In the 1967 British television drama A Magnum for Schneider, the terse talking, totally ruthless secret agent David Callan became an instant touchstone of British spy fiction. A hugely successful television series quickly followed – running from 1967 to 1972 – along with films, five novels, and (at least) forty short stories syndicated in newspapers around the world.
Created by author James Mitchell, and portrayed with callous world-weariness by actor Edward Woodward, Callan became an iconic anti-Bond – a man doing a blue collar job he often regrets, but keeps doing because he is so very good at it. Executioner, bodyguard, stone killer, Callan is a blunt instrument wielded by Hunter – his eventually despised agency control – and aided by the malodorous thief known only as Lonely.
The short stories – featuring Callan, Lonely, and the regular members of The Section – were originally published in Britain’s Sunday Express and syndicated in newspapers in Singapore and Australia. A Sunday Express advertisement heralding the start of the Callan stories publication clearly describes Callan’s world…
CALLAN BLASTS IN
Three years ago a cold, hard, enigmatic character in a rumpled raincoat made his first appearance on Britain’s television screens.
He was a special agent. He could if necessary be a killer.
He had no pretty girls to decorate his activities.
He did not go on his assignments in fast, expensive cars.
He had no gimmicks. But he had authority and credibility.
He quickly shot up in the viewing charts – and stayed there.
His name is Callan.
Now the cynical, lonely Callan, brilliantly acted on television by Edward Woodward, is to appear in a new medium.
His creator, author James Mitchell, has written a series of Callan adventures for the Sunday Express.
Like the Callan stories which have gripped television viewers, they are packed with action and suspense – and have an unexpected twist at the end.
The Sunday Express Callan series is a must for all Callan’s TV viewers.
It is a must for all who enjoy a tensely, tersely told story of suspense and mystery.
Watch for Callan next week in the Sunday Express.
In 2014, editor Mike Ripley gathered over twenty of James Mitchell’s never before collected short Callan stories – all of them originally appearing in the Sunday Express over forty years earlier. Published as Callan Uncovered, the stories – along with an early treatment for an episode of Callan the television series, the screenplay for an un-filmed episode, and an introduction by Peter Mitchell – were an unexpected prize for Callan fans.
Believing there was still more forgotten Callan stories, editor Mike Ripley and several other dedicated Callan fans continued sifting through microfilm and moldering newsprint. Eventually, they uncovered a total of forty short stories. They were also able to reconstruct James Mitchell’s scripts from two early television episodes (Goodness Burns Too Bright, 1967 and Blackmailers Should Be Discouraged, 1969) for which no known recordings exist.
All of this invariably led to the recent publication of Callan Uncovered 2 chronicling the beginnings of the Sunday Express’ Callan short stories from 1970. Written by Mitchell while he was still working on the TV series, the stories avoid being formulaic yet still deliver emotional punches every bit as bleak and brutal as the TV episodes.
I had a great time with both of these collections and recommend them highly for both long time Callan devotes and new comers alike. British espionage fiction at its most clinical and brutal.