David McCallum may be best known for “The Great Escape” or “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” depending on who you ask. Of course, he’s had a lot of success in recent years, thanks to “NCIS.” There’s also his musical career and his literary work. Whatever the case, his talent is undeniable, and his career in the industry is highly regarded.
McCallum was born in Glasgow and raised in a creative family. Classical music was very important in his family because his mother played the cello and his father was a conductor. “Father was unique in that his hands were really the center of his life, and keeping his hands safe and in perfect condition was paramount,” he told The Scotsman. “He would practice his violin incessantly, so we had the sound of music throughout the house all the time.”
McCallum built a memorable career with unforgettable roles, beginning on the other side of the pond and then moving to America. He’s done it all, from voice acting to the Army to drama school to writing a book.
During World War II, he grew up.
David McCallum’s family moved from Scotland to England when he was a child because his father had accepted a position with the London Philharmonic. During World War II, however, things changed dramatically. As he explained to The Scotsman, “I was evacuated at the end of 1939 or the beginning of 1940. I always assumed it was with one of those little brown boxes containing a gas mask, a piece of string, and a label tied to my coat, but it was more likely that my mother picked me up in a more civilised manner.” In a separate interview with the Daily Mail, he revealed that his family returned to Scotland after being evacuated. After a few years, the family returned to London.
Unsurprisingly, living through a war had an impact on McCallum. He stated in an interview with the Television Academy Foundation, “Before [bombs] exploded, I used to dive into my mother’s bed. My father used to sit in the window and watch the bombs fall.” He also recalled going to school one day after an explosive had blown out all of the windows in the building and hiding behind a wall from a V1 missile.
He attended University College School.
David McCallum did not always intend to pursue a career as an actor. Given his parents’ love of classical music, it seemed natural for him to follow in their footsteps. “At home, music was omnipresent,” he once told the Daily Mail, “and my parents both assumed at first that I would follow them into the family business.” His father hoped he’d grow up to be a professional oboist, so he started taking oboe lessons when he was in elementary school.
He was even asked to fill in for his mother during a performance once, but as he explained to the Daily Telegraph Weekend Magazine (via David McCallum Fans Online), he had his sheets mixed up and ended up playing the wrong thing at the wrong time. “Years later,” he said, “my mother told me she felt she’d really let me down.” “I told her she’d taught me the most important lesson of my career: never appear in public unless you know exactly what you’re doing.”
McCallum began attending the University College School in Hampstead at the age of ten. “I was in the school orchestra and did the occasional recital,” he told the Daily Mail. “However, I was also involved in amateur drama.” He left the academic institution when he was 16, he told Stay Thirsty Magazine, because he was ready for the next chapter. That chapter, however, was not entirely about music.
He began providing voiceovers for the BBC.
Long before he became Ducky on “NCIS,” David McCallum fell in love with acting while performing in a church production. “My life as an actor began when I was about 10 years old,” McCallum said at the 50th anniversary screening of “The Great Escape,” as reported by Cinema Retro. “I did this in a very small theater in a church, and I received a standing ovation at the end. The scene received a standing ovation, which I assumed was for me. At that moment, I realized I had found my home, the place where I would spend the rest of my life.” He was all in on theater from then on.
According to The Press and Journal, McCallum began doing voices for BBC Radio in 1946, when he was still a tween, in addition to honing his skills as an actor on stage. According to the Daily Mail, despite the fact that this work earned him his Equity card, he apparently kept the job under the radar. “Nobody knew about it at school,” he explained.
He enlisted in the British Army.
David McCallum served in the military before his acting career took off. “I was commissioned into the British Army in the 1950s and went immediately to C Company of the 3rd Battalion, Gold Coast Regiment, which was part of the Royal West African Frontier Force,” he told Stay Thirsty Magazine.
McCallum appeared in war films such as “The Great Escape,” “Mosquito Squadron,” and “The Ravine” years after serving in the British Army. As it turned out, his military experience served as excellent preparation for these roles. “The wonderful thing about being in the British Army is you learn how to put the uniform on, how to march, how to salute, and that all came in very useful later on, on several occasions, ‘The Great Escape’ being one of them,” he said at a 50th anniversary event for “The Great Escape,” according to Cinema Retro. Needless to say, he looked like he knew what he was doing because he really did.
David McCallum went to RADA.
David McCallum attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art after serving in the British Army. According to The Scotsman, while at RADA, he dabbled in both acting and stage management. “It was interesting, and I was there with Joan Collins,” McCallum told the Daily Mail, “but it seemed a little silly in some ways compared to just doing the job.” “I got into repertory theatre as soon as I got out.” He told the Mirror that he and Joan Collins were in the same fencing class. “She wasn’t a great fencer, but she sure looked good,” he joked.
Looking back on his time as a stage manager, McCallum told the Television Academy Foundation that he was actually tipped off about the job at the theater before he began his military service. He had been looking forward to working with the theater the entire time he was away, and he jumped on the opportunity as soon as he returned. “After WWII, every young man who was or wanted to be an actor returned and flooded the repertory theaters,” he recalled. In addition to doing electrical work behind the scenes, McCallum took on any odd roles that came up. “If a delivery man brings something, you get the part,” he explained.
His first notable role was in The Great Escape.
The 1963 film “The Great Escape” depicts a group of POWs planning an escape from a German camp during WWII. McCallum portrayed Eric Ashley-Pitt, also known as “Dispersal,” in his first world-famous role. “I’d been watching a lot of television and working in the theater. [Agent Derrick Marr] called to tell me that I’d been asked to meet with the film’s casting director “He remembered Media Mikes. That phone call would drastically alter McCallum’s career path.
“The Great Escape” provided McCallum with the opportunity to work with actors who were already well-known and established in the industry. Though sharing a call sheet with Hollywood legends like Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson might be intimidating for a newcomer, McCallum was made to feel at ease. According to Cinema Retro, he told the audience at a 50th anniversary screening of the film that the director reached out immediately to make sure he felt at ease while working on the project.
“When I arrived on set, the director, John Sturges, handed me a letter that said, ‘Let us know what you want, do you need a babysitter, where would you like to live, do you want a car, do you want a driver?’ Which was welcoming in ways I never imagined possible “He remembered.
He appeared in The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
David McCallum’s first well-known film was “The Great Escape,” and his first TV series was “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” From 1964 to 1968, he starred as Illya Kuryakin in the spy series, opposite Robert Vaughn. And, as he told My Weekly in 1986 (via David McCollum Fans Online), he still remembers the show fondly. “I never saw the series because we were always working,” he explained, “but I’ve seen some of them since and they’re very stylish and also very funny.”
And, while he didn’t have time to watch the show because he was too busy making it, he sure enjoyed the process. “I had a great time doing ‘U.N.C.L.E.’ – the company and crew were fantastic,” he said. McCallum and Vaughn reunited in 1983 for the made-for-TV film “Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E.” Vaughn told MovieWeb in 2007 that he’d be open to returning to the franchise in some capacity; McCallum, on the other hand, appears to have moved on.
Though he is unlikely to reprise his role, McCallum clearly cares about the show. According to his statement to the Television Academy Foundation, “There was an elderly lady in a hospital bed who said she was so happy because she could look forward to every Monday night… [The series] made her week and made her feel better. That is exactly why we do it.”
He became an integral part of NCIS.
David McCallum made his “NCIS” debut as Ducky in 2003. This beloved character has not only been with the show since its inception, but is unquestionably an essential part of the tight-knit ensemble. According to Newsweek, producer Frank Cardea once stated at a CBS event, “Both on and off camera, it feels like a family. That, I believe, comes through. You feel at ease with these people, and you know they like each other. But I believe it is our sense of humour that distinguishes us.”
Ducky is a fan favorite character not only because of what McCallum brings to the screen, but also because of the relationships he has formed with the other characters. According to executive producer Steven D. Binder, one of the character’s strongest connections is with Gibbs (Mark Harmon). “Gibbs is a person who struggles with relationships and is not the most social,” Binder said. “This is where Ducky comes in. We learn a lot about Gibbs’ psychology.”
McCallum seriously considered leaving “NCIS” at the start of 2022, but the powers that be had a different plan for him. “I sort of decided to leave the show,” he explained, “and they said, ‘No, we’d like to make you the historian so you’re still a part of the show.’”
He is a musician as well as an author.
Although David McCallum is best known for his acting career, he has always remained loyal to the music that got him started in the arts. “I always knew that if I failed as an actor, I could turn to music,” he told 16 Magazine in 1966. (via David McCallum Fans Online). While he was not a failure as an actor, he did eventually turn to music. He has a few albums under his belt, and you’re probably familiar with his song “The Edge.” According to The Press and Journal, a sample of the track can be heard on the Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg track “The Next Episode.”
But music isn’t the only artistic endeavor he’s undertaken. McCallum decided to dabble in the literary world by publishing “Once A Crooked Man.” “I’ve been working on [the book] for a long time,” he told Herald Scotland. “I sat down and began to write, and it literally gathered together over the years until maybe three years ago when I decided it was time to stop being foolish, and I sat down and finished it.” Years of writing resulted in a novel filled with suspense, espionage, cr1me, and drama.
His grandchildren refer to him as “Grand-Ducky.”
“I resolved to devote 10% of my time to myself. I believe an entertainer is entitled to that much money “In 1966, David McCallum told Woman’s Day (via David McCallum Fans Online). Outside of that 10% of privacy, his fans discovered he was married twice: once to Jill Ireland and once to Katherine Carpenter. He has five children in total. Unfortunately, one of his children d1ed in 1989. As he told the Belfast Telegraph, “You never recover from the d3ath of a child. The pain is palpable, but it’s more like an ache that turns into rage.”
McCallum is a proud grandfather as well. In 2015, he told the Los Angeles Times, “In New York, we have six boys and two girls. I keep the boys and girls on different coasts so I can keep track of them.” They all call him “grand-daddy,” as he revealed in the aforementioned Belfast Telegraph interview, but a few have adopted a name that alludes to his “NCIS” character. “And some of them have the audacity to call me grand-duky,” he added.