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Callan: The Monochrome Years

01/03/2010. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy Callan: The Monochrome Years in the USA - or Buy Callan: The Monochrome Years in the UK

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region 2 DVD: pub: Network B002ZJ1JR2. 4 DVDs 600 minutes 12* 50 minute black & white episodes. Price: 29.99 (UK)) stars: Edward Woodward, Russell Hunter, Ronald Radd, Michael Goodliffe, Derek Bond and Anthony Valentine

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All right, this isn't Science Fiction, but me and the boss are fans of 'Callan' and I did give a plug to the colour DVDs a few years ago, plus the nice people at Network gave me some advance copies to look at cos they like my taste. When you consider that the price the Australian colour season 3 have rocketed up to, either there weren't enough made or there's a massive audience out there for the dirty tricks agent who got canned for caring too much. I should point out that if you're hooked, Network have said that they are also releasing the colour seasons 3 and 4 in the UK for those who want to see what happens next. Believe me, darlin', you'll want to watch them to see what happens next.

For those who don't know, 'Callan' was the first serious espionage UK television series that was the antithesis of James Bond, showing what a dirty world it is. Interestingly, 'Callan' never started off as a series. It was just one of many stories shown on 'Armchair Theatre' that got a favourable response and although it ended on a downer, so to speak, people were intrigued. We had American shows like 'Mission: Impossible' beginning to rear their head over here but compared to the activities of the Section, that did the dirty tricks for our Government, this was much grittier and like our dramas, developed over a series with no reset button. What made Callan stand out was despite the fact that he was a good killer is that he worried about his victims so had heart.

This monochrome boxset includes not only the 'Armchair Theatre' pilot and the 1967-68 first two seasons, or rather the remaining eleven that weren't wiped. 'Doctor Who' isn't the only series that suffered such a fate. I should point out that the black and white episodes have been missing for yonks and for the completests amongst you, having these surface is beginning to show anything is possible. Some of them are still missing but there's no loss of continuity as such although it does feel odd that one of the Hunters, Callan's boss, only appeared briefly but his were the episodes that are gone.

The early episodes show their age and occasionally some oddities like over-loud musical cues at the wrong time but that's an experienced eye watching now. Then again, this was in the age when usually there was no track music and any used was from the theme music and Callan's was especially loud and not give for mood. There's a few scratches on a couple of the episodes but whether this comes across on the final release not the advance discs, you'll have to find out for yourself. The episode where it most happens actually adds to the atmosphere.

What I hadn't realised was that Callan (actor Edward Woodward) wasn't actually back in the Section in season one. Hunter (actor Ronald Radd) was using him when he wanted to keep his own hands clean or even free from the Section although at least Callan was getting paid for his services and no longer working for his previous employer, Waterman, as an accounts clerk. He doesn't work alone, frequently using a smelly burglar called Lonely (actor Russell Hunter), whose aroma becomes stronger the more scared he is. Believe me, mate, you get scared around Mr. Callan, especially when he wants a gun. Unfortunately, there are only two of the first season six episodes left but combined with the pilot gives you a firm grasp of the series. The part of the sadistical assassin Toby Meres, played by Peter Bowles in the pilot, is taken over by Anthony Valentine who gives a different suaveness that allowed his own career to develop.

The second season, with nine of the fifteen episodes here, introduces a new Hunter (actor Michael Goodliffe) who isn't a clone of the original but gets Callan back into the Section, which is where he belongs, after all. It also goes to show which Hunter Callan hated the guts of. It shouldn't act as much of a spoiler to say, he becomes one of the casualties when the Section is hit by an assassination squad and another Hunter (actor Derek Bond) is brought in and this one trained with Callan so things are even more cordial. Dirty tricks continued until the finale where Callan is kidnapped and in a drug-induced brainwash is convinced his current boss is a traitor. This episode doesn't pull any punches, literally, and you will be hungry to find out what happens next.

The one thing that we British always did well was gritty dramas and they didn't get much more than grittier than 'Callan' which had a big following even today. With this re-release and the recent death of Edward Woodward, it is going to draw some attention and I suspect a lot of fans who want to see what he did before 'The Equilizer'.

Paying attention to the dialogue, a lot of useful information surfaced. The first Hunter was really a Colonel Leslie, the third John Ramsay and rather interestingly, Lonely's surname is Bellamy, assuming he didn't make one up. Let's not spoil it for you by saying which episodes the information comes from. The change in Hunters also throws up in the air any idea that the cast remains static. Callan doesn't get on well with authority figures and it is to creator/writer James Mitchell's credit that this is played around with, even to bring back the first Hunter to really rile him. The hatred is intense and much kudos to the cast in making it work.

The world of espionage has an appeal to Science Fiction fans because it also uses devious plots and plays against the undercurrent of society looks like a different world. Spot the similarities? If you want to re-live or even see this series for the first time, I think you will be entranced. A superb series. Excuse me, I've got to watch the last two seasons again.

GF Willmetts

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