Edward Woodward as Callan


1967 - United Kingdom

An almost direct contemporary of the Len Deighton/John Le Carre sub-genre of downbeat morally tortured anti-heroes existing in a grim twilight world of treachery and deceit, the character of unwilling British government employed assassin David Callan, made his television debut in a screenplay by author and creator James Mitchell, entitled A Magnum for Schneider

Part of the celebrated Armchair Theatre strand which acted as a successful pilot for an on-going series, Callan aired in April 1967 to both critical and audience acclaim, embodied (as in the Armchair Theatre play) to ambiguous star making perfection by the ever excellent Edward Woodward as the troubled yet still deadly agent. The first two series were filmed in atmospheric monochrome which perfectly evoked the seediness and danger of Callan's world, before making the change to colour for the third and final fourth series in 1972. 

With consistently hard-hitting, uncompromising scripts and uniformly excellent support playing from a talented core cast which included Anthony Valentine as Callan's sometime unwanted and coldly calculating partner, Toby Meres, (a part originally portrayed by Peter Bowles in the AT production), Scots actor Russell Hunter as the hygienically challenged (and most endearingly human character), petty thief Lonely, psychopathic young agent Cross (memorably delineated by the equally young Patrick Mower), and as the chilling epitome of the cold, manipulative, remorseless hidden face of government, department head Hunter, most notably William Squire. The Hunter title was inherited by a number of different actors in common with that other ever changing authority figure from the classic series The Prisoner, Number Two..-possibly due to the creative input on both series of George Markstein, who himself had fulfilled a very similar, real-life, role with Military Intelligence during WW II). In 1981 Woodward resurrected his most famous character for the 90 minute one-off Wet Job before finding international success in the US action/adventure series The Equalizer, whose central character of Robert McCall could almost be seen as the flip-side of the David Callan character. 

The bleakly enduring vision of a bare light bulb swinging, a plaintively haunting theme tune, a man cursed with a conscience trapped in a remorseless, deadly occupation from which the only true escape is death, David Callan was a genuine television original. A brutal antidote to the over-hyped espionage antics of James Bond and The Man From Uncle. Yes, he was a clinically efficient executioner - that he was an executioner with a heart and conscience, (he could have been the man next door or even the man sitting next to you watching the television), he was an everyman doing a dirty job for dirty people in a sordid and corrupt netherworld, -is what ultimately fascinated millions.

Related Article

The Callan File


Published on December 2nd, 2018. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.

Read Next...

Mr Palfrey of Westminster

Mr Palfrey is a mild, middle-aged man—the epitome of a middle-ranking British Civil Servant. He works in the shadowy halls of Government. Mr Palfrey is a very dangerous man.

Also tagged Spy Drama

Entertaining Mr Sloane

A handsome, sexy and completely amoral young man, joins Kath's household as a lodger and proceeds to manipulate her and her brother. Joe Orton's play made its television debut almost a year after the author was bludgeoned to death by his partner.

Also starring Edward Woodward

The Callan File

We open the file on unwilling British government assassin David Callan.

Also tagged Edward Woodward

Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years

BAFTA nominated eight-part drama series based on Winston Churchill's enforced political exile during the 1920s and 1930s, starring Robert Hardy and an all-star cast

Also starring Edward Woodward

At Last the 1948 Show

An early outing for many of the team that would eventually form 'Monty Python', the '1948 Show' allowed the writers to indulge in a zany style of comedy that had been considered the domain of 'The Goons' for so long, but which hitherto had failed to make much headway on British television.

Also released in 1967

All Gas and Gaiters

One of the first TV series to poke fun at the clergy (albeit in a very gentle manner), All Gas and Gaiters is the fondly remembered sitcom that elevated Derek Nimmo to household-name status in Britain and also spawned two spin-off series as well as a radio show.

Also released in 1967

Detective TV series 1964 & 1968

BBC anthology series in which each week a different famous literary detective is brought to the screen. The series spawned several long-running series including 'Cluff,' 'Father Brown,' and 'Sherlock Holmes'

Also starring Edward Woodward