will be making some changes to our user base starting Feb 25, 2015. For more information click here


Season 4 Episode 3

First Refusal

Aired Saturday 9:00 PM Mar 15, 1972 on ITV
out of 10
User Rating
2 votes

By Users

Episode Summary

First Refusal
Callan has become the new Hunter and his first job is to retrieve a list of British undercover agents before they are sold to the KGB.

Who was the Episode MVP ?

No results found.
No results found.
No results found.
  • Callan has become the new Hunter and his first job is to retrieve a list of British undercover agents before they are sold to the KGB. Easy. With the return of a rival as well as a newly-employed Lonely, how could there be a problem?moreless


    It's a lonely East-West Germany border crossing with a couple of guards - and to prove it along comes a Volga car. A fine example of Eastern Bloc workmanship. Indeed, the two guards check the driver's papers but then the car won't start. The driver, a man called Bristac, begins to look concerned and checks the time repeatedly as he tries to get the Volga to start.

    In Hunter's office the newly-appointed Hunter, Callan, explains to his boss, Bishop, that the Section needs a radio-control taxi. Bishop says they have company cars but Callan wants a taxi with a radio because often agents have urgent information to call in and they can't find a phone - oh, those pre-mobile phone days... It is necessary, he says but Bishop won't have it as the budget can't go that far. Then Callan renames the taxi an MCF – Mobile Communications Facility. Bishop is impressed by his use of bureaucratic jargonese and can justify it in the budget.

    Callan pushes his luck and asks for a permanently-assigned driver and he wants Bishop to fast track and short cut someone through the licensing system – Lonely. Callan says he'll take full responsibility for Lonely, a recurring theme, and besides Lonely knows too much and they may as well use him. If not, Callan says, they will have to take him out - and that means right out. The way the Section does it best. But Callan promises they will have to take him out first. Bishop relents.

    Out at the border the damn Volga still won't start. Bristac the driver is very edgy now. As one of the Vopo guards helps to push the car the phone rings. Bristac panics and flees through the border post over to the West. The guards shoot and he is hit in the shoulder but he keeps on running and collapses in the woods. Eventually he is found, wounded and barely conscious, by the West German guards. He recovers enough to say one name - Kitzlinger.

    Callan literally drags Lonely into a garage with a taxi in it and offers Lonely a job, whether he likes it or not. Then he shoves some papers at Lonely and tells him to read them out loud. It's a painful process and he doesn't understand what he's reading. "Official secrets act…. Penalties for spying." What does it all mean, he asks? Then he sees the part about "liable to imprisonment" and he starts panicking. Callan forces him to sign it and says he is now a government worker, and he has to keep his mouth shut or Callan will tear him apart.

    In a flashy hotel apartment in London an old man called Kitzlinger calls on his phone for a taxi, then mentions to the foreign-sounding woman in his apartment that his phone will be bugged. His mail will also be opened and he will be followed. She agrees then asks if he is satisfied with her part in the transaction so far. He agrees - a man called Bristac was shot crossing the border five days ago. She's surprised but relieved to find he was only wounded. Her partner would not have been happy to have caused a death so soon. Kitzlinger asks if her partner is highly placed and she agrees - but stresses again he is also very anonymous. Her name, however, is Myra Kessler.

    Under Callan's close scrutiny Lonely is cleaning the taxi while Callan questions him about directions in London. Lonely has to pass a test regarding streets but he's not very good and keeps getting himself lost. Callan urges him to study harder. "Do you want this job or not?" Callan says - it's rhetorical. Lonely complains but reluctantly agrees, not realising if he doesn't take on the job he will be eliminated. Before Callan can really lose his temper Liz comes up on the radio calling for Charlie. Callan answers his code name and is told to bring he taxi to pick up a fare.

    Lonely is driving the MCF taxi with Callan and now Bishop is in the back with him. Callan closes the window between them and Lonely so they can talk business. Bishop explains they are meeting Kitzlinger, a middle-man broker and a specialist fixer, used occasionally by all sorts of secret services around the world. In his own way he is an honest broker and has integrity, says Bishop. Kitzlinger has something for sale but no one knows what. Yet.

    They sit in Kitzlinger's apartment as the older man tells them what he is selling - a list of ten agents including their names, covers, locations and contacts. Everything about them. However, these agents are British spies in Europe. Bishop asks why they should want to buy what they already have. Kitzlinger says the anonymous client providing the information wanted the British to have the right of first refusal. Only if they turn it down will the list then be offered to the KGB and others.

    Kitzlinger rubs his chest and reaches into his coat for a tablet, complaining of dyspepsia. He tells Bishop the price will be the same for whichever party eventually agrees to buy the list. 100,000 pounds.

    Both Bishop and Callan object to the amount but are told it is a fair price. They also object to buying blind without knowing if the contents of the list are valid. At this, Kitzlinger tells them the original list contained eleven names - the eleventh name was Bristac.

    Apparantly when Bristac was in East Germany he was given a warning two hours prior to being reported to the Vopo East German security police. This was a 'free sample' to show the veracity of the list. Bishop knows about Bristac being shot at the border.

    Kitzlinger presses them for a decision within a week as the goods are... perishable. Less than a week means not enough time to dismantle their spy network in Europe nor find any possible leaks. It really seems their only options are pay or let their agents die.

    Bishop, being a penny-pinching bean-counter, complains that many of their spies are not worth 10,000 pounds each and are just unimportant. Not worth paying for. Callan winces a little on hearing this, recalling the many times he's been told the same thing about himself - even when he was made Hunter it was stressed he was not really valuable (though the actions of Bishop and Hunter seemed to belie this). Kitzlinger reminds them that some of their spies are also worth more than 10,000 pounds each. Can the British risk those names are not on the list? Callan and Bishop are over a barrel and Kitzlinger knows it.

    In the taxi back to Section, Callan and Bishop discuss their next actions. Bishop assumes they will have to pay but Callan says they still have a week to try and find where the information was leaked from. This is the most important consideration as far as he is concerned. He reasons the leak must be from England and high up because no one in the field knows ten other active agents because of the 'need to know' principle. It is a security risk. There is also a worry Kitzlinger might get in contact with his old KGB friend at the Russian embassy in London, a man called Rostov.

    Kitzlinger returns to his hotel and finds a train ticket under the door with 'Rostov' written on it, then he receives a cryptic phone call regarding the ticket telling him to take the train on that line back to where it started. He figures this out and heads off to the Circle Line tube train.

    In Hunter's office, Callan and Cross are re-listening to the cryptic phone tap telling Kitzlinger where to go. Cross apologises about losing Kitzlinger while tailing him but Callan doesn't mind as he knows exactly where Kitzlinger is going and who he is seeing.

    On the Circle train a man bends down behind Kitzlinger as if tying his shoelaces and repeats the serial number of the train ticket. Kitzlinger is concerned to see this man and asks where his friend Rostov is. The man stands up, all suave, smooth, amused and menacing, and says Rostov is back in Moscow for a routine report. "You must make do with me." It is the infamous Meres.

    On the train Meres sits beside a wary Kitzlinger. Meres says he has heard that something is being sold and the KGB may be interested. Kitzlinger says he is selling a list of British agents in Europe with a price is 100,000 pounds, as small sums are undignified. The KGB are definitely interested, says Meres, but Kitzlinger is an honourable man and says at the moment the British have first refusal.

    In Hunter's office Callan asks Meres have a chat - the first time we have seen these two face to face since Meres shot Callan when callan shot Hunter (end of season two). The tension between them and the jealousy from Meres still exists. Callan asks if Meres pushed Kitzlinger about his information source. He did but no luck. However, as Kitzlinger now thinks Meres is KGB, Callan is happy that even if Kitzlinger decides to sell to the KGB he will still be selling to the British.

    Meres compliments Callan on his new position as Hunter and says he wanted to come back from his Washington posting as soon as he heard there were openings in the department. Callan says he always needs good men in the job, even though they personally hate each other. "There are not many opportunities for promotion," Callan says, but Meres is smug and replies that he will "Make his own opportunities."

    Meres makes it clear he is hoping to get the Hunter position one day. He thinks Callan is an uninspiring leader and better suited to lower ranks - unlike himself. Callan warns Meres to do as he is told for a change. Callan says, "You and I have no reason to like each other but you are working for me now, and I'm willing to bury the hatchet. But just don't repeat history, son. Don't you bury it in my back."

    Meres acquiesces but believes Callan's plan with Kitzlinger is shaky and liable to fail. When Meres leaves Callan asks Liz for files on all their senior men. He also wants to see his own file, but she tells him it has been removed from records.

    Kitzlinger receives a brief phone call from a woman which appears to be a wrong number. He immediately calls for a taxi. Meanwhile Bristac, still recovering from his gunshot wounds, is talking to Callan in Hunter's office. Bristac says he doesn't know who blew the whistle on him. All he knows is he received a phone call from a woman saying he had two hours to get out of East Germany before she reported him. She said Kitzlinger in London had a message for him and then gave lots of details about Bristac and his contacts. He didn't know her but he says he could recognise her voice again if he heard it.

    Kitzlinger climbs into a taxi and to go to the London reference Library. Lonely is the driver. Lonely calls Section and Callan tells him to get lost to buy Cross enough time to get there first. That's easy for Lonely to do - getting lost is second nature for him.

    In the darkened, silent library shelves Cross lies in wait. Kitzlinger becomes furious at being lost for so long and storms off in a huff, but Lonely has done his job.

    Back at Hunter's office, Cross reports to Callan and Meres that he saw Kitzlinger arrive in the biography section of the library but no one else was there, so maybe it is a dead letter drop point. This is unfortunate as they don't have the time to tear apart every book looking for a possible message. Cross and Meres want their boss to give them instructions so Callan tells them to go panic Kitzlinger. The two young men grin at each other and look extremely pleased to do this - finally a job for their talents.

    On the train Meres meets again with Kitzlinger who says the British are taking too long, so he will now do business with the KGB. Meres havers a bit and says the KGB are having second thoughts and think they should only deal with principals, not with middle men like Kitzlinger. They do not trust the source without knowing its identity. All they know is that some woman phoned Bristac with a tip-off, and that is not good enough for 100,000 pounds.

    Meres says he understands why Kitzlinger would keep the source secret from the British so they can't find the leak, but surely it would be fine for the KGB to know. Then they would be assured of its veracity and could do a deal. Kitzlinger says he doesn't know the ultimate source but he knows the next person down who contacted him – Myra Kessler. In Hunter's office Meres informs Callan of this and they start looking into it. As Meres goes to the outer office he sees Cross brings Liz a blue file which she then takes into Hunter's office. Meres tries to bully Cross into telling him whose file it was. Cross refuses to be bullied by Meres - both are very similar brash, young and arrogant agents. They were always going to either love each other or loathe each other, and this being the Section there is no room for love. Meres suggests when he becomes Hunter one day Cross will be in trouble. Cross doesn't look too perturbed by this.

    In his office Callan is reading the blue file. It is Bishop's. Callan sits in his office with Bristac, playing a reel-to-reel tape recorder. The first voice is the message tapped from Kitzlinger's phone - the wrong number from the woman that sent him to the library. Bristac listens but is not sure if it's the woman that warned him as it is too short a message. So Callan plays the second part - a woman translating a document from Polish into English. Now Bristac is certain this is the same woman who called him with the tip-off. Both voices match - it is Myra Kessler,a lower-level translator for the service. She disappeared last fortnight, however as she was never really high enough to have the information she is selling she must be acting as another middle-man for the true source.

    Meres is back in the reference library, nosing around pompously as he does. Bristac arrives and says Callan believes the 'wrong number' phone call was a message, and as Kitzlinger went to the biography section of the library after the call, perhaps the number given was really a book number. They find a biography with a serial number matching the number and hidden in the spine of the book is a five-letter valid code. Meres photocopies it and brings it to Hunter, replacing the original so Kitzlinger won't know they have it.

    Callan has the message sent to the cryptographers and with any luck the cryppies will have it broken by tea-time. Hopefully it is the list of agents and they will be able to contact them to pull them out, saving the British secret service 100,000 pounds and leaving Kitzlinger with nothing to sell.

    In the darkened library, Kitzlinger retrieves the list from the book and puts something else inside. He hears a noise in the other shelves but the lights are not working - because bristac lurking nearby has taken out the light bulb. In Hunter's office Callan and Meres are told the bad news by the cryppies - the code is a one off unbreakable code, probably set from a page in a book. it seems they will have to deal after all. Unless... Callan has another idea.

    Meres and Bristac hide in the library. Eventually Kitzlinger's contact arrives - Myra Kessler - to retrieve her message. Meres grabs her but it is Bristac who slaps her hard in revenge - she did cause him to be shot by the Vopo - but Meres with his smug, sinister, polished demeanor is far more threatening. He tells her they are going back to her place.

    Meanwhile Bishop is furious that Callan has not simply paid the money. It seemed the only course of action, and now all those agents and the European operations were all at risk. Callan says he is doing his best to not just get the list but find the source, but hopefully he will get both. Bishop tells him straight out that those higher up want to pay the money but Callan is still reluctant.

    In Kessler's flat an angry Bristac is pulling the place apart. Meres asks Kessler to just give them the book or piece of paper or whatever it is that will break the code but she refuses. When she asks for a glass of water Bristac snarls at her but Meres complies, with a smile. Bristac remains hostile towards her but Meres, though smooth and pleasant, is far from being nice.

    He says they want the code breaker which is probably a book but it could be just a slip of paper concealed about the person. "Let's find out, shall we?" He looks her over meaningfully.

    She relents and tells him the code is in the book in her suitcase under the bed. Meres goes searching, and in Meres fashion goes through her things, pulling out underwear and making snide comments. He discovers the book, War and Peace, but before he can find out which page the code is from Kessler produces a gun and pushes it to Bristac's head. Meres has no choice but to comply with her wishes. Kessler makes the two men take off their coats and remove their firearms, then has them drink vodka with sleeping tablets.

    Meres sits in Liz's office back at Section, drinking coffee and looking hung over. He has been out for six hours and Bristac is still out. It was only because Lonely checked on them that they are alive. Callan is not there yet but he wants to speak to Meres, says Liz. Meres does not seem pleased by this.

    Callan has taken Bishop's advice and is out at Kitzlinger's place handing over the bank receipts which show he's been paid 100,000 pounds into two bank accounts. Kitzlinger is pleased to do business with the British. He hands over the list of coded names and the key - the first six paragraphs of chapter three of War and Peace.

    Callan wants to know who the source of the information was so they can stop the leak. Kitzlinger only knows of Myra Kessler - once the validity of the information was verified he did not care who it was. Callan threatens to 'take Kitzlinger in' for questioning, but is warned that if Kitzlinger does not appear in Zurich the next day a duplicate list will be sent to the KGB by an associate. Callan cannot take the chance.

    At the airport, Myra Kessler is calling on the public phone. She barely notices the young man behind her until Cross reaches across her and cuts her phone off with a smile. Callan and Meres wait impatiently in Hunter's office for the cryppies. Finally the phone rings. Callan is disbelieving and turns to Meres. The names on the list have been decoded just fine but there is a problem - they don't know any of them.

    Kitzlinger gets into a taxi to go to the airport and suddenly recognises his driver as the man who lost him last time - Lonely. The back doors open and Callan sits beside Kitzlinger, Meres opposite. Lonely knows where to go and drives them away towards Section. Kitzlinger is furious, especially when he sees Meres whom he thought was KGB. He demands to be released or the duplicate list will be sent. Callan explains that this threat doesn't bother them as they don't know any of the names on the list. Kitzlinger will now go see the mind benders for a little interrogation. At this news, Kitzlinger grimaces and reaches up to his chest. Instantly, Meres shoots twice, killing him.

    Lonely panics because they croaked a geezer in his taxi but they assure him it was just a backfire and tell him to keep driving. Mere's explains he had to shoot because Kitzlinger was reaching for his gun. Callan disagrees and pulls out Kitzlinger's little box of heartburn pills. Callan is disgusted at Meres. "You haven't changed, Toby, you're still a bloody psychopath!"

    Bishop is talking with Myra Kessler in Hunter's office. She seems philosophical - it's only money. Bishop wants to know if Kitzlinger knew her list of names was fake. No, she approached him with the deal. Meres and Callan come in and she sneers at Meres, saying she has met him before and it was not a pleasure. He smirks.

    Cross picked her up at the airport, Bishop says, while she was trying to phone Bristac - that's right, their own agent who has now mysteriously disappeared. Cross is at the airport looking for him as it seems he has booked two tickets on a flight to Zurich that night. Bishop explains that Bristac created the bogus list of agents and then betrayed himself to make it look genuine. It was an accident his mighty Volga car got a flat battery and he was shot, but it did add to the validity of the list.

    Callan is furious and orders Kessler to tell them where Bristac is but she is loyal to him. Then the phone rings and Cross informs them Bristac has apparently already left on an earlier flight to Zurich. Kessler did not expect this and she is concerned, but she doesn't want to believe Callan.

    Bristac played a three card trick with them, Callan says, then left Kitzlinger to carry the can. But Kitzlinger is dead and now he's dumped Kessler as well. She refuses to believe she's been betrayed. Callan asks if she even knows which banks the money has gone to and she realises she doesn't as Kitzlinger was supposed to leave that information in the library and that was why she went back there.

    Now they both realise Bristac took that information and double crossed them all. She decides to cooperate and tells them the address of the hotel they were booked into in Zurich, but after that she doesn't know where he'll go because they never really talked about it.

    Callan tells Meres to go over to this hotel in Zurich and look for Bristac. Meres says this is the last place Bristac will go and Callan agrees, but there is no option. In his best snarl Callan sends Meres to find the traitor, Bristac, and tells Meres very succinctly and angrily to grab Bristac and bring him back in any condition, knowing that this will not be a good condition. This is another of Meres's specialities.

    Meres leaves and Kessler is taken away. Alone, Bishop asks why Callan asked to see Bishop's file. Did Callan think Bishop was the leak? Callan says it was just routine but Bishop is annoyed to think he might have been suspect. Callan says it never crossed his mind. "Knickers!" is Bishop's reply to this. Bishop says if Callan had let Kitzlinger sell the list to the KGB then they would be down a hundred thousand pounds, making it sound like it was all Callan's fault they paid out.

    Bishop is even more scathing. "You know, you really are a very bad Hunter. You'll have to do much better in your first big job." Callan's been hearing this sort of talk his whole career - it's good to see it hasn't stopped now he is higher up. Bishop storms off and Callan sighs, then reluctantly answers the Hunter phone with his code name, 'Charlie'.

    Of course this episode had to be a good one for the return of Meres, and also to finally see Meres and Cross together, as well as Meres and Callan. It's nice to have a convoluted plot involving a nice amount of backstabbing and double cross, and seeing Callan's good plans being thwarted by upper bureaucracy and orders from nameless people above. It shows things are no better for a Hunter than it is for being just an operative. Another fine example of a bunch of rival professional killers hating each other and being forced to work together. Makes my workplace seem pretty tame.moreless
Coral Atkins

Coral Atkins

Myra Kessler

Guest Star

Martin Wyldeck

Martin Wyldeck


Guest Star

Carl Bohun

Carl Bohun

Vopo Officer

Guest Star

Lisa Langdon

Lisa Langdon


Recurring Role

Geoffrey Chater

Geoffrey Chater


Recurring Role

Watch Online

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (0)

  • QUOTES (19)

    • Callan: So you're going over to find him, aren't you? I mean, he's really got something to sell now, hasn't he, Toby? And when you find him, you tail him, and you move him onto a NATO patch, and when he's there you grab him! And you bring him back. I don't care what condition he's in, Toby, but I want him back!

    • Kessler [ of Bristac's double cross ]: Surely you don't expect me to believe that.
      Callan: No, not at first. None of us like to feel we've been conned, do we? Least of all me, darling.

    • Callan:You really doused the flames, didn't you? You're a bloody psychopath. You haven't changed, Toby, have you? You just haven't changed.

    • Callan: Mr Kitzlinger, I have to ask you a favour.
      Kitzlinger: A filthy word. It has no place in the vocabulary of commerce.

    • Meres: It could be a slip of paper. Something easily concealed about the person, perhaps. Let's find out, shall we?
      Kessler: I'm sorry, I don't understand you.
      Meres: Yes, yes you do. You start with your shoes and I'll tell you when to stop.
      Kessler: No!
      Meres: I'm afraid I can't offer you a musical accompaniment. But we can give you assistance. Should you require it.

    • Callan [ on Lonely ]: Now we either take him in or we take him out. And that means right out. But you'll have to take me first.
      Bishop: I don't know what to say. The fellow appears to have an IQ of two-and-a-half.
      Callan: He's a late developer.

    • Callan: We need an MCF – Mobile Communications Facility.
      Bishop: Oh not bad, Callan, not bad at all. Had you expressed your request in that abysmal jargonese in the first place…

    • Cross [ on the file ]: Why don't you ask Hunter? He sent for it. If he wants you to know I'm sure he'll tell you.
      Meres: You know, I really enjoy pulling rank.
      Cross: You may outrank me but I don't think you outrank him.
      Meres: True. But we live in a changing world. And if things change as they might, you could be a Cross I wouldn't bear.

    • Callan: Toby, you and I have no reason to like each other but you are working for me now, and I'm willing to bury the hatchet. But just don't repeat history, son. Don't you bury it in my back.

    • Meres: Now, if I were handling it…
      Callan: But you are not handling it, Toby, are you? I am. So we will do it my way, won't we? I'll tell you exactly what I told Cross. I can lean very hard. Don't push me.
      Meres: Cross is the type to be impressed.
      Callan: Another face that doesn't fit?
      Meres: Oh, first impression… neurotic boy?
      Callan: Seen your file?
      Meres: No. Seen yours?

    • Meres: Well, I started to consider my transfer when I first heard you'd been appointed Hunter. You see, David, your face doesn't quite fit.
      Callan: Oh thank you.
      Meres: Oh, it's no offence it's just that some people are born to be…
      Callan: Other ranks?
      Meres: You know what I mean.
      Callan: No, I don't.
      Meres: Well, let me put it this way. You fail to inspire confidence.

    • Meres: I'd already applied for transfer.
      Callan: Really? Home posting?
      Meres: Well the prospects looked so good.
      Callan: Which department?
      Meres: This one.
      Callan: I've always got room for a good man in the field. Not much opportunities for promotion, though.
      Meres: Oh. Well, I'll make my own opportunities.
      Callan: Really? Where do you think they'll take you?
      (Meres points to Callan's chair.)
      Callan: You are bloody welcome, mate. That's what I always liked about you. You don't dodge around do you? You come right out with it.
      Meres: Well, it's best to be frank.

    • Callan [ on recalling Meres ]: I need good men; you're a good man. At your job. Sorry I deprived you of your cushy number, Toby.
      Meres: Oh, don't apologise. The Washington thing was beginning to bore me anyway.
      Callan: No opportunity for your real talents?
      Meres: Not much. Friendly territory and all that.
      Callan: Cramped your style, did it?

    • Meres: So you're in the hot seat now. Dangerous job.
      Callan: Yeah. [ alluding to being shot by Meres] It doesn't do to turn your back.
      Meres: You should know.
      Callan: Shouldn't I just. Still, that's in the past, isn't it?
      Meres: Is it?
      Callan: It better be.
      Meres: Anything you say, David.
      Callan: Hunter.
      Meres: Not Sir?
      Callan: If you like.

    • Kitzlinger:Price is 100,000 pounds. Small sums are undignified.

    • Kitzlinger [ selling a list of agents' names ]: I don't want to press you but time is of the essence. You will appreciate that the goods are… perishable.

    • Kitzlinger: Dyspepsia. You don't suffer from it, Mr. Bishop?
      Bishop: I'm thinking of taking it up.

    • Bishop [ on sitting behind Lonely ]: It's like sitting behind a smouldering rubbish tip.

    • Lonely [ on signing the Official Secrets Act ]: What does all this mean, Mr. Callan?
      Callan: It means, mate, you keep your trap shut, or I'll tear you apart.

  • NOTES (0)