old UNCLE photo

David is back in business - and he looks just as boyish1985

Watch your mum when a programme called OSS comes on the telly. If she goes pink and misty-eyed and sighs a lot, here is the reason why.

She was probably one of the thousands of girls who idolised David McCallum 20 years ago. Then, as the star of a television spy spoof called The Man From UNCLE, he was permanently besieged by battalions of frenzied girls.

He was the only man who used to envy The Beatles their quiet life. As for today's Wham! types, alongside him they live the lives of hermits.

Now David is back in Britain again. And, incredibly, he's still much the same as the fair-haired, slight young man with a waifish charm that knocked the socks off those girls all those years ago.

Only now he's 52 and looking forward to being a grandad.

Before the war, when he was a boy in Kelvinside, Glasgow, it was his father who was the star.

As a leading violinist with a Scottish orchestra, he was wooed by both Sir Thomas Beecham and Sir Henry Wood to get him to move to England, and newspaper cartoons showed the two of them dueling over a kilted musician.

Years of living in London and New York have left their mark, but you can still hear Scotland in David's voice.

"Whenever I had to do a Scottish accent on television, my mother used to hate it. I used to do a real Glasgow one, not a nice one at all. She thought it was dreadful."

Films like The Great Escape, in which he played opposite Steve McQueen, made him a big name and there was plenty of television later - everything from Colditz to Kidnapped.

He also starred with Joanna Lumley in the supernatural detective series Sapphire and Steel.

But it was UNCLE, in which he played a spy called Illya Kuryakin, that really set the world alight.

Once, when David went shopping in New York's Fifth Avenue, mounted police had to come to his rescue. When he kissed a girl in one episode 2000 American college girls threatened to blow up the television studio.

And frenzied mobs followed him everywhere he went.

These days, he's a quiet chap of relaxed and disarming charm. He likes to be with his wife, designer Katherine Carpenter and their two children, Peter, 15, and Sophie, 10.

He does have three grown-up children by his first wife, Jill Ireland, who is now married to Charles Bronson.

"To be quite honest, I don't remember most of that madness," David says now. "There are certain things that stand out in my memory.

"I remember vast masses of Japanese fans rushing down on me in a mob - then all stopping six feet away and bowing. I remember the Germans holding a door open for me - and 400 fans rushed through.

And I remember in Louisiana when four huge guards had to push me into the ladies' toilets to save me from the crowds. But the fans got in through the windows.

"I was beating on the door but the guards wouldn't let me out. I had all my clothes ripped off and I lost most of my hair that time, too.

"That was the scariest moment, I think."

It went on for four years, but David doesn't regret a moment of it. It was all great fun, he says.

"Things like that don't seem to last so long now. This year alone we've had Michael Jackson, then Madonna, then Tina Turner. The waves come along so quickly and the one at the top gets knocked off."

Sadly, he can't get up to Scotland this time. He's in London for three months playing in the tourists' favourite play, Run For Your Wife.

David is proud of his Scottish connection, but New York is his home now.

"In any case, I'm not the sort of Scot who celebrates Burns' Night. I'm not even sure when it is. And haggis is rather hard to come by in New York."

With frequent repeats of his old series, people still recognise McCallum in the street.

He still has the same sombre-faced boyish charm. He looks in the mirror and, with a shake of his head, says: "One day it will all come crashing down."

In the meantime, he tries to eat sensibly, which he enjoys, and jogs a little, which he hates.

The kids may soon have a chance to see if their mums were right. If the OSS programme is successful it could be the first of a series in which he stars as an American officer.

But this time there will be no high jinks with guns and judo. This is reality, not fantasy.

He describes it as a cross between Colditz and Dynasty - "wartime nostalgia with sex and violence and GIs running around with beautiful English girls."

That apart, his only ambitions are to keep paying the bills, keep healthy, keep solvent - and live to be a grandfather.

(Thursday, October 17, 1985)