16 Magazine, January 1966

The Secret Heartaches of David McCallum

In the beginning, David didn't intend to be an actor. Here's what happened when he took the plunge.

The marriage of David McCallum to Jill Ireland at the Islington Registry in London just eight years ago was "Top Secret." The press did not know. Their film company, the rank Organisation, was not told. Even David's parents were kept in the dark. In fact, the bride and a close friend, David King, were the only two people other than David who DID know about the marriage. And Jill herself had very little notice, for theirs was a whirlwind romance if there ever was one. Jill and David were married six days after they met!

But the story of David McCallum's REAL life -- with its joys and heartaches -- began 24 years before he met lovely actress Jill Ireland. Let's go back to David's childhood and learn what it (and he) was really like.

The wonder was that David ever became an actor at all -- for he was trained to be a musician from the age of four, playing the oboe with classic clarity. An appreciation of music ran deep in the McCallum family. David's father, a famous violinist and leader of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, was taught classical music at his mother's knee.

The McCallums came from a little Scottish mining village, Kilsyth in Stirlingshire, where David's paternal grandfather was the village grocer. It was a deeply religious community, and David's grandmother hoped her son would learn the harp. But no one there could play the instrument, so young David Fotheringham McCallum was taught violin instead. And his own son, David Keith McCallum -- born on September 19, 1993, at 24 Kersland Street, Glasgow -- inherited this musical tradition.

When the family moved to Bracknell Gardens, Hampstead, in London, David went to University College School, and musical evenings became a feature of this childhood. He was taught violin and piano, but it was the oboe that he mastered. However, David secretly harbored a longing to become an actor, so when one of his uncles needed an oboe, David offered his -- cheap! -- and started out on his acting career. Though he laughingly calls the oboe "...an ill wind nobody blows good," David still admits, "I always knew that I could turn to music if I failed as an actor."

There were many moments when David must have felt failure was near. After doing some BBC radio shows, he worked season in repertory at little theatres in Pitlochry, Chesterfield and Oxford, where the audiences were small and his pay packet even smaller. It was during a season at Oxford that David got his break-through. Photographer Kenny Parker invited David into his studio for a routine session -- but the photos turned out to capture something very special.

When the prints were developed, everyone realized that David looked just like James Dean. An agent saw them, and David was soon under contract to the Rank Organisation and making his first film The Secret Place.

The season at Oxford was short; the theatre closed, and David decided to move to London. He caught a coach to town (train fares were too expensive in those days!) and found a cheap room at 45 St. John's Villas, Islington, near the archway underground tube station. It was just a bed-sitter with no separate kitchen. The room had a large sink and a two-ring gas cooker, besides the divan bed, wardrobe, and chest of drawers. Still, for only $4.90 a week, it was quite reasonable -- and just about all a struggling actor could afford.

Also living in the same building was the "super," Mr. Douglas Sweet. Remembering David, Mr. Sweet says, "David had very strong opinions about many things -- including his flat. As soon as he moved in, he took a distinct disliking to the color of the fireplace, which was green.

"'If you don't mind, Mr. Sweet,' he told me, 'I'm going to paint it red -- green is too much of a tired color.' "I said I didn't mind, though at the time I WAS rather apprehensive. I must admit he did make rather a good job of it in the end. David was very clever with his hands, but could not be very active, as he still had trouble with his back. He'd injured it falling from a ladder while painting scenery in summer stock. He turned to photography -- which became his favorite hobby. "One thing did surprise me later, though," Mr. Sweet continues, "and that was when David decided to go to America. I remember David once telling me, 'I don't fancy going to the States, Doug. Their style of acting is too commercialized.' "Something important certainly must have happened to change his mind."

At this time, David began doing more and more television and film parts. In Hell Drivers, the movie which gave Patrick McGoohan his first big role, David played a young cripple who ran a shop with his mother. It was a cameo role which was followed with his first major role in Robbery Under Arms.

For Robbery, David spent three months on location in the wilds of Australia, before returning to Britain for studio sessions. When his plane landed at the London airport, David was tired, bleary-eyed and unshaven. As he walked down the exit ramp, David looked up -- and what he saw gave him the greatest shock and surprise he has ever had in his entire life.

(To find our what greeted David at the airport and how the encounter changed his entire life, get the February issue of 16 Magazine --on sale December 23rd.)