Monday, 4 September 2017


Created and written by James Mitchell, Callan (1967-1972) is a British spy drama about the hitman of a shadowy government security service. Edward Woodward played the moody and cynical David Callan, an assassin with a conscience. A realistic secret agent closer to the job description by John le Carré or Len Deighton than to the image of James Bond.

The series turned Woodward into a household name. After Callan, he starred in the The Wicker Man (1973) and became  internationally famous thanks to Breaker Morant (1980) and the U.S. series The Equalizer (1985-1989). Callan spawned novels, a feature film (1974) and a 1981 TV special. Regarded as a classic, it is the subject of The Callan File - The Definitive Guide, an amazing book written by Robert Fairclough & Mike Kenwood and released by Quoit Media Limited in September 2016.

« Espionage is about people. » (James Mitchell)

Born in the North East of England, James Mitchell (1926-2002) had several jobs, including shipyard worker and teacher, before establishing himself as a novelist and scriptwriter. He published his first novel, A Time for Murder, in 1955 under the pseudonym of Patrick O. McGuire. Mitchell broke into television when he was asked to adapt his third book, A Way Back (1959), for an episode of Armchair Mystery Theatre  aired on the ITV network in 1960. He went on writing for series such as Z Cars, The Avengers and Crane while working his novels. Success came to the author with the character of John Craig, a reluctant British agent for the Department K featured in four books published from 1964 to 1969 (as James Munro) (1). Then came David Callan, James Mitchell's other antihero.

Edward Woodward, a classical actor with a few guest roles in dramas and the lead part in BBC2's Sword of Honour (1967), originated the role in A Magnum for Schneider. Produced by ABC Television (Associated British Corporation) for ITV's Armchair Theatre and directed by Bill Bain, this play penned by Mitchell was shown in February 1967. Callan is an operative/killer for "The Section", sidelined for being curious about his targets. He's called back by its boss, Colonel "Charlie" Hunter (Ronald Radd), who asks him to kill a German businessman named Rudolf Schneider. David happens to share an interest in wargaming with the man. But he asks Lonely (Russell Hunter), a petty criminal who has halitosis and hygiene issues, to get him an illicit gun. Meres (Peter Bowles), Hunter's right-hand man, keeps an eye on Callan.

A Magnum for Schneider was well received, particularly because of the script and Woodward's performance. Developed by James Mitchell and scriptwriter Terence Feely, Callan, the subsequent series, premiered on ABC during summer of the same year. Edward Woodward and Russell Hunter returned. The relationship between David Callan and Lonely evolved to an unlikely partnership and later to the closest thing a man like Callan could afford for a friendship. Ronald Radd came back as Hunter (actually a codename). He was succeeded by Michael Goodliffe, Derek Bond and William Squire. Anthony Valentine replaced Peter Bowles as upper-class thug Toby Meres. Clifford Rose appeared as Snell, the Section's doctor. Liz March, Hunter's secretary, was played by Lisa Langdon. The melancholic theme tune was actually a 1960 library music piece titled Girl in the Dark by Jack Trombey (an alias of Dutch composer Jan Stoeckart).

Series 2, aired on Thames Television, concluded with Callan in a much talked about uncertain fate after he shot his boss dead. He survived for a third series made in colour and co-starring Patrick Mower as Meres' replacement James Cross. The fourth and final series, televised in 1972, ended with a three-part story called The Richmond File (2). James Mitchell wrote 18 episodes of Callan. Robert Banks Stewart (the creator of Bergerac) and George Markstein (The Prisoner) were some of the other writers. Edward Woodward, Russell Hunter and Clifford Rose reprised their roles in Callan (1974), a feature film directed by Don Sharp and written by James Mitchell, from his own novelization of A Magnum for Schneider (Red File for Callan, 1971). Callan and Lonely went back to the small screen in 1981 for Wet Job, an ATV 80-minute special written by Mitchell and helmed by Shaun O'Riordan.

Callan combined great writing and characterization with exceptional acting talents (starting with Woodward and Hunter). Robert Fairclough & Mike Kenwood celebrate this important British television programme, launched 50 years ago, in The Callan File - The Definitive Guide. They meticulously detail the creation and production of the different versions of Callan: the one-off TV play, the series, the film, the special. Even the novels, the short stories and the 2012 radio play. Their considerable work is enriched by biographies, words of many of the persons involved at different levels, an history of the broadcaster, as well as an analysis of the influences and legacy of Callan. There are appendices about the repeats, the recordings, home video, etc. The Callan File - The Definitive Guide also includes a photo section, an extract of a new Callan novel by Peter Mitchell (James Mitchell's son) and a foreword by director Bharat Nalluri (Spooks).

(1) The Innocent Bystanders (1969), the last John Craig novel, was adapted as a movie starring Stanley Baker in 1972.
(2) + +

See also: (In French)

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