The best example of spy craft on TV by the Brits, 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".
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.
Written by the series creator James Mitchell, the first four of these are well worth tracking down, but the fifth 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.
A Magnum for Schneider (1969)
The book was reprinted under a variety of of titles, includng A Red file for Callan and Callan.
Callan is washed up. The most efficient killer in Europe is working as a book-keeper for a small, dusty merchant. But Circumstances force Hunter to employ him for one last operation. Schneider. Cheerful, friendly, affluent Schneider with his innocent passion for model soldiers. Callan hunts again And again his tool is Lonely, the most frightened little man in the underworld.It is Lonely who gets him the gun, a Noguchi Magnum 38 calibre. A magnum for Schneider.The operation is studded with leathal booby-traps, but Callan's own inhibitions are the most dangerous.
James Mitchell, otherwise known as James Munro, shows in this book what a thriller can become in the hands of a master. The tension is almost unbearable, but a humane cocern for people lift the story abov the normal run of If it moves, shoot it thrillers.
'I've done a deal,' said Callan's Boss, Hunter. 'Perhaps the nastiest deal in my career. I'm giving you to the Russians.''
The KGB had picked up the Section's top man in Russia. So far he was still alive and well. He would continue to be so now that negotiations were concluded.
'Your tading me for hi?'
It was like weighting two diamonds', said Hunter, ' Each perfectly cut, each virtually flawless. Our man in Russia weighted just one carat more. I'm very sorry.'
'You realise what they'll do to me?'
'They want you dead. They want you so badly they're prepared to give me my top man back unharmed in exchange for you.'
'For my corpse.'
For once Callan was shocked. he knew Hunter was hard, he knew he was cold-blooded. But to sell one of his own men to the Russians...
So the word went round, No gun for Callan. Not even Lonely-faithful, frightened, knowledgeable Lonely-could get him one.
And three men from the KGB had arrived in London... with orders to kill Callan...
from the US paerback: Admittedly, he was a killer... the best the British had. It had something to do with the survival instinct, the patience of a hunting animal, the single, destroying blow.
His name was David Callan and the KGB lusted for his corpse - badly enough to ante up the top British spy held captive in the Kremlin.
Callan was alone out there, in the alleys and squares and parks of London, unarmed and half-blind, fair prey for three deadly Ivans.
But Callan was still the best the British had, and even without a gun he was a walking bloody arsenal...
Death and Bright Water
There's no easy retirement for a man like Callan...
Callan's days with the Section were over, he'd had enough. But just when he'd found an escape from the killing an the violence, the mysterious Dr. Blythe appeared with a proposition - and Callan found he couldn't refuse. It looked like a simple kidnapping job - getting the beautiful Sophie Kollonaki's daughter out of Crete - but Sophie was involved with the KGB, and where they were, death was never far away.
Callan and the faithful Lonely found themselves on the way to Crete before they began to suspect that there was more to this than anyone was letting on...
From the US Hardback A Greek political exile named Sophie Kollonaski wants to hire David Callan, the most efficient killer in Europe, to 'kidnap' her beautiful daughter on Crete, where she is under the protective custody of Michael Vardakis, Sophie's cousin. But Callan isn't a freelance. He works for Special Branch, a secret British agency, and besides, the job is too dangerous, so Callan refuses the assignment. But Hunter, Callan's boss, tells him to accept it. Hunter sees possibilities..
There were two little favours Hunter wanted from Callan. Stealing a book from a library wasn't so bad- except that the library was in Sicily- but making sure that Gunther Lesir lost a fortune at cards was a bit more of a problem... Callan was no card sharp...
And the worst thing was, you knew with Hunter that, that wouldn't be the end of it. In no time, Callan was off on a trail that led from Las Vegas to Mexico and into the dirtiest business in the world: drugs, prostitution, blackmail...death...
Someone is out to kill Major David Callan. As yet he doesn't know who's behind it, but he does know who's been given the contract: Hermann Voss, his ex-captor and torturer in East Berlin before the Wall came down...and perhaps the only man up to the job. The action is non-stop and ranges from London to the south of Spain before it reaches the inevitable showdown.
The book is out of print at the moment and commands quite a high price on the second hand market, which in light the poor reception it has had from fans might seem unwarranted if it were not for the fact it only received one printing in hardback edition, with no paperback. The rights have reverted to the author/agent, so Severn House Publishers Ltd tell me they are not in a position to reprint.
James Mitchell did a series of short stories on Callan in the 1970s. The ones I have foundreferences to are:
1967-12 - Merry Christmas from the Section (aka Callan's Christmas) in the TV Times Christmas Extra of that year
and several for the Sunday Express:
1973-03-11 - File on a Deadly Deadshot
1973-03-18 - File on an Angry Artist
1973-03-25 - File on a Reckless Rider
1973-04-01 - File on a Weeping Widow
1976-02-15 - File on a Joyous Juliet aka Mission: Save a Leggy Blonde from the KGB
1976-09-05 - Keep this man alive...the admiralty need him