A Magnum for Schneider by James Mitchell (Herbert Jenkins, 1969)
This is the novel of the Callan pilot transmitted in 1967 under the Armchair Theatre banner. The novel has also been published as Callan and Red File for Callan. Note that the 1974 film version, Callan, had the same basic plot as A Magnum for Schneider.
David Callan, top agent for the Section and its chief, Colonel Hunter, has been sacked as he has been questioning too much what he is asked to do in the missions he is assigned. Now working in a dreary accounting job that he hates, Hunter recalls Callan and offers him his old job back if he will eliminate a German businessman named Schneider who happens to have an office next to Callan's, and is believed to be supplying weapons to undesirable governments. Callan accepts the assignment in the knowledge that if anything goes wrong, Hunter will disown him, and may do that anyway. Callan obtains a gun from a seedy petty criminal, Lonely, and plots to get close to Schneider via their mutual interest in military history and wargaming...
The novel is basically an expanded version of the 1967 TV pilot. It is far removed from the world of James Bond. There are no Aston Martins, glamorous locations or exotic women for Callan, and he is never sure who he can trust, not even his employers, who would throw him to the wolves if it were in their interest. Colonel Hunter is cold as ice in his ruthlessness and plays Callan off against an up-and-coming agent, Meers, who is eager to take Callan's place as top dog. In espionage books by Deighton and Le Carre, office politics play a sizeable part in the plot. That is not so much the case in what I have read by Mitchell. Our understanding of what is actually going on and the bigger picture ends with Colonel Hunter through his dealings with Callan and Meers, though it is never clear how much he says is true. It is a downbeat story where no-one can be trusted, set in mainly seedy locations. Not as cerebral as Le Carre and Deighton, but if you enjoy those authors then you will probably like this one, and if you haven't seen the Callan TV series, it is highly recommended.
Russian Roulette from 1973 was the second Callan novel written by James Mitchell. In this one the Soviets have learned that it was Callan who had killed several of their key agents and offer Hunter a deal. A British agent, highly placed in the Soviet Ministry of Defence, has been arrested and they offer to exchange him for placing 3 KGB agents in the UK to kill Callan, and for Hunter to throw Callan out of the Section to make his death easier. Hunter accepts and blocks Callan from getting a gun, putting the frighteners on Callan's usual sources. To make matters worse, Callan is suffering double vision and requires eye drops and an operation to stop him from losing his sight. Even more than before, Callan cannot be sure who he can trust, not even Lonely's relatives. In the TV series, fellow agent Toby Meres had been written out in favour of new man Cross, but in this novel Meres is still working for Hunter and Cross is nowhere to be seen.
Edward Woodward is always lovely to see. A friend sent me a few Callan episodes years ago. The series is practically unknown over here in the US unfortunately.
I have read that a similar series from the late 70s/early 80s, The Sandbaggers, has a bit of a cult following in the USA. Shame Callan isn't well known as it really is very good. Also agree that Woodward was a fine actor. He also had a decent voice and I remember that he used to appear from time to time on variety shows in the 70s and 80s plus things like Stars on Sunday. Anthony Valentine was also a very good Toby Meres, basically a refined thug.
Hi Ripper, I think there is at least a minor, but quite enthusiastic cult for Callan over here, but it's in the main confined to those of us who own multi region DVD players--surprisingly, a lot of Brit TV fans don't have those here. It's also quite easy to unlock the region code for a player but apparently even that requires more initiative than most will put forth. Nowadays, whenever an old 60s or 70s series is referenced on social media, anyone interested wants to know where online they can watch the thing for free. I think a lot of this material is on the Daily Motion site which seems much less patrolled by lawyers and their ilk than is the case with the tube of y'all.
I don't think I have heard of The Sandbaggers--will have to look it up. Edward Woodward's son Peter was really good in a couple of short-lived series back about 20 years ago, including an attempted spin-off to Babylon 5, playing a character which was originally a one-off guest star role. I haven't heard anything of Peter Woodward in years now but no doubt he shows up on TV either here or over there--I just have lost practically ANY interest in current telly.
I am not entirely sure but when using VLC media player on Windows I have been able to play DVDs from both regions 1 and 2, but I agree that streaming seems to be gradually taking over now via Netflix and Amazon Prime etc.
The Sandbaggers is a good series if you can get to see it. It was written by Ian Mackintosh, who disappeared rather mysteriously around 1980 if I remember correctly. It isn't quite as bleak as Callan but depicts SIS as being underfunded and departmental politics is prominant.
The third book in the Callan series was Death and Bright Water from 1974. Callan is working as a navvy after quitting the Section. One day, Lonely turns up and tells Callan that a man has been looking for him, and Callan thinks it could be a job. Back in London, Callan discovers that the man represents a Greek woman, head of a leftist party in exile, who is opposed to the military junta in Athens. She wants Callan to free her daughter from house arrest on Crete. Callan turns down the job, fearing that its security is too compromised. Hunter is displeased as Callan had flown to Paris to meet the woman and has him beaten severely. He then tells Callan that unless he does the job under Hunter's direction, he will have Callan killed. Having no way out, Callan flies to Crete with Lonely, whom he wants to pick the locks of the house where the girl is being held. This entry takes Callan and Lonely out of the usual urban setting, but I thought it worked quite well, with lots of amusing verbal play between the two. There is a sub-plot of a police constable who is on Lonely's track after he witnesses a Greek restaurant being firebombed, but to me it seemed a distraction that could have been left out of the book. It was fun to see how Lonely reacted to being somewhere as alien to him as the Moon. Hunter and his section agents do not appear quite as much as in previous books, but he is just as ruthless as before, and Callan, as always, knows he would be thrown to the wolves if Hunter thought it would be to his advantage. Not action packed, but the violence when it comes is fast and brutal.