Callan – Goodbye Nobby Clarke

Goodbye Nobby Clarke

10 out of Callan’s 21 black and white episodes are missing, and Goodbye Nobby Clarke is the earliest. As far as I’m aware, the only part of this episode that exists comes from a censor clip. As just two episodes exist from Callan’s first series, this made me savour the programme’s monochrome era during my original viewing. Further forays into archive television have taught me that Callan actually has a fairly decent survival rate compared to other programmes from this period.

Some archive television enthusiasts seem frustrated at the attention Doctor Who gets for its missing episodes compared to other programmes. I can understand this because it, too, is relatively well-represented in the archives now. Additionally, I have access to all of the soundtracks and numerous episodes have been recreated in animation. There are series with far higher casualty rates and, even when their recorded soundtracks have been recovered, the chances of them getting a commercial release are slim. It sometimes feels like the only evidence that certain shows ever existed is a TV Times listing.

This is why I feel lucky to be able to read all the scripts for Callan’s missing episodes, which were released as part of Network’s Callan: This Man Alone DVD set. Having consumed all the television, film, literary and audio versions currently available, this is the closest I am likely to get to any ‘new’ Callan. I’ve read a few of the scripts before and am looking forward to slotting them in among the existing episodes.

People Discolour With Time

It becomes clearer in this story that Callan is a free agent and isn’t being lured back to the Section, as would be the case in the second series. However, ‘free’ remains a relative term as Callan still finds himself being used and abused by Colonel Hunter.

The Nobby of the title is a former army colleague of Callan’s and is played by Michael Robbins. Hunter wants him put out of action because he’s been acting out of Malaya as a mercenary and now threatens British interests in other parts of Africa. Callan is blackmailed into helping the Section, though for once he doesn’t have instructions to kill: “You needn’t go all the way. Maim him, frame him, put him in prison for a year or two. Just put him out of action.”

Michael Robbins
Michael Robbins (Nobby Clarke) in 1966’s Adam Adamant Lives! – Death Has a Thousand Faces

Written by Robert Banks Stuart, this is the first episode not penned by creator James Mitchell – and indeed the only one from this first series. Banks Stuart would have had A Magnum for Schneider to work with and the production’s briefing documents were pretty informative.

Reading the rehearsal script, there are numerous lines of dialogue crossed out, including a couple of references to Callan and Clarke’s time serving in the Malayan jungle. It isn’t completely scrubbed though and I wonder if someone felt it was simply mentioned too much in the script, making it an easy casualty for any timing cuts needed. It’s previously been established that Callan was in the army but this episode is the earliest to try to give details of what he got up to.

The one thing in this script that did seem askew was Nobby Clarke calling Callan ‘Dave’ when he always introduces himself as ‘David’. I had thought it more likely that Callan would have been known by his surname in the army (even if it wasn’t ‘Callan’ back then) and he does tend to be in civilian life too – it is usually only women who use his forename. However, it serves to show what a close friendship Callan and Nobby had that they both know each other by nicknames.

Hunter

Hunter generally appears behind a desk and/or watching monitors in his office, so I found it amusing to picture him being more active in this story. He’s described as using an ‘OFFICE ISOMETRICS MACHINE’ near the beginning of the episode, though I couldn’t pin down exactly what sort of machine this would have been. Later, Hunter lays out a meal that includes hummus, which is described as having a texture like porridge – not a comparison I would have made myself. Am I making my porridge wrong?

There are scenes between just Hunter and Meres and I like seeing Meres put down – he’s far from Hunter’s golden boy. He is sent to run down Clarke in the episode’s opening scene, but Clarke walks away with a concussion and a few scratches. Hunter rebukes Meres for, “Driving like a nervous spinster.”

Callan’s exchanges with Hunter are often full of heightened emotions and I hugely enjoy their relationship.

CALLAN: Its rich, really it is. YOU... describing someone as a dangerous mercenary. Personally, I wouldnt have the nerve. HUNTER: Were sweepers-up. An entirely different thing.

Callan loathes this first Hunter – potentially more than any of the others – and it becomes understandable in this episode when we see how he is blackmailed into carrying out dirty work.

In their first meeting, Hunter attempts to convince Callan that Nobby Clarke isn’t such a great bloke and that Callan should already sense this. With Meres sent out of the room, Hunter is more open and reads from Callan’s old psychiatric test.

HUNTER: […] You described him as your friend, but according to this, you constantly suggested he was really an enemy. Once, during unarmed combat training, he dislocated your arm. Deliberately you said.

CALLAN: (INDICATES FILE) The paper’s turned yellow.

HUNTER: And facts sometimes discolour with time.

There’s a double meaning to Callan’s line: he is no longer in a red ‘death’ file, with the yellow indicating that he is merely under observation, while paper is noted to change colour as it ages. Hunter gets around Callan’s attempt at deflection with the latter.

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For once, I’m on Hunter’s side as Callan does seem determined to overlook any doubts he ever had about Nobby. He was a friend and they fought together – it’s understandable that their history provides a bond, but Callan also doesn’t want to have to agree that Hunter is probably right.

Callan heading to a door as Hunter looks over
A still from a censor clip for Goodbye Nobby Clarke

The final line gives the episode its earlier title of ‘People Discolour With Time’, which I think I prefer. There has already been an indication that Callan has sensed a difference in Clarke, with the script describing their first meeting:

ALTHOUGH OUTWARDLY IT IS A JOCULAR REUNION, CALLAN IS SOMEWHAT SURPRISED BY A CHANGE IN CLARKE.

The Goodbye Nobby Clarke title may be a reference to Robert Graves’ autobiography, Goodbye To All That, which largely focuses on his time in the army during the First World War. I’m not sure it’s a particularly obvious reference, but it may have been at the time as the book’s second edition was published only a decade earlier in 1957. It’s still satisfying that both titles refer to Callan’s relationship with Clarke – it’s the most satisfyingly enjoyable aspect of the episode. In fact, it’s probably more interesting after seeing further episodes because the audience becomes increasingly aware of how much of a loner Callan is. Here, we’re presented with someone who is a genuine old friend of Callan’s, and someone he still largely trusts.

Location, location, location

As Lonely is usually Callan’s only drinking buddy, it’s nice to think of Callan enjoying a drink with a mate at the pub. Early on in the story, Callan is sceptical about Hunter’s information on Clarke and he remains on friendly terms with Nobby, even as he pushes for information. I got excited when I saw the heading ‘PUB GARDEN’ as I fancied the idea of seeing a 1960s’ beer garden. However, it was immediately disappointing to read:

THE GARDEN IS REALLY A BRICK-WALLED YARD.

Language

With conversations about Africa and the inclusion of a black character, it sadly feels inevitable that a 1967 drama contains language that would not be acceptable in the present day. I’m not sure how appropriate it all was in 1967 either; Banks Stuart only ever has Clarke use the term “nigs”. We get the following exchange that positions Callan as passive and accepting (though it would still depend on how Edward Woodward played his line), while Clarke seems like he’s trying to cover himself.

CLARKE: I can’t make out which makes me feel more at home. A Stepney pub, or the number of nigs around.

CALLAN: England’s changed.

CLARKE: So I gather. Anyway, some of my best friends are Africans.

Throughout the script, Banks Stuart tends to use “coloured” to describe people, which seems the more polite term to use at this time. But his description of Clarke’s fellow mercenary, Milton Kanaro, left me uncomfortable.

HE IS AN EDUCATED AFRICAN, WEARS AN ENGLISH TWEED SUIT, SMOKES A PIPE.

And also:

HE SPEAKS WITH A SOFT, CULTURED ACCENT.

It sounds as though to be educated and to be cultured is to present as an English stereotype. No other characters need to be described as either educated or uneducated and if their accents are mentioned then it is to denote where they are from. There is also an issue that throughout this script, ‘African’ appears to be used as a byword for black people – with a black actor (Dennis Alaba Peters) cast as Kanaro – despite the fact that the continent is populated by people from many different races.

Dennis Alaba Peters
Dennis Alaba Peters (Milton Kanaro) in Department S in 1969

Kanaro isn’t served well as a character and it would have been good to learn more about him. He appears at the pub for a brief conversation with Clarke that enables us to infer that Clarke is recruiting mercenaries. He then confronts Callan when he’s exploring Clarke’s workshop, explaining some of the fake African gift items that are being made. He interviews Meres with Clarke for a mercenary position but doesn’t really need to be there. After that, a single line of dialogue from Hunter informs the audience that Kanaro has gone to Africa to report back to the rebels – it’s the only clue to who Kanaro is. It’s a strange choice because Clarke has two other men and Kanaro could easily have replaced one of them later on.

Colonial disinterest

With a considerable number of colonies gaining independence from the UK in the 1960s, an unnamed or made-up African country experiencing internal troubles is something of a trope in contemporary drama series – this presumably avoided any external conflicts with real countries. As a result, we shouldn’t read too much into the fact that we are never told exactly where Kanaro is from.

Reading the rehearsal script proves fascinating for seeing what was removed. There are large chunks crossed out in Goodbye to Nobby Clarke, which eventually led me to infer that it may have been overrunning. One section dispensed with manages to offer an explicit ‘in universe’ reason for not naming the African country where Clarke plans to take his mercenaries.

CALLAN: I don’t keep up with the new States. I read a newspaper report about a military coup there the other day, and it might as well have been on the moon.

HUNTER: For all you care?

CALLAN: Yes.

HUNTER: (RISES FROM DESK) Very well. I won’t bore you with names.

I’ve never seen the term “new States” before, though I suppose it simply comes from ‘newly independent states’. Callan may appear ignorant or uncaring but he wouldn’t have been alone in his disinterest; other European countries experienced a public backlash against decolonisation but most of the British population had no strong feelings about the end of empire and knew little about Britain’s former possessions. The vast majority of the public was always concerned with more pressing matters closer to home. Callan may have been involved in the Malayan Emergency during his time in the army, but its details are never commented upon. This is reasonable as it becomes increasingly clear that Callan’s military interests revolve around tactics and artefacts – far more so than historical backgrounds.

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Nobbled

The episode builds to a climax as Callan robs the laundrette where Nobby’s wife works, using a mock African weapon from the workshop with Nobby’s fingerprints on to frame him. I imagine this scene could have been really tense as Callan hides behind a clothes rail, coming dangerously close to getting caught, before he sneaks out to hit the laundrette owner from behind.

Meres has joined two of Clarke’s goons, Blair (Bruce Purchase) and Fenton (John Dunn-Hill), in an attempt to ambush Callan at his flat. They find Lonely there and knock him about. Lying against the front door, Lonely uses a slip of paper pushed under the door to make an approaching Callan realise something is wrong. Callan then goes through his neighbour’s flat.

Miss Brewis was in A Magnum for Schneider and it’s interesting to see her feature more prominently here as she wouldn’t appear again – there was probably little need for the character when Lonely can be brought in for scenes at the flat instead. She enters Callan’s flat earlier in the episode, finding him still in bed in the afternoon – at first, I thought he was ill or hungover, but I think he may just be indulging in his misery because he no longer has a job. She had taken in his laundry and picked up his post, so it appears they know one another well.

After passing through Miss Brewis’s flat, Callan gets into his own through the bathroom window, knocking the unaware goons out. Discovering that Meres had been enlisted to hurry Callan along with Clarke, and that he’s told Clarke about Callan’s intelligence connections, Callan uses a gun butt to knock Meres out. I would dearly love to watch this moment because, knowing what a complete shit Meres is, it feels immensely satisfying.

Callan’s confrontation with Clarke at the workshop leads to a big fight among the gifts on the shelves. Callan moves around, throwing his voice to confuse Clarke. He eventually blinds him with paint spray before anonymously ringing the police to let them know where to find their laundrette thief.

I hugely enjoyed this final act and there feels great momentum as we go straight from the events at Callan’s flat to his fight with Clarke. With sections of the script crossed through here, it’s difficult to know what action was included in the finished episode. It’s probable that any of it would have been slightly altered depending on the sets and what was worked out in rehearsals.

 

It’s a rare episode of Callan in which no one dies, but Callan is described as having killed only a few people over several years with the Section before; perhaps there was a feeling early on that Callan’s assignments shouldn’t all be assassinations.

This isn’t the only episode that explores Callan’s army past and it will be interesting to compare Goodbye Nobby Clarke to The Worst Soldier I Ever Saw in the next series. Here, Callan was reunited with a fellow former NCO, but it’s a more antagonistic relationship with a high-ranking officer in the later story. I like Callan‘s references to class and there were some in Goodbye Nobby Clarke, with Hunter’s attitude to Clarke leading Callan to call him a snob.

I’ve been relatively lucky with Goodbye Nobby Clarke as multiple versions of the script exist, making it easier to follow the story. Unfortunately, there are only camera scripts available for many of the other missing episodes and these strip out almost all of the descriptive elements to just leave the dialogue, making it harder to know what’s going on in some scenes with movement or action. Nonetheless, I’m looking forward to seeing what these scripts have to offer.

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