Callan: This Man Alone (DVD review).

November 20, 2015 | By | Reply More

I’ve reviewed the ‘Callan’ TV series here a while back and didn’t really expect to see much more available on the subject. After all, most of the key cast are no longer with us and the thought of extras back then wouldn’t have been thought of.


However, a documentary about the series, as told by the surviving directors and writers, not to mention recordings of the deceased, has to draw the attention and relive the past. As stated in the first documentary, at the end of the third series, ‘Callan’ was drawing in a quarter of the UK population at its height and that included even youngsters like me. Even so, it was a massive figure even with only three channels available back then. Amazing more for a series about an assassin with a conscience working for a section of the secret service than was far grittier than that Bond chap at the cinema. I should point out that part of this DVD title ‘This Man Alone’ is actually the name of the ‘Callan’ theme music and yes, there are lyrics and David Woodward actually sung it for a single, although there is only a snippet here.

There’s a lot of insight here which will undoubtedly getting you re-watching the series. If it wasn’t obvious from the start, the two lead assassins, David Callan (actor Edward Woodward) was working class and Toby Meres (actor Anthony Valentine) was upper class and neither liked each other. As the directors and Valentine pointed out in a recorded interview, that couldn’t stay that way or it would be one-note, so they ended up respecting each other over the series for the job they did.

Bearing in mind that ‘Callan’ started in the late 60s as an episode of ‘Armchair Theatre’ by James Mitchell. Even before it was filmed, executives thought that it would make a series which was something that I didn’t know as I always assumed that came later after a viewing figures assessment. Indeed, the third series almost became lost in the transition between ATV and Thames TV and only put on because of the expense it took to make it and then became the runaway express for viewing figures. Creator James Mitchell was there from the start and set the tone but even he couldn’t keep up with the number of episodes required but his fellow scriptwriters respected his work and kept the same tone as his. I should point out that throughout this documentary, we get to see a lot of the surviving producers, directors and scriptwriters and if you ever wondered what they looked like, as with Robert Banks Stewart, this is the ideal opportunity.

Oddly, although there is much discussion with Toby Meres going to Washington because actor Anthony Valentine had moved onto other things before season 3, less is said about his return later. Saying that, with actor Patrick Mower being available, we do get some insight into his part as James Cross and the who-hah at his death in the part. In those days, some people thought their TV shows to be totally real and he was brought onto the Eamonn Andrews Show to show he was actually alive, although bearded because he was in a theatre role at the time and wouldn’t shave it off.

There is also some insight into Lisa Langdon who played the secretary Liz March and delight from the directors because when she was given more to do in ‘A Village Called ‘G’’ showed herself more than capable than just the few lines of dialogue she was normally given.

The final part looks at the ‘Callan’ film and the TV feature ‘Wet Job’. Original cast and writers thought both were ultimately a mistake because things had moved on so much since the original series. The TV ‘Callan’ was more mood and film noir and the film lacked that. As creator James Mitchell points out and I heartily agree, it doesn’t have the original music to be regarded as canon. His son, Peter Mitchell, covers the novels, only the first was used in the series, and stories his father wrote after the series ended and they are still out there if you want to buy them.

If this documentary got you aching to see the series again, then the second DVD is a godsend as a taster because it contains four episodes, including the original Armchair Theatre pilot, ‘A Magnum For Schneider’. This is followed by the first of the series one, ‘The Good Ones Are All Dead’ and Callan isn’t quite back in the Section although it doesn’t cover his pulling the unconscious Meres from the kill scene.

The third story from season 2 ‘The Worse Soldier I Ever Saw’ is actually rather unique because it shows all the takes, including a fluff where actor Derek Bond as Hunter # 3 says the wrong character name. As you might recall, like with the BBC, these shows were recorded onto video tape and so it was a lot cheaper to do the scene again rather than an expensive tape cut in the literal sense of the fashion. What is interesting is hearing the first Hunter (actor Ronald Radd) being addresses by his real name, Colonel Leslie, and despite looking older was actually only in his late 30s when filmed. Indeed, even Lonely, gets his name as ‘Mr. Bellamy’. We also get a lot more about Callan’s own history albeit with some confusion for stories further in because it was also indicated that he went by the name of Tucker originally in the third season first episode, ‘Where Else I Could Go?’. Saying that, Callan’s disrespect for his commanders didn’t just start at the Section as he always had that bad attitude. When you’re watching this episode, also be aware that there are also some extensive black screens and even some white noise in its extended length. Although I could see reason to edit this out, you are actually getting a rather unique version pre-edit so you’re seeing what the editor has to splice together.

The third DVD has the first ‘The Edward Woodward Hour’ which is actually 53 minutes for the first time on disk. Back in 1972, advert breaks were a lot shorter. This consisted of four solo songs sung by a baritone Woodward and duets with actor Patrick Cargill and a popular singer called Nina (I think she used to duet with someone called Frederik) at the time. There are also three comedy sketches. The first shows the lighter side of Callan, seeing Woodward change into him is actually interesting, in a ‘Father, Dear Father’ with the aforementioned Cargill, as well as a cameo by Russell Hunter. On the first CD, both Woodward and Hunter say in recorded interviews that they thought afterwards this was a mistake to make such levity of their characters. Oddly, with comedy actress Beryl Reid, Woodward does demonstrate some flair for comedy and it’s a shame that this wasn’t ever really exploited in sit-com until ‘Common As Muck. Although this hour demonstrates Woodward’s versatility, it does look a bit dated when I saw it back then and even more so now. I was aware Woodward could sing but the impression laid in by him as David Callan still hadn’t gotten used to him that. Even so, it does bring back some memories from the past. I should point out that as a result of this one, there was another ‘Hour’ then series which showed Woodward’s popularity.

There are two small pieces about James Mitchell himself although these are largely unedited scenes used for a couple pre-edit documentaries looking at his early life in South Shields and work after ‘Callan’ but not, oddly, his other major successful series ‘When The Boat Comes In’. Be warned: there is nothing wrong with your TV set as the sound is intermittent in many places. If anything it gives more insight into the directing process of getting needed shots and, with ducks on the river, how much was recorded.

The remaining extras are devoted to showing a stills gallery. Considering how the first two seasons were recorded in black and white, most of these are in colour. The merchandise is really just the variety of book covers and film posters that have been done over the years. If you’re a fan of the series then you will at least own some of them.

If you saw ‘Callan’ the first time around or just watching the DVDs then you will find this 3 DVD set a good edition to your collection and I’ve already got the inkling to watch it again which is always a good sign. One can only hope that Network might do the same for ‘Public Eye’ and ‘The Sandbaggers’. Until then, this makes a unique collectable on ‘Callan’. Just don’t put him in the red file.

GF Willmetts

November 2015

(region 2 DVD: pub: Network. 3 DVDs. 130 minute main feature and 270 minutes of extras. Price: £30.00 (UK). On pre-order before 30 November 2015: £25.00 (UK). Cat: 7953452)

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Category: Culture, TV

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About UncleGeoff

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’
If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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