Nightmare of world's favourite UNCLE...

Behind the tightly-drawn blinds of a black limousine, blond-haired Scots actor David McCallum slumped low in his seat as screaming fans hammered on the bodywork When the car finally purred to a halt and the doors opened, he knew that he would be instantly mobbed on the streets on New York.

The year was 1966. But things have changed surprisingly little for the Man from UNCLE. His face is still instantly recognizable after countless repeats of the record-breaking four-year series.

Cabbies, airport staff and passers-by still call him Illya.


At the height of UNCLE fever, 70,000 fans letters a month poured into the studios. Millions rushed home from work to watch Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin battle against THRUSH, the evil organization with plans to dominate the world. (snip stuff about Robert Vaughn...)

McCallum, with his distinctive hairstyle, was quiet and introspective by comparison. After filming just one episode of UNCLE, he cut himself badly in a bathroom fall and was given penicillin.

The actor developed a serious reaction and was rushed to hospital. he lay for weeks with severe inflammation and, with time on his hands, thought deeply about the role he had signed to play.

Illya was a cardboard cut-out, little more than a two-line memo from the casting department, which read: "A quiet, Russian-born sidekick of Solo."

McCallum brooded over the character from his hospital bed, developing the taciturn agent into one of the best-known figures on television.

He still receives mail addressed to Illya, UNCLE, and has had problems shaking off the image he carefully created.

When he made a personal appearance at a New York department store, 15,000 screaming fans ran amok through the building.


He was forced to hide in the manager's office for four hours and, when the appearance was canceled, crowds of girls fainted.

McCallum, the shy son of a Scots violinist, found the adulation difficult to take.

"It's funny when you think of it," he said. "Unsuccessful actors spend their whole lives longing for stardom. Then, when they achieve it, it can become a nightmare."

For the serious, slightly intense actor, it meant a complete loss of privacy and anonymity.

"You become public property," he said, "and the public grudge you every moment you want to spend on your own."

The soaraway success of UNCLE, which took even studio bosses by surprise, made McCallum almost a prisoner of the dedication he put into the part.

It meant he was unable to go for a walk in Central Park, stroll into a bar and order a drink, or even browse in Woolworths.

Actually, he once did get as far as Woolworths -- then one assistant fainted and another had hysterics. When he decided to throw caution to the wind and walk down Fifth Avenue, the mounted police had to rescue him.

Despite the considerable financial rewards, McCallum always claimed he was not rich.

Californian divorce laws took a hefty slice of his earnings when his ex-wife Jill Ireland left him and later married tough-guy Charles Bronson.

When UNCLE finally ended, McCallum plunged into a variety of acting roles to shake off Illya Kuryakin, among them a four-hour TV film of Frankenstein, Colditz, and Sapphire and Steel.