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Callan at 50

After the very successful London Film Festival that covered a large portion of October 2017, I caught up with the interesting although ‘hit and miss’ British Film Institute (BFI) season of ‘Who Can You Trust?’. The season has included the usual 1970s conspiracy theory thrillers such as ‘Klute’ and ‘All The Presidents Men’ as well as an interesting group of TV work including ‘The Avengers’ and ‘Danger Man’. My choice was the ‘Callan at 50’ with a rare public screening of an episode from Series 3 (‘suddenly – at home’) made in 1970.

The episode was a change of pace for the Callan series (1970-72) which for those who not familiar with it, starred Edward Woodward as a disillusioned agent (David Callan) working for ‘The Section’ which was a no holds barred part of British Intelligence (MI6/SIS)-essentially an execution cell. Callan is aided by a petty thief simply known as ‘lonely’ (Russell Hunter – who plays him as a Glaswegian cockney). Callan’s real enemies though tend to be internal ones – his boss Hunter and fellow operatives James Cross and Toby Meres.

In the episode to a pretty much full house at the National Film Theatre (NFT), Callan is directed by Hunter (William Squire) to stop a widow of a late Foreign Secretary (Zena Walker) taking part in a documentary series produced by a so called filmmaker who is actually a cover for a foreign agency. The unexpected happens though as Callan falls in love with the widow-which is code for her to be taken out therefore ruining a romance for David Callan.

The writing by Callan creator James Mitchell was first rate and the performances of Woodward, Hunter and Zena Walker were strong enough to get the viewer engaged and be on Callan’s side of the argument throughout.

Afterwards there was an excellent panel introduced by the BFI’s TV guru Dick Fiddy consisting of James Mitchell’s son (Peter), the ‘suddenly- at home’ director and TV/film veteran Piers Haggard and able hosted by the writers of the Callan ‘bible’ (‘The Callan File- the definitive guide’) Robert Fairclough and Mike Kenwood.

There was some initial hesitation by Peter Mitchell about how he saw his father’s creation but he soon settled into his groove ably assisted by some amusing anecdotes by Piers Haggard. It was universally agreed that a lot of the success of the show came down to the central relationship between Edward Woodward and Russell Hunter as they battled the internal politics of ‘The Section’ and trying in vain to progress in life.

Peter Mitchell revealed how he is working with Big Finish Productions to release new Callan material and that is something to look out for. Overall a really enjoyable afternoon spent in the company of Callan and its creators. So much so that I have gone out and brought ‘Callan-This Man Alone’ which is a 2016 documentary of the series…..