Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner.

NCIS star David McCallum looks back on a career which is still going strong in his ninth decade

David McCallum.
David McCallum.

The accent twinkles just as much as you might expect from one of Scotland’s most distinguished actors.

And although it’s a very long time since David McCallum found himself enjoying a taste of Beatlemania-style adulation, he has discovered a new fan base in the United States which is every bit as devoted as his army of acolytes from the 1960s.

He may be in his ninth decade, but you would never guess it from talking to this far-travelled figure and discerning his delight at how his life has unfolded.

David McCallum and Robert Vaughn in The Return Of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

The Glasgow-born actor, who has family links to MacDuff, originally earned fame for his good looks as Russian spy Illya Kuryakin in the hit 1960s series The Man from U.N.C.L.E., where he and his late co-star Robert Vaughn were involved in a litany of intrigue and subterfuge as they grappled with various opponents in the Bond age.

At the height of the programme’s success, his fame was astronomical.

Off the scale.

As he recalled: “I was rescued from Central Park by mounted police on one occasion.

“When I went to Macy’s department store, the fans caused $25,000 worth of damage and they had to close Herald Square to get me out of there.

NCIS star David McCallum.

“That is pretty classic, but you just have to deal with it. And then whoever was next came along, and you get dropped overnight, which is a relief.”

The versatile Scot also played significant roles in a diverse range of films and television series including The Great Escape, Sapphire and Steel, The Invisible Man, The Greatest Story Ever Told and A Night to Remember.

But, at that stage of his career, it was his performance as Kuryakin which propelled him into the superstar category and, even now, he looks back on that period with a sense of astonishment at the bandwagon which developed.

McCallum received more fan mail than any other actor in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s history, including such A-list figures as Clark Gable and Elvis Presley.

There was even a record, Love Ya, Illya, performed by best-selling singer Alma Cogan.

And eventually, in a case of art mirroring life, McCallum made a visit to the White House during which, while he was being escorted to meet the US president, a Secret Service agent told him proudly: “You’re the reason I got this job”.

David McCallum has achieved success all over the world.

It was a fraught, frantic period in his life and he was feted wherever he travelled.

Yet, for a younger generation, McCallum is most famous for his long-running role as medical examiner Dr Donald “Ducky” Mallard in the global smash hit NCIS.

He has featured in this phenomenally successful show for 17 years and still loves the quality of the production, ensemble cast and the densely-constructed scripts.

And he knows a lot about the latter after writing his first book in 2016, which was a compelling thriller, Once a Crooked Man, which twists and turns and just screams out to be transformed into a film.

David McCallum as Steel and Joanna Lumley as Sapphire in Sapphire and Steel.

McCallum is a self-deprecating individual, somebody who doesn’t take himself too seriously and he told The Press and Journal he was as surprised as anybody else at re-emerging into the spotlight in NCIS which is expected back later this year for its 18th season.

“I was working with Jim Dale on (New York’s) Park Avenue back in 2002 when I got a call from my agent asking me if I was interested in auditioning for the role of a lecherous doctor in a new medical drama,” said the 86-year-old Scot who sounds at least a decade younger.

“I thought to myself ‘why not?’, so I read the script.

“I thought it was quite interesting and then I was asked to go to California to audition for CBS.

“It went okay and I was told the very same afternoon that I had got the part.

“You never know how these things will work out or what is around the corner.

“But NCIS has been a phenomenon, if has attracted huge audiences all over the world and I’m now hearing from people who have watched me in programmes from the 60s and 70s after first noticing me in NCIS.

“In the old days, we used to get fan mail, but nowadays, it’s all Facebook and Twitter and the impact of these things is remarkable.

“My publisher in America organised a book signing and more than 30,000 people read it on Facebook.

“Incredible!

“The book was something else which just developed and grew.”

McCallum said the idea came to him over a decade earlier when he was doing an audio book and he thought to himself: ‘I could do this’.

He said: “Well, I soon learned it wasn’t as easy as I had imagined. I had to start from scratch and I have to admit my early efforts were pathetic. But eventually, I wrote draft after draft and it all came together.

David McCallum has worked alongside some of Hollywood’s biggest stars.

“My publishers (the book was released in Britain by Dingwall-based Sandstone Press) have done a great job and you can’t believe the thrill I received when I saw the finished version.

“I had never expected to do it, but then Woody Allen once said that the only books which aren’t published are the ones which don’t get finished.”

As a trained musician, who was involved in a series of albums in the 1960s, McCallum has a gift for making words sing and he has already been asked to create another novel, away from his NCIS commitments.

Brian Dietzen, Sean Murray, Emily Wickersham, David McCallum, Pauley Perrette and M Weatherly.

This hectic schedule means he doesn’t have as much time as he would wish to visit Scotland, but, as he said poignantly: “I feel a little lonely when I go home these days because everybody’s gone”.

But McCallum is not one to indulge in recherche du temps perdu.

Quite the contrary.

As he declared: “We have grandchildren to keep us young and they are always a blessing.

“I have to be very happy with how things are going and the idea of being described as an actor/author really appeals to me. Being asked to read my own words for the audio book took the whole thing another step forward. So it has all been very exciting.”

Many of his younger fans have observed how little McCallum has changed when they compare and contrast him as Kuryakin more than 50 years ago with the man who has taken his NCIS duties so seriously that he became an expert in pathology before going on to become a consultant on the series.

Yet, he admits he has never really lost the wide-eyed wonder which he paraded while watching the Tinseltown movies in his youth.

He said: “I grew up going to the local Odeon in Glasgow. If my father went, then we sat in the two and sixpence seats upstairs, otherwise it was the one and three downstairs.

“I grew up watching all these wonderful old black-and-white movies. And then I went to Hollywood to test for The Greatest Story Ever Told, with George Stevens, and met Pat Boone and Roddy McDowall and John Wayne – suddenly you’re in among them all.

“That little boy that went to the Odeon never left me, so it is constantly fascinating.”

David McCallum, Pauley Perrette and Sean Murray from NCIS.

The list of stars with whom David McCallum has worked reads like a Who’s Who of Hollywood, stretching back to screen icons such as John Wayne and Steve McQueen.

And he witnessed the daredevil personality of the latter while they were working together on The Great Escape, another film with as many stars as a constellation.

McCallum recalled: “Everyone drove like a maniac, including Donald Pleasance who had brought his Jag over for the shoot, but Steve was the guy – mirroring the film almost – who took the most risks and had the traffic police in awe of him.

“When he was pulled over, they would say ‘Herr McQueen, good morning, we are delighted that once again you have won the special prize’ and cart him off to the jail.

“There was one time when I asked him what he did when he was in a crash. He told me that you should aim for the smallest trees.

“I have to say that I always stuck to the speed limit. Is that very Scottish?”

Not really.

It just sums up the fact that despite hitting the heights on either side of the Atlantic, David McCallum has kept his feet firmly on the ground.

Already a subscriber? Sign in

[[title]]

[[text]]

More from the Press and Journal Past Times team

More from the Press and Journal