Pebble Mill interview with Ross King (done February 1994)


What he successfully juggles is a career on both sides of the Atlantic with films like the Great Escape, more recently Hear My Song and Dirty Weekend. His telly appearances, as well, might jog a memory or three.

<Clips from Mother Love, Colditz and The Man From U.N.C.L.E.>

And that's how you'll see him this Friday on BBC 2 (referring to U.N.C.L.E.) Please welcome that former Man From U.N.C.L.E.-David McCallum.

I like coming out here, it's like theatre time. . .theatre time.

I'm presuming you might be thinking, "Oh no, I don't believe it's the Man From U.N.C.L.E."

No, it absolutely amazes me to see myself when I'm thirty years old and walk out here thirty years later . . . and bang!

Well, of course, you have a whole new legion of fans. Kids adore the Man From U.N.C.L.E. What I don't think they realize is, at the time, it was rock star status for you.

Somebody did actually come up to me in the airport and say, "Boy have you aged." They didn't realize it had been made in the 60's. It's very nice that it's come back again.

You had all those screaming fans . . .

Yes, all of that. All that stuff. Yes, all of that.

A pleasant time?

<Hesitates> Yes. A pleasant time in that, you know, in that I was from Glasgow, Scotland, as they say in America. I'd been to London, I'd worked in repertory and I'd done the things I wanted to do to become an actor. And you don't think of fame and fortune. You think of each job that you do and try to do the best that you can. I got the opportunity to go to Hollywood. And I drove down Sunset Boulevard in an open white Chevy and went to all the studios. And it was like, my God! Where am I? I thought I had died and gone to heaven. It was really a wonderful time.

It was an amazing success around the world. After that, you went back into theatre?

I did everything. I tried to stay out of television thinking the Man From U.N.C.L.E. would go away. (Laughs) It didn't work.

He says thirty years later . . .

Yeah. Yes, I mean. Sorry, I forget which country I'm in. And so, I did a great deal of theatre. I did a lot of regional theatre in America. Tours of Florida, tours of New England. And in those days, you would take a play out in the summer and go to all the summer theatres, of which there were many. They're all gone now. There's about three left. You could have a 12, 13, 14 week tour of a play like Crown Matrimonial or, you know, lots of plays. And that's what I did.

Because if you could bring this up to the present day and people with hit TV shows like Bruce Willis with Moonlighting, go on to make movies, and Don Johnson of Miami Vice. Looking back, would you have done it differently.

Well, it's hard to tell what would have happened to my life if I had not played Illya Kuryakin. It's a whole other ballgame that I don't really . . .sorry . . .cricket match.

You forget where you are again?

I've had a long career. I joined equity in '46, I think. And I've done an awful lot since then. I've gone to a great many places and I've been very fortunate. I've had two marriages and I have five children. Life's been very good to me.

And you're back in theatre again?

I'm back in theatre. I was sent a copy of The Lion In Winter last year and asked, "Would you like to do this play?" And I remembered vaguely the film with Peter O'Toole and Katherine Hepburn but, um, as a script it's just superb. I didn't realize how funny it was and what a wonderful comedy it is. And then I read Henry II and thought, "Boy, do you want to have a go at that?" And I thought, "Well, you've been working since 1946, it's time you had a go at something like this." So here we are.

Any parallels between the royalty of then and the royalty today?

I think there is an insularity about royal families. I mean, even back in those days, I'm sure they kept themselves closed up in castles when they weren't rushing off and fighting wars to conquer lands. And, I think, the parenting skills between Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II and all the boys were certainly not very good in the Lion in Winter. And you can draw your own comparisons.

You're in Bromley at the moment?

Yes. And then we go to Lincoln in a couple of weeks time. And then we go all over the country. It's nice. It's my first tour and so I can visit all my relations and my brother's wife's relations in Cardiff, my brother's in Bath, and I have all sorts of aunts and uncles in Aberdeen, Inverness-I'm going to all the places. We were coming to Birmingham but regrettably they have some problems here so we're going to Glasgow instead.

Nice for you . . .

Local boy makes good. (delivered in Scottish accent.)

You think of yourself as a Glasgow gent?

Yes. I haven't spent a great deal of time there. But, you know one of the things I remember about Scotland most is when this country and the allies beat . . .it was either . . . I think it was the Japanese. And the mass pipes of the Argylian and the Sutherland-oh I probably have the wrong regiments-they marched across the grass below Stirling Castle. And I sat there and watched them as a little child. I'll never forget it. I was Scottish from that moment. There's something primitive about it.

You came from Kelvinside. Obviously being from Glasgow, I know it's quite a posh area. When you went to Hollywood, did they try to do this sort of thing: "Oh you came from Glasgow-the no means city. Must have been a tough upbringing." And things like that?

Nobody's ever brought it up. No, we lived in a tenement, for God sakes. (Delivered in lower class Glasgow accent.) Not posh! (Both laugh.)

Kelvinside is fairly posh when compared to some other places.

Yes, my Celtic roots. I was talking to Sian Phillips, you know, who plays Eleanor, and she has all her Welsh Celtic-so we have to get together and I'll see if I can't dig up some Celtic information for you. For next time.

Of course, your parents were very musical.

Yes my father was a violinist and worked with Sir Thomas Beecham for most of his life. And my mother was a cellist. My uncles and aunts are all music teachers, church organists and the like. There was a lot of music in the family.

What I think is also nice, seeing you today, is seeing you smiling. A lot of the roles we see you in, you never seem to get the chance to smile much.

Well, I was a very intense young man-I was Scottish! And brought up . . . And on the pew on both sides was our name-the McCallum pew and all this. That left me a very . . .it took me a long time to shake that off. I mean, all the values and the things which I hope one day will come back to society that I was taught and I try to teach my children-I would like those to come back. But there was a lot of guff as well. That leaves you very guilty about anything you try to do.

So was there a time in America of sort of finding yourself then?

I think particularly my second marriage . . . Katherine, my wife now was-is-a revelation. For years I was a work in progress, as they say, and she managed to polish it off, I think, and help. Polish in the sense of a stone, not finishing me off. (Laughs)

Well, she's done a splendid job. Continued success.