Remember when I looked at Callan’s Armchair Theatre and said how nice it was to see a German on 1960s’ telly who didn’t turn out to be a Nazi? Well, it’s back to business as usual in The Good Ones Are All Dead. We’re told Strauss is a Nazi from the start and Callan’s task is to bring him in as the Israeli authorities are rather keen to have a few words. Quite possibly ‘What would you like for your final meal?’
This is officially Series 1, Episode 1 of Callan. The events of A Magnum for Schneider are referenced but with it being broadcast five months previously they are thankfully not dwelt on. Hunter convinces Callan to work for the Section again, partly by blackmail but he also convinces Callan to take more of an interest by bringing up the fact that during the war Callan’s parents were killed by a V2 bomb. This Strauss fellow had a lot of responsibility for the launch of the V2 bombs after being involved with the concentration camps. It surprises me that this is what convinces Callan. It’s not like Strauss stood there and gunned down Callan’s parents in cold blood. The V2 bombs were launched from the other side of the Channel. Attributing blame to one guy for them seems quite a stretch. It’s hard to judge Callan’s perspective because for one we don’t know what he did in the war, if anything. His age is difficult to gauge. If we’re being generous then Callan sports a sensible short haircut. If we’re being harsh I’ll point out Edward Woodward’s receding hairline. Receding hairlines aren’t the be-all and end-all of course, as some of you may be glad to hear. Callan seems like he’s seen a lot, done a lot, knows a lot and obviously had enough. He’s been around a while but just how long is hard to say. I remain sceptical of this reasoning but I suppose it ties in with Callan becoming emotionally involved in things.
Callan takes his bookkeeping skills off to work for Strauss who is now called Stavros. His accent sounds more French than Greek to me. It doesn’t take much to work out that Stavros is shagging his secretary. Is she his secretary because they’re shagging? There are no references to a wife or children so it isn’t that bad but he is a good twenty years older than her. Callan isn’t certain that Stavros is actually Strauss so goes off to do some snooping.
He does a neat spy thing of spotting a hair laid across the handles of the doors to Stavros’s bedroom. In Dr No you see James Bond pull out a hair, lick his thumb and stick the hair across his wardrobe doors. When he comes back the hair has gone and he knows his room was searched. Stavros has used a long hair or possibly a cotton thread so it can lie across the handles. Callan picks it up and remembers to put it back when he leaves. Inside the room, he finds nothing except for a large safe hidden in the wardrobe.
Later on, Callan meets Lonely and describes the safe to him. Lonely turns out to be something of an expert on safes and knows exactly what sort it is. He’ll need a copy of the key. Callan also meets with a Jewish man, Berg, who was in a concentration camp run by Strauss and insists the man is definitely Strauss. “I must know why you’re so sure,” Callan says.”I was his house slave for three months,” Berg explains, telling Callan that he once broke a plate and Strauss broke three of his ribs. “When you fear a man, you watch him all the time.” Callan is convinced.
Having copied Stavros’s key using plasticine, Callan now has a key to the safe. When he gets into the safe he finds a trunk and rifles through it. An SS uniform, a Nazi party card, a gun and a bag containing gold nuggets are among the items. The SS jacket has a cyanide capsule sown underneath the lapel and when Callan checks the wardrobe he finds several other jackets that have one too. Callan is rumbled by the secretary, Jeanne, who confesses she has known Stavros/Strauss’s past for a while and it was she who turned him in. When Callan calls into Hunter we learn that the gold nuggets are in fact gold fillings, a detail that sent a shiver down my spine. If you weren’t aware, the Nazis extracted them from Jewish people in the concentration camps.
When Stavros/Strauss returns he finds Jeanne in the bedroom who tells him she thinks Callan is a thief as she caught him acting suspiciously. He sends Jeanne away and tells her to get on a plane to Cairo. Afterwards, Callan hears a noise and going into the corridor sees the bedroom door open. As he goes towards it Stavros appears behind him with a gun, wearing his SS jacket.
Callan informs Stavros/Strauss that he has been found out. When Stavros is told it is the Israelis who are on to him, his sheer terror is conveyed in his “Oh my god”. He tries to bribe Callan – “You work for money?” – but no dice. Here follows a magnificent scene between the two of them. Callan tells him he must be handed over as it is what the Israelis want. Stavros insists “Strauss is dead!” For the past 23 years he has lived a good life and tried to be a good man. He has been racked with guilt and it was finding Jeanne that was his ultimate salvation. “You poor bastard – she turned you in!” Callan yells at Stavros, who then seems truly defeated. He tries to bite the cyanide capsule on his jacket but Callan stops him, crushing it on the floor. I don’t think I have ever felt slightly sorry for a Nazi before but Stavros seems truly repentant. He convinces me that he regrets what he did, wanting to become a better person. He appears to convince Callan too, or at least to elicit some pity, as Callan hands him one of the other jackets. As Stavros bites into the capsule, the camera stays on Callan, showing his racked expression as he turns his back on the deed.
Stavros’s repeated insistence that his old self is long gone is what grabs me at the end of this episode. I also thought it was a brave move for the programme to portray an ex-Nazi so sympathetically. The war had only ended 22 years before so a proportion of the audience would have fought against the Nazis and some may well have been in concentration camps or had family that had been. This wasn’t just an ordinary infantryman either; we’re told he was an Obersturmbahnführer, the SS equivalent of a Lieutenant-Colonel – a fairly high rank. Despite the pity I feel for Nicholas ‘Strauss is dead’ Stavros, the one gap in his story is that he held on to remnants of his Nazi past. Stavros says it is a reminder of a time when he was looked up to and held in high regard, but surely if he regrets what he did to earn him that respect then he would throw it all away?
I haven’t mentioned Toby Meres, Callan’s colleague, though he does appear in this episode. In Armchair Theatre he was played by Peter Bowles but from now on it’s Anthony Valentine. I was initially disappointed not to see Bowles again but I actually think Valentine is much better for what’s required here. He intensely dislikes Callan and comes across somewhat callous.
This is an excellent series 1, episode 1 for the show, managing to tell us what we need to without repeating Armchair Theatre too much. “What is the Section for, Callan?” asks Colonel Hunter. “Eliminating people, framing, extortion, death… all the jobs that are too dirty for her Majesty’s other security services to touch,” Callan replies, sounding like he’s quoting a handbook.
There is also some continuity as Hunter throws Callan’s own file in front of him, which Hunter had moved into a different cover at the end of A Magnum for Schneider. Callan is annoyed as he reads it: “Red cover. Most urgent, marked for death.” Hunter’s expression is blank as he blackmails Callan into taking on the job: “You do this for me or I’ll have you destroyed.” I love seeing the contempt Callan has for Hunter. He uses the word ‘mate’ a lot, often in the tone of someone in a pub at ten on a Friday night, asking ‘D’you fancy taking this outside, mate?’ Callan doesn’t take Hunter’s threat well. He leaves it a while before returning to the subject. “I know you can have me killed. But… [he draws a gun] don’t you push me too far, right… because I might just let myself be killed… only you won’t be there to see it because mate I’ll get you first. And I can do it. Believe me, I can do it. You ought to know.” It is interesting that Callan knows and states how good he is (“very good”) but he never comes across as arrogant.
Hunter says Callan’s only good at killing people but in both Armchair Theatre and The Good Ones Are All Dead we see Callan kill only one person. I think Callan does show himself to be very good, if not excellent, at what he does but what he does is more than just murder. Perhaps those other things affect Callan just as much.