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Magnum for Schneider, A (1967)

Courtesy of Canal+ Image UK

Main image of Magnum for Schneider, A (1967)
For Armchair Theatre, ABC Television for ITV, tx. 4/2/1967
55 minutes, black & white
DirectorBill Bain
ProducerLeonard White
ScriptJames Mitchell

Cast: Edward Woodward (Callan); Joseph Furst (Rudolph Schneider); Peter Bowles (Meres); Ronald Radd (Colonel Hunter); Russell Hunter (Lonely)

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Callan, one-time assassin for 'the Department', is currently stuck in a tedious office job. Offered his old job back by former boss Hunter, in return for taking on a case, he warily accepts. But Hunter has not been entirely frank...

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The cult spy drama Callan (ITV, 1967-72) emerged almost fully formed from this Armchair Theatre (ITV, 1956-74) pilot. Most of the series' key elements are present: the moody opening music, with its sparse piano and heavily-reverbed bass guitar (actually library music composed by Dutchman Jack Trombey); Edward Woodward's bitter, browbeaten, conscience-stricken assassin; the cynical, manipulative boss, Hunter; the well-bred rival, Meres (although Peter Bowles lacks the malevolent charm brought to the role by Anthony Valentine); Russell Hunter's memorable performance as Callan's malodorous informer and dogsbody, Lonely. All that was missing was the iconic swinging lightbulb title sequence that began each episode of the series.

The sombre tone and gloomy black-and-white style are a world away from the colourful fantasy of The Avengers (ITV, 1961-69) or the psychedelic enigma of The Prisoner (ITV, 1967-68) - though they perhaps owe a debt to the similarly downbeat Public Eye (ITV, 1965-75) - and reflect the fading of sunny '60s optimism and renewed cold war anxieties and an impatience with spy glamour. In his original treatment for the series, writer James Mitchell set out the philosophy of espionage that defined the character:

Espionage is about people. Essentially, it is about one man, and the effect he has on others. He is a man alone: the nature of his trade isolates him from his kind. He can never hope for lasting human contacts: abiding love, enduring friendship. His weapons are treachery, corruption, betrayal, and yet he himself must be immune from these.

To this grim, brutal vision, Mitchell added 'the Department', a sinister, shadowy organisation that takes on the jobs the police and official security services can't: bribery, coercion, assassination...

A Magnum for Schneider sees Hunter, with the help of Meres, attempting to entrap the unruly Callan into taking the blame for the illicit execution of an arms dealer, only to be outwitted by his wary prey. Callan's victory was shortlived, however, for by the time the series began two months later, he was back under Hunter's thumb. Ronald Radd, who played Hunter for the first series and made a brief return in the second, was the first of a series of actors to fill a role that was redolent of The Prisoner's Number 2.

The same plot, filtered through Mitchell's own novelisation, was reused for the feature film Callan (d. Don Sharp, 1974).

Mark Duguid

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Video Clips
1. Red file (6:02)
2. Lonely (2:57)
3. A waste of energy (1:32)
Callan (1967-72)
Bowles, Peter (1936-)
Woodward, Edward (1930-2009)
Armchair Theatre (1956-74)