Television transmission began in New Zealand in the early 1960s, coinciding with my formative years, influenced by many memorable programmes, including my favourite THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E with Robert Vaughn as the suave spy Napoleon Solo and his enigmatic partner, Russian Illya Kuryakin played by the Scottish-born David McCallum.
David’s father was the lead violinist for the London Philharmonic and his mother was a cellist so everything pointed to a musical career for their son and his favourite instrument, the oboe. A short stint at the Royal Academy of Music was replaced with the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, igniting a distinguished film, TV and stage career spanning over seven decades beginning with voice work for the BBC Radio in 1947.
He became a household name as the mysterious Illya Kuryakin, a character originally intended as a peripheral role but his popularity and the on-screen chemistry with Robert persuaded the producers to elevate David to co-star status. He received more fan mail than any other actor in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s history, including MGM stars Clark Gable and Ellis Presley with two Primetime Emmy nominations and a Golden Globe nod. He subsequently featured in COLDITZ (1972-74) and SAPPHIRE & STEELE (1978-1982) alongside Joanna Lumley before taking on the role of Donald ‘Ducky’ Mallard, the chief Medical Examiner in the American police procedural series NCIS since 2003. He is the only original cast member left, appearing briefly for season 19 last month.
David returned to his musical roots, recording four albums for Capitol Records in the 1960’s. In 2016 he published a crime novel ONCE A CROOKED MAN which centres on a young actor who foils a murder.
During the pandemic lockdowns I had the time to catch up on many of THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E episodes and drawing this quick portrait sketch of David, which I sent it to him at his New York home. He returned it, signed which I will treasure.