The Man from UNCLE’s David McCallum: “It’s outrageous that someone else is playing Illya Kuryakin!”

The TV series' original star on the show's cult status, his friendship with co-star Robert Vaughn and the total surprise of Guy Ritchie's cinema remake

Unsurprisingly, Guy Ritchie’s film makes full use of all the technology available to today’s filmmakers. But when the original series was made none of those techniques had been invented. Vaughn and McCallum filmed at the MGM studios and if the show went on location it had to be within 50 miles of the studio otherwise the costs went up and the actors and crew had to be paid more.


“It didn’t have computer graphics because they didn’t exist!” says McCallum. “I remember being out in the hills in an open-top Austin-Healey with the sound equipment on my lap and a microphone in my hand. Robert drove and he had a switch for a camera that was strapped to the car’s hood. We switched the camera on and off we went.”

Inevitably there were rumours that he and Vaughn didn’t get on, but that was far from the truth, he insists. “Robert and I were the greatest of friends throughout, but as different as chalk and cheese. He went his way and I went my way, but when we came together on the set we were totally amicable. He was very involved in politics and writing a book so he was in his own world much of the time. We don’t see each other very often these days, although I called him on November 22, which is his birthday.”

In the years since The Man from UNCLE McCallum has continued to work virtually without a break, appearing in such classic shows as Colditz, The Invisible Man, Kidnapped, and opposite Joanna Lumley in ITV’s science-fiction series Sapphire & Steel.

He is now getting Illya Kuryakin-type recognition for his role as the medical examiner Dr Donald “Ducky” Mallard in NCIS, for which he has become an expert in forensics with an extensive library of books on the subject and has appeared at medical examiner conventions.

A true Renaissance man, he has also just written his first novel, an international thriller called Once a Crooked Man, and is a classically trained musician who has released four albums and still plays the oboe. “All in all, I manage to keep busy,” he says, with characteristic McCallum understatement.

The Man from UNCLE is released on Friday 14 August 

Read more:

The Man from UNCLE: “a jazzy, frantic, thrown-together mess” – the Radio Times review