also published as Red File for Callan and Callan – (1969), ISBN 0-750-53959-3
  • Russian Roulette (1973) by James Mitchell, ISBN 1-909-61904-3
  • Death and Bright Water (1974) by James Mitchell, ISBN 1-909-61911-6
  • Smear Job (1975) by James Mitchell, ISBN 0-241-89306-2
  • Bonfire Night (2002) by James Mitchell, ISBN 0-727-85878-5

Short story collections[edit]

There are two short story collections

  • Callan Uncovered (2014) all by James Mitchell. Features 25 short stories (24 were written for the Sunday Express, and 1 for the TV Times), as well as a story treatment and the full script of an unfilmed episode, "Goodbye Mary Lee".
  • Callan Uncovered 2 (2015) all by James Mitchell. Features 15 short stories (all were written for the Sunday Express), as well as the full script of a 'lost' episode, "Goodness Burns Too Bright".

Audio Series[edit]

On 7 December 2017, Big Finish Productions announced plans to release two box sets of Callan audio adventures based on the Sunday Express Short Stories written by James Mitchell. The tales have been adapted by Peter Mitchell, the series creator's son, and will star Ben Miles in the title role, with Frank Skinner as Lonely, Nicholas Briggs as Hunter and Jane Slavin as Liz.[3]

The stories will be released as Volume One in July 2018[4] and Volume Two in January 2019[5].

Awards and nominations[edit]

The following is a table listing the awards and nominations received by Callan[6]

Year Association Award Category Notes Result
1970 BAFTA BAFTA TV Award – Best Actor Edward Woodward Won
1970 BAFTA BAFTA TV Award – Best Drama Series Reginald Collin Nominated
1970 BAFTA BAFTA TV Award – Best Script James Mitchell Nominated
1971 BAFTA BAFTA TV Award – Best Drama Series Reginald Collin Nominated


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.[7] That said, Billboard newspaper, dated 15 November 1975,[8] 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. (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.[9])

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]

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 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 405-line videotapes, electronically (as opposed to optically) converted. 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 film 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 film.

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

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 series will be released to DVD in Region 1.[10]

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 series, 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.[11] This four DVD set includes the remaining 2 episodes (out of 6) from the first series and 9 episodes (out of 15) from the second series, 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 release the complete series containing all existing 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.[12] This suggests the collection may have been abandoned.

Region 4[edit]

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

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 Six 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 realisation 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 film 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 series as the head of Center "Mr Jones" who turns out to be Nikita's father.


  1. ^ "The Callan File". Television Heaven. 2014. Retrieved 24 December 2015.
  2. ^ Callan – This Man Alone
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ IMDB Awards list for Callan
  7. ^ "Callan (TV Series 1967–1972) – Trivia". IMDb. 2015. Retrieved 24 December 2015.
  8. ^ "Settlement is reached in copyright action by Mood". Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc.: 65 15 November 1975. Retrieved 24 December 2015.
  9. ^ "Johnny Pearson And His Orchestra – The Rat Catchers / Weavers Green – Columbia – UK – DB 7851". 45cat. Retrieved 24 December 2015.
  10. ^ "Callan DVD news: Contents for Callan – Set 1". 31 March 2009. Archived from the original on 25 December 2015. Retrieved 24 December 2015.
  11. ^ "Callan – The Monochrome Years". Archived from the original on 25 December 2015.
  12. ^ "Callan: Under the Red File". Network Distributing Ltd. 2015. Retrieved 24 December 2015.

External links[edit]