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Ducky Mallard: NCIS star David McCallum marks 75-year acting milestone in new series

David McCallum has been at the top of his game for the past 75 years.
David McCallum has been at the top of his game for the past 75 years.

David McCallum got his first Equity card back in 1946 and 75 years later he is still in demand in Hollywood at the age of 87.

McCallum, who has family links to Macduff, will return as Dr David ‘Ducky’ Mallard for season 19 of the global smash hit NCIS, which will premiere on September 20.

Like his co-star Mark Harmon, he has been part of the cast since season one, and his reported net worth is $10 million, with a salary per episode of $75,000.

NCIS has now only got a handful of its original cast members left and McCallum has been on a limited schedule since 2017 after renewing his contract.

David McCallum as Dr Ducky Mallard in NCIS.
David McCallum as Dr Ducky Mallard in NCIS.

It’s an agreement that McCallum, who lives in New York, seems happy with, keeping the character in the show while having more time with his family.

It’s hard to imagine he had a hard time at first settling in America back in the 1960s.

“We all go through terrible periods of anxiety and so on,” he said.

“You suffer them but once you’ve been through them, you can learn a certain degree of tolerance towards yourself.

“This allows you to be tolerant towards other people.

“The whole idea of Man being born equal is a ludicrous idea.

“We’re not! Some of us are much more fortunate than others.”

Musical background

McCallum was born in 1933, in Kelvinside, Glasgow, where his father was leader of the Scottish Orchestra and his mum was a cellist.

“Both Sir Thomas Beecham and Sir Henry Wood wanted father for the London Philharmonic and the London Symphony Orchestra, respectively,” he said.

David McCallum has been at the top of his game since getting his Equity card back in 1946.

“I heard later that, at the time, a cartoon appeared in a Glasgow paper, showing father in his kilt, holding his violin case, with Beecham and Henry Wood fencing with their batons above his head.

“The caption was: ‘If music be the food of love, what ails these knights?’

“Beecham won and father came down as leader of the London Philharmonic.”

In 1936, the family moved down to Hampstead Garden Suburb until war began in 1939.

“We were evacuated with gas masks over our shoulders,” he said.

McCallum moved back to Scotland to live with his mum and he went to school on the banks of Loch Lomond.

As a schoolboy, McCallum’s first musical instrument was the violin, then he played the cello for a while before finally taking up the oboe.

He was taught by Leonard Brain, the famous oboe player in the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and played for some years, ending up in the Junior Orchestra of the Royal Academy of Music.

But he became hooked on the theatre quite early on and dropped his musical studies.

“From the age of 12, or even earlier, I worked with BBC Radio, with all those wonderful actors like Laidman Browne in the BBC Rep,” he said.

“I had an Equity card at 12 and after a spell at University College School, Hampstead, I went on the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.”

McCallum being greeted by fans at London Airport in 1966 when he arrived from America at the height of his fame.

The 1950s were spent hopping from one stage management post to another, with repertory companies in Leatherhead, Pitlochry and Chesterfield.

In 1961, after a year at Glyndebourne, a spell at the Oxford Playhouse and other work here and on the continent, McCallum went to America to play Judas Iscariot in The Greatest Story Ever Told.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

McCallum was cast in the role of Illya Kuryakin in the television series The Man from U.N.C.L.E., for which he received two Emmy Award nominations.

In the 1960s, McCallum also recorded four albums for Capitol Records, working closely with famed producer David Axelrod and arranger H.B. Barnum, which featured distinctly personal interpretations of classic songs by artists such as The Beatles and Petula Clark.

The list of stars with whom David McCallum has worked with during his career includes Hollywood screen icons such as John Wayne and Steve McQueen.

David McCallum, Robert Vaughn and Leo G Carroll pictured in 1965 during filming of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
David McCallum, Robert Vaughn and Leo G Carroll pictured in 1965 during filming of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

McCallum never quite repeated the popular success he gained as Kuryakin and his additional television credits include Colditz, Sapphire and Steel, and The Invisible Man.

His feature film credits include The Great Escape, Mosquito Squadron, Billy Budd, Freud and A Night To Remember.

McCallum and Robert Vaughn would go on to reprise their iconic roles of Kuryakin and Solo in a 1983 TV film, Return Of The Man From U.N.C.L.E..

Family links to Macduff

In 1985 he enjoyed a family holiday in the Bridge of Allan when the McCallum clan attended his uncle John Abercrombie’s 50th wedding anniversary.

Joanna Lumley as Sapphire and David McCallum as Steel in the popular ITV series.
Joanna Lumley as Sapphire and David McCallum as Steel in the popular ITV series.

“That was a good excuse for the entire clan to get together in Bridge of Allan,” he said.

“It really was a marvellous holiday.”

The trip brought back memories of damming burns with his brother.

“My uncle John, an architect, showed us how to take turf and stones and build dams and we used to go out and dam the streams to form swimming pools,” he said.

“Then we’d have picnics of stovies cooked on a wooden fire.

“When the pool was full we’d swim in it.

“At the end of the day, we’d let this great tidal wave go on down – much to the chagrin, I’m sure, of the local farmers!”

On that trip back in 1985, they also drove up to Aberdeen and around through Macduff, where his Aunt Kitty lived at the time.

They went to all the places where Macbeth was and then came down by all the lochs and round the Western Isles and back down to Glasgow.

McCallum and Vaughn returned to the screen in the popular spy thriller in the 1980s.
McCallum and Vaughn returned to the screen in the popular spy thriller in the 1980s.

In 1986 McCallum reunited with Vaughn again, in an episode of The A-Team entitled The Say U.N.C.L.E. Affair.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. remains one of the highlights of his life.

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

He was rescued from Central Park by mounted police on one occasion when he found himself enjoying a taste of Beatlemania-style adulation.

When he was in Louisiana, the governor invited him to dinner.

But their visit was interrupted when some girls were found trying to break into the mansion!

McCallum joined NCIS and discovered a new fan base in the United States that is every bit as devoted as his army of acolytes from the 1960s.

McCallum remains one of the most popular actors in NCIS, although he is now on a limited schedule.

He said: “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.”

McCallum planned a ‘roots trip’ for his American children and grandchildren to go to Scotland following success in NCIS but his Aunt Kitty died after booking the flights.

McCallum has taken his NCIS duties so seriously that he became an expert in pathology before going on to become a consultant on the series.

In March 2019 his character, Ducky, retired from his position as NCIS’s Chief Medical Examiner with his former assistant, Dr James Palmer, succeeding him.

He remains an important part of the show, despite only making appearances from time to time.

Following his retirement, he assumed the role of NCIS Historian.

A fitting position given McCallum’s longevity.

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