David McCallum


Acting great David McCallum has died aged 90. He got his start as a child actor on the radio, and through the late 50s and early 60s was a recognisable film face in roles such as a James Dean type in The Secret Place, a junior Titanic operator in A Night to Remember and Lt. Cmdr. Eric Ashley-Pitt in The Great Escape. It would be TV where he found his true stardom as the enigmatic Soviet spy Illya Kuryakin in tounge-in-cheek spy smash The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Kuryakin was the show’s breakout character, with barely any presence in the beginning episodes. McCallum’s mysterious aura was so compelling that Western audiences were enthralled with a Russian in the deep throes of the Cold War, and he soon shared top billing with Robert Vaughn’s Napoleon Solo and became a surprise teen idol phenomenon. His turtlenecks became a fashion fad, he received more fan mail than any MGM star before him (even Elvis and Clark Gable), and Alma Cogan recorded a novelty song cashing in on Kuryakin-mania. The son of reputed classical musicians who wanted him to be an oboist, he pursued a music career to the side, and his main sonic legacy is “The Edge” being sampled by Dr. Dre in “The Next Episode”.

U.N.C.L.E. ended after a botched attempt to lean too heavily into the camp, and McCallum retreated to a lower profile for several years. He would prove to be more than a 60s zeitgeist figure and held his own throughout 70s and 80s TV roles such as a plucky RAF POW in Colditz and otherworldly time-trotting agent Steel in Sapphire & Steel. His most popular role since Kuryakin came as quirky Chief Medical Examiner Donald “Ducky” Mallard in long-running police procedural NCIS, which brought him a renewed modern fanbase for his last twenty years. Like learning about the inner workings of the pancreas to become a DDP champion, he studied forensics so intensely in preparation for the role that he learned to perform actual autopsies if needed!

McCallum seemed in fine fettle for his age and thus wasn’t a popular pick despite his fame level. Three teams declared Ducky season, and Don’t Eat The Figs, I Couldn’t Eat Another Bite, and Who Turned out the lights? are all now smoking weed everyday.

David McCallum
19 September 1933 – 25 September 2023, aged 90
3 TEAMS (💀💀💀💀💀 5 POINTS)