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Callan (1967-72)

Courtesy of Fremantlemedia

Main image of Callan (1967-72)
ABC/Thames TV for ITV, 1967-72; (ATV) 1981
43 x 50 minute episodes + 1 special, black & white/colour
Directors includePeter Duguid
 James Goddard
 Mike Vardy
 Bill Bain
Writers includeJames Mitchell
 Robert Banks Stewart
 Ray Jenkins

Cast: Edward Woodward (David Callan); Anthony Valentine (Toby Meres); Patrick Mower (Cross); Russell Hunter (Lonely); Lisa Langdon (Liz, Hunter's secretary)

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The adventures of government assassin David Callan.

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Troubled government assassin David Callan first appeared in 'A Magnum for Schneider' (tx, 4/2/67), a one-off play for the Armchair Theatre strand. The downbeat screenplay by James Mitchell, about a killer brought out of retirement for one last job, effectively acted as a pilot for the eponymous Callan (ITV 1967-72), a bleak antidote to the jet-set secret agent lifestyle popularised by the James Bond films.

Callan was brought to ill-natured life by actor Edward Woodward, who added a complex moral dimension to the hard-bitten killer, whose life on the edge of society leaves him little room for a personal life. His only friend is the grubby and timid petty thief 'Lonely', played by Russell Hunter, who manages to be the most human of the regular characters, despite his questionable lifestyle and lack of personal hygiene - Callan is forever urging him to wash.

Other semi-regular characters included Callan's emotionless partner Toby Meres - played by Anthony Valentine in the series but by Peter Bowles in the Armchair Theatre production - and the psychotic agent Cross, played by Patrick Mower.

Callan had a series of bosses, all anonymously called Hunter, the most memorable played to chilling effect by William Squire. Ronald Radd and Derek Bond also held the position. The Hunter role is similar to the post of Number 2 in The Prisoner (ITV, 1967-68) - a title of authority given to a succession of nameless, calculating supervisors who are all bent on maintaining authority by whatever means. The resemblance between the two parts possibly reflects the involvement in both shows of writer George Markstein, who had held a similar role in Military Intelligence during World War II.

For four seasons each episode was prefaced by opening credits featuring a single swinging light bulb, accompanied by a simple echoing theme. It remains one of TV's most enduring title sequences, encapsulating the mood of the series in a single iconic image. Woodward returned to the role twice - in the film Callan (d. Don Sharp, 1974) and again in the 90-minute play Wet Job (ITV, 1981) in which Special Branch brings its former agent out of retirement for one last mission, before ensuring that he'll never work again.

Anthony Clark

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Video Clips
1. Opening titles (1:10)
2. 'Sick of it' (2:25)
3. John 'public school' Ramsay (1:33)
4. Minefield (2:26)
Complete episode: 'Heir Apparent' (48:58)
Magnum for Schneider, A (1967)
Goddard, Jim (1936-2013)
Mower, Patrick (1940-)
Preston, Trevor
Woodward, Edward (1930-2009)
'60s Spies and Private Eyes
Armchair Theatre (1956-74)