Introduced in "A Magnum for Schneider", the hour-long 1967 Armchair Theatre episode of Callan
written by James Mitchell about a disillusioned British secret agent of the same name (starring Edward Woodward), went on to offer four popular (if downbeat) series, a spin-off movie remaking the original story and a some-years-later wrap-up play "Wet Job". Remembered for its very distinctive opening titles, with a swinging broken-light bulb and a memorable theme tune, the series adopted a Deighton-LeCarré approach to the grim, treacherous, grubby business of Cold War espionage and made a TV star of the intense Woodward as the sweaty, sometimes conscience-stricken, sometimes robotic Callan. Even in the 21st century this still seems as strong, its complex stories and impressive performances outweighing a low-budget mix of video and film in the production that makes it seem less "professional" than other shows of the time.
A great deal of the series opener is devoted to bringing on new regulars. There's a fresh Mr Hunter who, like Number Two on The Prisoner--with which Callan shares series editor George Markstein--was a title not a name, so several actors held the position over the course of the show. There's also the trendily mulleted thug Cross (Patrick Mower), who would go spectacularly off the rails in the next series and a half. In a dramatic device that has long since fallen out of fashion in television, Callan episodes tend to wind up by leaving the audience to work out all the connections of the plot while Callan himself sits gloomily and ponders the wretchedness of his squalid world. --Kim Newman
The entire first series of the 1970 Thames Television series starring Edward Woodward as a tough secret service operator. In 'Where Else Could I Go?' Callan (Woodward) tries to weadle his way back into the service. In 'Summoned to Appear' the death of an innocent man leaves Callan with some explaining to do. And in 'The Same Trick Twice', a planned East-West exchange of captured agents goes wrong and everything becomes very confusing indeed. In 'A Village called 'G'', Liz (Lisa Langdon) goes missing from her job as Hunter's secretary and draws up plans to kill somebody. In 'Suddenly at Home', Callan (Woodward) becomes emotionally involved with the woman he has been assigned to protect. And in 'Act of Kindness', Callan decides to help a former agent who has become the victim of a blackmail plot. In 'God Help Your Friends' Callan (Woodward) is given the job of breaking up the romance between a government employee and a suspected spy. In 'Breakout' an escaped prisoner gets a grilling from Callan and Cross (Patrick Mower). And in 'Amos Green Must Live' Callan gets caught in the crossfire when a racist politician receives a death threat.