The Weekly Play: Callan – A Magnum For Schneider (1967)

Edward Woodward as Callan
Edward Woodward as Callan

Just in case for some insane reason you don’t already have them on DVD, this is just a quick reminder that possibly the best TV programme ever made, Callan, is getting a very rare repeat, thanks (of course) to Talking Pictures. I think the last time it was repeated was on UK Gold in the early to mid 90s, so don’t expect it to come round again for another 20 years.

The action starts with the original Armchair Theatre production that launched it, A Magnum for Schneider, which coincidentally again is this week’s Weekly Play. It sees working class ex-spy David Callan (Edward Woodward) blackmailed by his former boss Colonel Hunter into returning to ‘the Section’, SIS’s dirty tricks department responsible for everything from extortion through to assassination. His task? The murder of the titular Schneider, a German businessman who may be more than he seems. But has Callan’s nerve gone? And if it has, will his former employers kill him?

It’s a brilliant, unshowy piece of work, with Woodward showing his star credentials from the outset. But Russell Hunter as his informant ‘Lonely’, Ronald Radd as Hunter and Peter Bowles as Callan’s posh fellow agent Meres are all stand-outs. In an era of spy escapism, Callan was a welcome bit of gritty, down at heel British drama.

After A Magnum for Schneider, Talking Pictures will continue airing the series proper with the show’s surviving black and white episodes (no, the BBC wasn’t the only broadcaster to wipe its archives from time to time), in which the marvellous Anthony Valentine took over from Bowles as Meres, and a legion of other great actors eventually took over, Number 2-style, from Radd as ‘Hunter’.

After that, we head into the colour Thames episodes, which thankfully still survive. If you miss it, you’ll be sorry!

UPDATE: Actually, checking Talking Pictures schedules, it looks like A Magnum For Schneider isn’t getting an airing, so it’s straight into the black and white episodes tonight with The Good Ones Are All Dead at 9pm. That means you should definitely watch this week’s Weekly Play!