I will praise A Magnum for Schneider to whoever will listen and, as you’re reading this, I presume you fancy listening. It’s a wonderful introduction to the world of David Callan, who is persuaded to return to the distinctly dodgy secret government department he recently left on principle – the principle that he didn’t enjoy killing people. Callan is tasked with murdering an import-exporter called Schneider. He sets about acquiring a gun but is also determined to find out why the man is being targeted.
The title of this post is a misnomer because A Magnum for Schneider is not an episode of Callan – it’s an episode of the Armchair Theatre anthology series, but I want to distinguish it from the first post I wrote on A Magnum for Schneider. Written shortly after I had first seen it, it’s full of the rush of enthusiasm I immediately felt towards Callan.
Although commissioned essentially as a pilot, by the time A Magnum for Schneider aired, Callan the series had already entered production. You certainly don’t need to see it before Callan, but it’s an excellent start that establishes the style of the series.
Officers and model battles
As A Magnum for Schneider is based around a reluctant Callan being drawn back into the shady Section, we learn how Callan works, how untrusting he is and just how distasteful Hunter and the rest of the Section are. But I do like that A Magnum for Schneider gives us scenes that allow other aspects of Callan’s personality to come through, and they are ones that aren’t confined solely to his work.
His comment to Schneider that he “didn’t get on with officers” while in the army is easy to understand as soon as we have seen him with Waterman, his boss at the greengrocer wholesaler. Callan has only been there six months and I’ve previously wondered why Waterman has put up with his impertinence for as long as that. But perhaps Callan has allowed this attitude to gradually seep out as he’s become increasingly fed up. Even though Waterman is “a bastard”, it is boredom more than dislike that has led to Callan entertaining himself with retorts like, “Ah, that’s the peasant in me, you see – I know nothing but toil!” and a simple affirmative becomes “Jawohl mein Obergruppenführer!” This brings a nice element of humour to the script and writer James Mitchell would find other ways for Callan to express this in the series.
It’s wonderful to watch how much joy Schneider’s model soldiers bring to Callan. He is thrilled to be allowed to pick up the models and admire them and he’s so pleased to share his passion with someone else, making him all the more reluctant to proceed with his mission. What I particularly like is that when Callan breaks into Schneider’s office alone later, he again goes to the models, pretending to commence battle, and picks up a pencil to launch from the canon.
Callan and Schneider mention both European and American battles from the 19th century. I knew nothing of these battles when I first watched; my own interest in history is more modern and I didn’t cover them at school. Viewing the Callan series, I’ve picked up odd bits that have prompted me to google a few things.
I’ve always wondered if areas like the battles of Talavera and Gettysburg were once more commonly taught – did Mitchell expect the audience to understand these references? I am not sure he did because I find details clearly laid out and, with the knowledge that Mitchell himself collected model soldiers, Mitchell likely just included the parts of history he was most interested in.
Playing at soldiers
Schneider tells Callan that he likes recreating battles with his model soldiers because it doesn’t have the brutality of real war. We have already seen Callan’s chat with Hunter, in which we learnt that Callan previously cared too much about the people he killed, so it should be clear that Callan is probably attracted to model soldiers for the same reason. In the Callan series, we will see more of Callan’s hobby as he enjoys studying military history and strategy. Yet Schneider’s comments could be seen as an odd thing for him to say once we discover that he’s illegally selling guns to Indonesia. He has been holding on to newspaper clippings about the deaths of British soldiers and they are evidence of the violence that he is partly responsible for.
But I don’t think he is revelling in the Indonesia deaths for what they are because Schneider is not depicted as being motivated by any cause other than capitalism – something he proudly states to the investigating men from Special Branch. The clippings are more likely trophies that demonstrate Schneider’s successful transaction.
I do enjoy watching Peter Bowles playing such a shifty character as Toby Meres, yet the character doesn’t entirely work in A Magnum for Schneider.
Meres feels lacking; he could be any of television’s villainous goons. He doesn’t even get the opportunity to be all that menacing. The only time he steps into the action properly is at Schneider’s flat and although he knocks a nasty scream out of Jenny, it isn’t dwelt on due to the rushed action. Perhaps if earlier on we had had more indication of how threatening he can be, it would work better. It’s hard not to compare this Meres to the one Mitchell would develop later – he is given more humour and is far nastier.
Regardless of this, I don’t think this Meres fits into Callan’s murky world properly in this story. He follows Callan to the pub, which is revealed when Lonely goes to order a drink and Meres turns around at the bar. The very air with which Meres holds himself stands out, especially with Bowles’ tall and broad stature. In a suit like that, Meres belongs at his club and certainly not in this small, grimy pub with characters like Lonely. There are a few elements that need sorting here. Meres’ outfit is one, but also his positioning – he should be hidden in a corner, subtly revealed to the audience as the camera moves across, and I think the actual result was probably due to the limitations in the studio.
Having seen some photos of the episode’s sets recently, I was struck by how small most of the sets are. The pub in particular does look small and crowded on screen, but others, like the shooting gallery and Callan’s flat, seem like they could be larger. I love a television pub, so let’s look closer at this studio-based one.
The way in which Lonely seems at home in this pub – happy to stay there for another after Callan has left – indicates that it may be a regular haunt. The other patrons are mainly younger people, including a couple of couples and lads in leather jackets.
The design of the pub seems traditional, with a wooden bar, tables and wood-panelled walls, plus what looks like an etched glass window behind Callan and Lonely’s booth, which has wooden wings at the side. You can’t see it on screen, but the table legs are metal. I always think such heavy legs were designed for pub tables to stop them being thrown across the room. There are several pictures of horses with riders on the walls so I’d be willing to hazard a guess that the pub could be called The Horse and Jockey. Also on the wall, behind the bar, is a sign with a header that reads, ‘BETTING’.
There are leather-topped stools at the bar, where a young lady is serving from an L-shaped counter. She mumbles the price of the large whisky and pint of bitter that Callan orders, but does clearly call him “sir” when he hands over the change. There seems a reasonable selection of drinks, with three handpulls on the left and a small barrel on top of the counter. The barrel reads ‘LONDON’ on the end, but it looks like a brewery name may have been blanked out by black tape.
Behind the barmaid, there are several shelves with more small barrels lower down, ready to go. A bottle of wine can be seen here too, but otherwise the shelves appear to be filled with spirits, with a couple on optics. These shelves are decorated with a couple of pieces of triangular bunting, which are a bit random. It looks like she gets Callan’s whisky from one of the bottles with optics and although we don’t see her fetching the bitter, the head on it indicates it is supposed to have come from a handpull. We can’t see the till that’s just out of shot, but we do hear it as the barmaid puts the order through.
This pub is crowded on both of Callan’s visits and this makes sense when the timings are worked out. We see Callan under a lot of pressure from Hunter to carry out the assassination quickly, so it is likely that the action all takes place over a few days.
Callan breaks into Schneider’s office, stealing a key to his safe, then heads to Schneider’s flat to break in. We see the Schneiders dressed up for the evening and heading out. To avoid the key being missed, it is reasonable to assume that Callan carries out both these actions on the same day. After the break-in, he visits the pub for a second time before going to return the key.
This visit to the pub must have been on Saturday night: when Callan breaks in to Schneider’s office to put the key back, he almost gets caught, rushing into Waterman’s office, and he then tells Schneider, “I don’t usually work on a Sunday.” Therefore, Callan’s first visit to the pub was probably on either Thursday or Friday – perhaps the latter as Callan tells Lonely, “Make it quick ’cause I’m in a hurry.” As a result, the busyness of the pub is perfectly realistic if Callan’s visits take place on a Friday and Saturday.
One final thing I want to note is how quickly James Mitchell works a “bastard” into his scripts. I think A Magnum for Schneider will always come out tops as Callan casually dismisses Waterman with, “He’s a bastard,” at only 2 minutes 35 seconds.