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The best example of spy craft on TV was this British series from the late 1960s, with a central character who hated his job but realised his life expectancy was nil if he left the service. This show was a gripping thriller that emphasised the psychological aspects of the job, but could dish out the violence if required, with an iconic performance by Edward Woodward in the lead role.

The last few episodes formed a story-line that was a cracker, where the ruthless Russian assassin pleads with Callan to finish him off before he gets turned over to the interrogators. As a reviewer said "presented a picture of British secret service methods that left a queasy feeling in the stomach".

Edward Woodward 1930-2009 RIP

Episodes

While the pilot still exists, many of the episodes from series one and two have been lost. For a long time the only way to see these Black and White episodes that remain is the bootleg copies that came up often on web auction sites, but UK DVD publisher Network released the surviving B/Ws on DVD: Callan - the Monochrome Years.

Series three has seen official released on VHS and DVD in the UK, US and Australia, series four had a DVD release in Australia, US, and UK: Callan - the Colour Years. Lastly, the follow-up reunion tv-movie Wet Job appeared in March 2011 in the UK.

The Novels

Written by the series creator James Mitchell, the first four of these - A Magnum for Schneider, Russian Roulette, Death and Bright Water, and Smear Job - are well worth tracking down, but the fifth - Bonfire Night - has been less popular with fans of the series and can only be recommended to die-hard collectors who like to have the whole set.

Short Stories

James Mitchell did a series of short stories on Callan.

The film

A re-working of the pilot A Magnum for Schneider.

Callan tv times
Callan short story in this issue

Documents in our Callan section