Times of London - Sunday, March 6, 1994

Plantagenet from Uncle keeps it in the family

IAN BLACK finds David McCallum still struggling to shake special agent Ilya Kuryakin off his trail.

ILYA Kuryakin must have been a good secret agent, because he has dogged the footsteps of David McCallum for nearly 30 years. It is a long time since Glaswegian McCallum first put the brooding, Slavonic soul into the Russian-born agent whose smouldering on-screen presence made Robert Vaughan's Napoleon Solo look like ust another slick-talking CIA man.

With the recent revival of The Man from U.N.C.L.E on British TV screens, and its success with a new generation of young viewers, McCallum has no chance of shaking Mr Kuryakin off his trail. But he will shoot on sight any suggestion that he should cash in on a remake.

"No!" he says, very firmly indeed. "Somebody phones me up and suggests it about once every six months. Hollywood is full of these idiots of so-called producers who look at the success of an excellent movie like The Fugitive and think: 'Hey, didn't that used to be a TV series? Didn't there used to be other TV series?'

"It will not happen, as far as I'm concerned. If they are going to do it, they should get somebody younger, somebody like, say, Alex Baldwin, or somebody like that."

McCallum was born in Kelvinside in 1933, which makes him now an unbelievable 60 years old. He is currently touring with The Lion in Winter, which opens in Aberdeen tomorrow and is in Glasgow and Inverness next month.

He has grown a beard for his role as Henry II. "Once the whiskers start to come through white, that's when you know you really are 60."

The Lion in Winter, which has Sian Phillips as Eleanor of Aquitaine and Victor McGuire (Jack Boswell in Bread) as the Richard who eventually became Richard the Lionheart, has as its theme the kind of family values that would make even a Tory MP blench, and puts the minor blips in the lives of our current Royals in perspective. "These are people who did not talk out their problems around the dinner table," says McCallum. "If they had a problem with you, they went out and raised an army."

THE play has several plots, centring on the relationship between Henry and his wife Eleanor, who has been released from custody to spend Christmas with her family. She and Henry spend the time conniving, cajoling, deceiving and double-crossing each other, as they thrash out which of their three sons will succeed to the English throne.

In 1183, when the action occurs, Christmas did not exist as a social institution. "Of course it didn't," says McCallum. "And they'd probably have been speaking French, but the point is the drama, the family story. It is funny as well as dramatic. Henry is undervalued by history. He created trial by jury, the parliamentary system, a whole lot of the institutions which we have come to cherish. He was clever and wise and had a lot of troubles. And he laughed a lot." These are loyal words from a man who once played a memorable Judas Iscariot.

McCallum has family of his own, with two grown-up children in New York, and another two in Los Angeles, plus a roll-call of Scottish relatives and friends he plans to visit while here. The Abercrombies and Kitty McDuff can expect a visit, as can sundry other clan members. Has being Scottish made much difference to his career? "Not a bit. I can't think of a single instance in which it has except that sometimes, if you're touring America with a play, you get these Caledonian societies asking you to speak to them. They are very persistent, Caledonian societies."

So where is home, these days? "Wherever I am, usually. I'm very good at making myself at home." What does he do? "I get a flat, if I can. I find a golf club." He currently plays off 16, and is often partnered by Victor McGuire, whose handicap is 18, McCallum thinks. Then follows an incisive breakdown of the faults of McGuire's game, with the request: "Please don't repeat that. Richard the Lionheart will probably cut off my head."

Last year McCallum spent filming in the States, where he has been doing episodes of Seaquest. He has just finished Shattered Image, a movie with Bo Derek, and an also be seen in Michael Winner's film, Dirty Weekend. "I'd like to make more British films but the initial plans after the tour involve a week or two of R&R." With his passion for golf, the R&R might well be at the R&A.