5 July 2017 | alexanderdavies-99382
The ultimate Spy drama - unsurpassable!
"Callan" shall always remain the ultimate Spy drama on British television. Nothing can match the series for character depth, drama, storytelling, tension and suspense. Thankfully, all the existing episodes can be enjoyed once again, thanks to DVD. For the record, 34 episodes exist - including all of the colour ones that ran from 1970 to 1972. The regular cast are a delight. Edward Woodward is the ideal choice to play the main character of a highly skilled but reluctant killer for British Intelligence. The character is someone who has no formal training or qualifications. Killing is the only thing he knows and Callan relies upon that kind of work in order to survive another day. Regarding the character of "Hunter," he is described as being a cold fish who needs to be that way in order to perform his job with efficiency. He is the one who sets up the various jobs for his operatives in "the Section." Where he receives his orders, we never know. There were different actors who played "Hunter." For the first series which was broadcast in 1967, Ronald Radd played the character and is excellent. Then he was unavailable and so Michael Goodliffe replaced him until 1969. He left because he was unhappy with working on the series and wasn't bonding with the cast, apparently. He didn't like appearing in a programme which reminded the actor of his time serving in the Second World War. For the rest of the black and white series, Derek Bond played "Hunter." Anthony Valentine personified evil and sadism as the psychopathic operative Toby Meres. His character was a "public school" background and was from a privileged family. He had no conscience about killing anyone, he enjoyed the act of committing murder. To Meres, he employed whatever means were necessary in order to complete an assignment. He and Callan came to respect each other begrudgingly after a while. Every time Anthony Valentine smiled or applied a bit of charm, you winced slightly because you knew it was a facade which masked what was lurking underneath....... The character of Lonely was brilliantly brought him to life by Scottish actor Russell Hunter. Lonely was someone who helped Callan by providing him with guns, tailing someone, breaking into someone's house. Eventually, he was employed as a taxi driver for "the Section." Lonely was loyal to Callan but mainly because he was terrified of being beaten by him. In a strange way, Callan regarded Lonely as being about the only person he thought of as a friend. Both characters felt like outcasts in society for different reasons. The black and white episodes crackle and are about as taut and realistic as you could get. The sense of continuity is just about maintained, in spite of the missing episodes. The final black and white from series 2, was supposed to mark the end of the series for good. The last scene was meant to show Callan's fate. However, to everyone's considerable surprise, there was a public outcry as "Callan" had become a sensation right across Britain. The viewing figures were enormous and the public wanted more episodes. 1970 saw the series being made and broadcast in colour. It was time to take "Callan" to a new level. Unfortunately, Anthony Valentine was unavailable to reprise his role of Meres. Instead, Patrick Mower was brought in as another character, James Cross. Like Meres, Cross was a hard, sadistic killer who was in love with cruelty for its own sake. He had high hopes of advancing his career as an operative and this included replacing Callan as the number one killer in the section. He was a great character and Patrick Mower played him well but I narrowly prefer Anthony Valentine as Meres. Welsh actor William Squires was cast as the new "Hunter." He was another very effective boss and seemed to treat Callan as a bit more of a human being. A further addition to series 3, was the character of the sections physician - Dr. Snell. He was the kind of person who had such a clinical approach to his work, that it bordered on Nazism. At the beginning of series 3, Callan has to prove once again that he is worthy of being kept in the department. There follows various stories that explore his character further, his relationships with Lonely, with Hunter and very occasionally with the opposite gender. A major feather in the shows cap, was the hiring of George Markstein who acted as Script Editor. All kinds of stories have circulated about Markstein have surfaced. These include his having worked for British Intelligence. He was thought to have had an air of menace about him. Even so, he was an asset to the series. Series 4 brought a bit of a twist to the tale, in that Callan was promoted to "Hunter." Geoffrey Chater was brilliant as the rather shadowy civil servant who gave the orders usually, usually via "Hunter." The production values were rather modest, although they had improved slightly during the colour episodes. The beauty of "Callan" lays in its writing and acting. The two components go hand in hand. The violence is rather tame in comparison with these days but the violence in "Callan" has a purpose, it isn't just thrown in for the sake of it. For television of the times, it was quite a realistic kind of violence. Most of the time though, it was implied and that was enough. We see many talented actors in the supporting cast, including Tony Beckley, Dennis Price, Windsor Davies, Graham Crowden, Sarah Lawson amongst others. Watching a masterpiece of a series like "Callan," makes me realise what a deplorable state modern television is in.