I guess you can call me a fan of NCIS—the long running hit TV series about a group of agents from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. In large part, I watch the series to keep abreast with one my childhood heroes David McCallum.
McCallum plays Donald “Ducky” Mallard, the wise, witty and slightly eccentric NCIS’ Chief Medical Examiner. No matter the storyline, McCallum is always enjoyable on screen—adding tension and fun to whatever he does.
For those of certain generation, McCallum is best known for his performance as the iconic Ilya Kuryakin in the glossy swinging sixties spy series The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Though the series starred Robert Vaughn as the debonair agent Napoleon Solo—a character created by the author of the James Bond novels, Ian Fleming—it was always McCallum’s Kuryakin who drew the interest. Perhaps, I’m biased over my fellow Scot—though I think fan ratings from the day may prove me right.
McCallum is one of these actors whose career spans not just decades but several generations of fans—The Man from U.N.C.L.E., wartime drama about POWs Colditz, The Invisible Man, and that classic inter-dimensional cult sci-fi series Sapphire and Steel. Yep, I was a fan of all these.
A few years ago I punted the idea of a documentary on the great man making a return to his hometown of Glasgow in Scotland. It seemed an obvious win/win situation for BBC Scotland—but the powers at the top thought otherwise and alas this project was never made. However, when prepping the idea, one day and literally out of the blue, David McCallum phoned me at the office and gave his support to the project. He talked about his career and his memories of Glasgow and TV/Film and theater work. Never meet your heroes, they say. Well, I’ve met quite a few over the years and can honestly say I have yet to be disappointed. And talking with Mr. McCallum that rainy day in office in Anderston was a privilege and an utter delight. Maybe the BBC should rethink their demurral and make something soon….
But it’s not just his talent as an actor (or a writer) that makes McCallum special—he is also an accomplished musician who produced four groovy records in the 1960s.
McCaullm was born on September 19, 1933, at 24 Kersland Street, Glasgow, into a very musical household. His parents were both highly respected musicians—his father leader of the London Philharmonic—and they wanted their young son to follow in their footsteps:
...[T]hey suggested I take violin lessons—like father like son. Then they suggested the violincello—mother played the violincello. Then the piano—grandfather taught the piano!
Finally I gave in—my choice, much to their surprise—being oboe and English horn. I played both these instruments for many years and even studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London.
But then, McCallum decided he wanted to be an actor and a decision had to be made.
I had a choice: the theatre or music. I chose the theatre, and I was soon forced to give up all ideas of a musical career. I sold my oboe and I sold my English horn. But the desire to express myself in music never left and I still studied, including harmony, and the theory of music.
His acting career led him to America where he was soon a star—thanks to films like The Great Escape and of course The Man From U.N.C.L.E. on TV. McCallum was then offered the opportunity to his love of music.
In the fall of 1965, I devised an idea for a record album…born out of my past and out of my enjoyment of the music today. I wanted a sound that could play the current hits and at the same time possibly project something of me—a part of me.
McCallum took the idea to Capitol Records who liked the idea and within ten days the first session had been recorded.
Between 1966 and 1968, released four albums on Capitol Records: Music…A Part Of Me, Music…A Bit More Of Me, Music…It’s Happening Now!, and McCallum.
Together with famed producer David Axelrod, McCallum created a blend of oboe, English horn and strings with guitar and drums. They recorded interpretations of such hits as “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction,” “Downtown,” “Louie, Louie,” “I Can’t Control Myself” as well as some of his own rather tasty compositions, “Far Away Blue”, “Isn’t It Wonderful?” and “It Won’t Be Wrong”.
‘The Edge’—David McCallum.
McCallums wrote “The Edge” which was later sampled by Dr. Dre as the intro and riff to the track “The Next Episode,” and “House of Mirrors,” sampled by DJ Shadow for “Dark Days”.
‘Insomnia’ - David McCallum.
‘Communication’ - David McCallum.
McCallum duets with Nancy Sinatra in the episode ‘The Take Me to Your Leader Affair’ from ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’