As a Man From U.N.C.L.E., David McCallum plays Illya Kuryakin with a Russian accent and a touch of the mystic. Illya plunges from one outrageously improbable situation to the next without giving anything of himself away. He is classless, stateless, aloof and alone. American girls want to adopt him, to mother him, to give him roots.
But David McCallum, I am happy to say, is one of ours. And although he's now settled in Hollywood, his roots are in Britain.
He was born in Glasgow on 19 September 1933, with the shadow of a famous father hanging over him and the sound of music in his ears. His father, now the singingest string in the Mantovani orchestra, was a future leader of the London Philharmonic, so there was already one David McCallum to be reckoned with. The mother was a cellist. David's parents met back in the days of the silent films, when they both played Hearts And Flowers in the orchestra pit of the local cinema, and laughed at the comic genius of Charlie Chaplin. They couldn't have foreseen that one day the screen would be alive with sound, and that their David would be making some of it.
Like his brother, Iain, who was four years older and wiser, David went to Gartocharn Council School, Dunbartonshire, and Stirling High School, where his teachers found him a thoughtful, quiet child.
"David was a lovable, normal boy," says his mother. "He was quite bright at school, and because he was born into a home full of love he had a happy childhood. I don't think he was quite as studious as Iain. I used to think of Iain as The Tortoise and David as The Hare. Iain plodded at his studies. David used to get results, often I think more by instinct. But I was quite sure that both of them, in different ways, would be successful."
Iain is now a controller of the British Council in Berlin. David, it seemed, would be a musician.
When David was ten, his father's career took the family to London and they settled in Hampstead, amid the sound and fury of the Second World War. Next door on one side lived a lady who played in string quartets with Mrs McCallum by day, and shared the same air raid shelter by night. She still remembers the little boy who played cowboys and Indians while enemy planes droned overhead.
The McCallum's other next door neighbour was Mrs Chapman, who remembers David as "a very charming, very clever little boy...very proud of the fact that he was going to be a musician." He was, she thought, destined to become a great oboe virtuoso. But Mrs Chapman reckoned without the influence of her son John.
John was seven years older than David, and madly keen on amateur dramatics. It didn't surprise his parents when he turned to writing for the stage and became known as the writer of the Whitehall farces. He recalls that David was very quiet and observant ...
"He had a very slow way of looking at you. A good-looking kid. I think I probably introduced him to acting, because I was very interested in the theatre, and he suddenly decided one day that he wanted to be an actor."
David appeared with John in an amateur production of 'Tobias and The Angel'. At Childshill School and later at the University College School in Hampstead his passion for acting gave his headmasters headaches. They thought his studies would go by the board with all this going on. His parents allowed him to appear in school productions of 'Hamlet' and 'The Tempest' but there all encouragement ended The curious thing was that David was much more interested in painting scenery and organising props. A precious end-of-term holiday was spent as assistant stage manager with a repertory company at Frinton-on-Sea, Essex.
His mother had to face the fact that perhaps David wouldn't follow in his father's footsteps, after all.
"He didn't make any money at Frinton," she says. "But it was easy to see where his future rested."
David himself admits that a tug-o'war raged inside him over music or theatre. It was natural that he was drawn to music. He had been brought up on it, and had almost decided to be an oboe- player. But as the birthdays passed, his need for the theatre grew stronger. When he was fifteen, he threw up his studies, sold his oboe, and went to The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art on the proceeds. He studied at RADA from 1949 to 1951. Jacqueline Hill was at RADA with him, and recalls that he was quite unlike other students because he was more interested in stage management than acting. TV and stage actress, Margaret Tyzak, another RADA student at that time, remembers David as "an immensely kind person" despite the tensions that develop when a load of young people all want to make themselves heard.
"He was always amiable and unruffled," she says. "David was one of the youngest students, but exceptionally mature for his age."
On graduating from RADA, David was fantastically lucky to satisfy his love for both music and the theatre by landing the position of assistant stage manager at Glyndebourne. He moved on to rep. in Aylesbury, then had to shelve his career to serve his country. When he was called up, he was made a lieutenant in the Royal West Africa Frontier Force, and was almost immediately shipped off to Ghana. The time wasn't entirely lost. He organised local theatricals, and became a small arms expert ... something that came in useful when he shot to fame as The Man From U.N.C.L.E. David was discharged in 1951 and headed straight back to the theatre. The next two years were spent hopping from one stage management post to another, with repertory companies in Leatherhead, Surry, Pitlochry, Perthshire, and Chesterfield, Derbyshire. Wilfrid 'Steptoe' Brambell has good reason to remember David's stage managership at Chesterfield.
"I was playing in 'Journey's End', he recalls, "and for the final shell explosion David had made a special mixture of his own to give the effect of flying mud and debris. This was supposed to shower all over us when a rope was pulled backstage. Unfortunately...the audience caught it too. Since one of his ingredients was black scene paint the theatre had to face quite a big bill fo free dry-cleaning."
David obviously decided to think again, and left prop-making behind to act on Children's Hour television. He was a dab hand at dialects. In 1956, he went back to the theatre, and half- heartedly posted off some photographs to the Rank Organisation, in the hope that he might graduate to the big screen.
His photograph found its way to the desk of Clive Donner, a go-ahead young film director, involved at that time with casting for 'The Secret Place'. His reaction was sharp and immediate. "Great face. Must see him." He did, in fact, see David, and remembers the occasion very well.
"We had been interviewing boys all day in the Rank Organisation's office in Mayfair," he told me. "David's photograph was fresh in my mind, and when he came in, I handed him the script immediately, and told him to go off with it for an hour or so. He dutifully disappeared to Hyde Park.
"When he came back and read a scene for me it was an exciting and memorable moment. Although he was nervous, his voice was firm, and he was very good. I sat and looked at him for a long time. He was very skinny, with a marvellous head and huge eyes. I think he was living in a bed-sitter in Archway at that time and had little money. We put him under contract straight away."
That contract with the Rank Organisation was to bring David stardom. And with it came a publicist, a photographer, a tailor...and a wife.