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Series / Callan

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The main cast as of Series Fournote 

Lonely: Did you shoot him, Mr. Callan?
Callan: No. I hit him, and he died of it.

British spy series that ran four series on ITV, from 1967 to 1972. Edward Woodward is the eponymous hero, David Callan, an agent employed by "The Section", a shadowy arm of the British intelligence services during the Cold War. Callan was introduced in a one-off play aired as an entry in the long-running Armchair Theatre, "A Magnum for Schneider", which became in effect a pilot for the series; there was also a movie based on the pilot (or the novelisation of it) and a reunion episode, "Wet Job", in 1981.

The Section specializes in disposing of enemies of the state by dubious methods like blackmail, extortion and murder, and Callan is its most highly regarded operative. He is helped and hindered in his work by his boss, code-named Hunter except for a brief period during season 4 when Callan is Hunter, fellow agents such as the sadistic Toby Meres and the cocky James Cross, and a malodorous little small-time crook named Lonely.

The creator (and primary writer of the series) James Mitchell also wrote several Tie In Novels about Callan which were, if anything, Darker and Edgier than the series itself. In 2017 Big Finish, best known for Big Finish Doctor Who, announced they were reviving the series, with adaptations of James Mitchell's son Peter's short Callan stories for the Sunday Express.


  • Anti-Hero: Callan himself, as well as Hunter, at least as played by William Squire in seasons 3 and 4.
  • Anyone Can Die: There was an episode entitled "Let's Kill Everybody!". It pretty much lived up to its title.
  • Badass in a Nice Suit: Meres, the Hunters, Cross (though sometimes he tries too hard to make it a fashion statement), but somewhat averted by Callan (at least in the early seasons when compared to the level of impeccability of the others' suits and the amount of time he spends in them).
  • Because I'm Good At It: Part of the reason Callan does what he does is that he is good at it and he's no good at any other job.
  • Berserk Button: Don't touch Callan's model soldiers.
  • Black-and-Grey Morality: Callan has a conscience but it doesn't stop him doing a pretty unpleasant job. He's just too scared to quit.
  • Brainwashed and Crazy: Callan becomes this after KGB agents abduct him, torture him, and subject him to a plethora of drugs to manipulate him into killing the current Hunter.
  • Bullying a Dragon: Cross has a tendency to make fun of, try to provoke, and try to bully Callan (who is the best assassin in The Section). Epically outsnarking Cross aside, moments when Callan shows Cross why Cross is not the best assassin in the section are quite satisfying.
  • Cartwright Curse: None of the women Callan falls in love with last for very long, usually getting killed somehow in the crossfire between The Section and the KGB.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: What would the spy genre be without it? Meres enjoys perpetrating it; Snell finds it an interesting excercise.
  • The Cynic: Weirdly enough, despite being the one with the most morals in the Section, Callan is also the most cynical and certainly the most realistically cynical compared to the others who glorify what they do in some way.
    Callan: Do you know why I am so good at this job? I was trained never to take anyone on trust. You start off on one simple premise: Everything smells — yourself, the job you're doing, and the man who tells you to do it.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Callan, big surprise.
  • Don't Make Me Destroy You: Callan usually manages to bully Hunter into allowing him to bring in the next mark instead of straight up assassinating him, but, of course, the success of that depends on the person they're after, and Callan will tell the person this and try to convince them they are beaten and should come along peaceably.
  • Downer Ending: It would just be easier to list the episodes that end happily.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: In some of the first episodes, Callan narrates what he's thinking; however, this was soon dropped in deference to Woodward's ability to convey everything on his face and put layer upon layer of emotion into Callan's dialogue with the other characters which made inner monologue redundant, and they worked harder at inserting slick and interesting exposition into the dialogue where needed.
  • Emotionless Girl: Liz, Hunter's secretary, is generally unemotional and the steady right hand of all the Hunters. The one time her stoicism breaks, it throws the entire Section into chaos.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": The head of the Section is always called "Hunter" (or addressed by his codename "Charlie") and never known by any other name except of course for Callan himself in season 4.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Meres. Always carries a demeanour of polite friendliness and charm, whether just chatting, snarking, wooing, insulting, threatening, or torturing.
  • Gentleman Snarker: Meres' particular brand of snark. Cross tries to be this, but fails.
  • Good is Not Nice: Type 6. Though being the most moral member of The Section, Callan has to hide the compassion he does have under a pretty mercenary, bitterly snarky, jerkass attitude otherwise his opposition AND his co-workers pick up on it and start trying to tear him apart.
  • Go-to Alias: Callan's is David Tucker, though since "Callan" is an alias itself it could be said that "David Callan" is his go-to alias.
  • Hidden Depths: After the second Hunter's funeral, The Deputy Under-Secretary mentions that he used to paint for him, something of which both Callan and Meres were unaware.
  • Hitman with a Heart: And boy does he suffer for every remnant of that heart. Callan tries to avoid and is upset by any collateral damage to innocents, often chewing out Hunter or his much colder fellow agents at the least and occasionally wreaking his own brand of justice on those who perpetrate it or finding his own gruff way to try to lend some measure of comfort to innocents involved. He is troubled by what he does, and, quite frankly, seems to hate himself for it.
  • Humor Dissonance: Callan can't contain his laughter after finding out one of Lonely's hobbies is fishing.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: On more than one occasion Hunter makes it clear that he doesn't like the orders he's giving Callan any more than Callan does, but he expects them to be carried out nonetheless.
  • Implied Death Threat: These get thrown all over, and are used by almost everyone in, The Section.
  • Incredibly Obvious Tail: Justified when agents follow a Russian diplomat around in order to harass him.
  • Jerkass: Meres, Cross, and most of the Hunters.
    • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Strangely enough, Meres is an example of this. Though he usually tries to make everyone's lives miserable and enjoys seeing others in pain, he does eventually build and display a sense of camaraderie towards Callan, even showed concern in the second season finale when it seemed that The Section had turned on Callan, and even reluctance and sadness when he was forced to shoot a Brainwashed and Crazy Callan.
  • Just Following Orders: Cross lampshades this trope after Callan has been promoted to Hunter mentioning that now Callan can't use this excuse for the assassination of their targets since he's the one now issuing the orders.
  • Kick the Dog: Callan has to "Rebuke" Lonely on occasion. On the other hand...
  • Killed Off for Real: Two of the Hunters in Series 2, and Cross in Series 4.
  • Leader Wannabe: Meres has always had his eye on the position of Hunter. When Callan has the role of Hunter, this rather rubs Meres the wrong way as he believes himself to be the natural replacement and Callan Unfit for Greatness.
  • Legacy Character: Hunter is the job title for the leader of the Section. They also all share the codename Charlie. Callan ends up reluctantly serving as Hunter for part of Series 4. They are:
    • Ronald Radd as Colonel Leslie/alias "Colonel Hunter" in "A Magnum for Schneider" and Series 1, with guest appearances in Series 2 and 4)
    • Michael Goodliffe in Series 2 (episodes 1-5)
    • Derek Bond as John Ramsey in Series 2 (episodes 6-13, 15)
    • William Squire in Series 3-4
    • Edward Woodward as David Callan in Series 4
    • Eric Porter in the 1974 film
    • Hugh Walters in the 1981 reunion film "Wet Job"
  • Long-Lived: A subjective example. Callan is in his forties, much older than most people live to in his profession. Needless to say, he's quite painfully aware how every hour exponentially increases the likelihood he's going to get killed on a mission or (if he's not up to standard) 'retired' by The Section or assassinated by some young buck who has his eye on Callan's position as 'Top Man' in The Section.
  • Loyal to the Position: Liz as general factotum to the Hunters, even going so far as to make it look like she is sleeping with a current Hunter to cover for him against a previous Hunter.
  • Made of Iron: Averted.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: The Section is not above arranging this.
  • Manipulative Bastard: All the Hunters to varying degrees.
  • Mandatory Unretirement: How Callan gets forced back into The Section at the beginning of the series, and ever afterwards is told that resignations are not accepted unless he'd care to end up in a red file.
  • Mean Boss: Ronald Radd's Hunter, especially, who will select a job for Callan (seemingly) based on how much psychological pain it will give him.
  • Mind Rape: Callan is captured by the KGB and put him on a drug that will slowly drive him insane to the point where he will be begging to give them information. Fortunately, he's traded for Richmond before this goes too far.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Callan has a major one of these after he realizes he's been tricked and manipulated into killing one of the least bastardly Hunters.
  • Necessarily Evil: Callan and some of the better Hunters. The other agents and Hunters range from Well-Intentioned Extremist to Sociopathic Hero.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: T.P. McKenna uses his natural Irish accent when playing the Russian Richmond. Justified, as when "Richmond" was younger, he took over the identity of a deceased man from Dublin.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Callan and Richmond acknowledge this on their first meeting, and rather find they like and respect each other.
  • Only Friend: Lonely is this to Callan. Seriously. Lonely is the only person Callan considers a friend. Word of God confirms it in those exact words.
  • The Pig-Pen: Lonely is called "Lonely" because he has a distinct smell that keeps most people away from him. Wet Job clarifies that the smell is a nervous reaction, as he says he'd had no problems for a number of years thanks to working an honest job and staying on the right side of the law.
  • Pointy-Haired Boss: Both played straight and averted; some of the Hunters are a good deal more capable than others.
  • Prisoner Exchange: The opening episode of season 4.
  • Psycho for Hire: Subverted with Callan. Callan hates himself for the fact that he can like killing, and it's part of the reason he's so very controlled and tries to avoid assassination if there's another option available. Played straight with Cross and Meres who jump at the chance to do an assassination.
  • Put on a Bus: Meres, we're informed in the first episode of series 3, took an assignment in the U.S., but he returns as a regular in series 4.
  • Reunion Show: Edward Woodward and Russell Hunter reprised their roles as Callan and Lonely in a 1981 TV film entitled "Wet Job". A happily retired Callan is reluctantly brought back into the fold, to take care of an ex-MP writing an exposé about Callan (who he blames for his daughter's death), and a Russian dissident seeking passage to Britain.
  • Reckless Gun Usage: Surprisingly invoked in the 1974 film. Callan is at the shooting range and is handed a new Magnum. The gun is clearly loaded, yet prior to shooting, Callan (an experienced marksman) points the gun directly at Hunter while examining it. Given the context of the film and the series, this might be deliberate, but very reckless of the character if that's the case.
  • The Rival: Cross views both Callan and Meres as his, but they are both way out of his league. Somewhat averted with Callan and Meres; they could almost count as each others' except that they don't really strive against each other for position, except maybe for the position of most epic snarker in The Section.
  • Sadist: Meres. Just for some idea of context, he's the only assassin in The Section who will volunteer to go down to the interrogation department to see how an 'interrogation' is coming along, volunteers for 'interrogation,' and generally enjoys seeing even his co-workers in pain (emotional or physical) and is inclined to try to see how much he can get away with in regards to increasing it.
  • Schoolyard Bully All Grown Up: Meres once, in his habit of making smooth understated comments and threats, mentions to a mook he is interrogating that he (Meres) was a "real stinker" at school and that he "hasn't changed."
  • Scream Discretion Shot: Well, more of a groan discretion shot when Callan is captured by KGB agents and they start a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown.
  • Shame If Something Happened: Meres loves using these sort of threats.
  • Sliding Scale of Cynicism Versus Idealism: Pretty cynical on the face of it, although Callan's insistence on knowing what his intended victims have done and his trying to avoid casualties suggest he is more idealistic than he cares to admit.
  • Spy Fiction: the bitterest of Stale Beer. Even more so than The Sandbaggers in a way, since Burnside at least believes in what he does, while Callan only does it because he'd be unemployable in any other job, and the Section would probably have him killed if he tried to quit.
  • The Spymaster: The Section's Boss, Hunter, and his boss, Bishop.
  • Spy Speak: The KGB are "The Opposition" for example.
  • Suppressed Rage: Callan seems to live in an almost constant state of this, not surprising since he's a Rebellious Spirit forced into a job he hates.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: In the third season Cross replaces Meres. Both are Smug Snakes who are from a higher class than Callan, are generally rotten towards him, have very little in the way of conscience, suck up to Hunter, and enjoy their jobs.
  • Tall, Dark, and Snarky: Meres.
  • Title Drop: Almost every episode contains a line of dialogue with the episode's title.
  • Torture for Fun and Information: Meres, quite frankly, enjoys the more violent "interrogative" parts of his job, and it quite creative, such as tying up a KGB agent at the end of a long room and practicing hitting golf balls towards that end (implied by the bruises later, that he hit the fellow more than a couple of times).
  • Torture Technician: Dr. Snell is The Section's.
  • Trouble Entendre: Callan definitely does not appreciate this kind of talk.
    Callan: You want a killing? You give an order. Straight. Direct. In front of witnesses.
  • Tyrant Takes the Helm: On finding out that the original Hunter, played by Ronald Radd, has been temporarily reappointed, Callan is so appalled that he promptly announces he's going on leave. Needless to say he isn't allowed to.
  • War Gaming: Callan's passion along with collecting the model soldiers used in doing it. He tries to go to conventions whenever he can to play against other military history enthusiasts. Hunters have specifically chosen Callan on two separate occasions for a specific mission because the mark was a gaming enthusiast, which Callan hates because it contaminates the one pleasure in his life.
    • Reality Subtext: Edward Woodward was actually an avid wargamer, even hosting a six-part television series on ITV in 1978 called Battleground, where wargamers put their own spin on famous battles.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: As cold blooded murder is in Callan's job description, instances of this hardly stand out, but systematically wrecking a couple's marriage to facilitate a defection in "The Little Bits and Pieces of Love" and making an engaged couple break up (resulting in the woman committing suicide) probably counts.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Snakes freak Callan out.
  • Would Not Shoot a Civilian: Callan must be firmly convinced that his mark is working for the Opposition before he will accept to kill them (not only that, usually, but they have to have done something terrible). He will not shoot a civilian on purpose and will go to great lengths not to do so (though once in a battle around civilians, he does accidentally shoot and kill one, adding a terribly heavy blot of guilt on his conscience).
  • You Called Me "X"; It Must Be Serious: Lonely only refers to Callan as David under stressful circumstances, otherwise it's "Mister Callan".
  • Younger Than They Look: Ronald Radd, the original Hunter, was in his late 30s at the time the series started. Yet to look at him, you would think he was at least 50.
  • You Wouldn't Like Me When I'm Angry!: Callan, to say the least, and he's said it more than once. Even the most dangerous Hunter is careful about how far to push him.