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David McCallum: "Donald Trump is telling it how it is"

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. David McCallum is rather right wing for a Soviet spy. Read his opinions on socialism, Obama and Donald Trump...

You have written your first novel, Once a Crooked Man. What is it about?

Well, my father used to say that when he read a book he liked a good yarn. So I tried to make it a good yarn – something that you buy in an airport, read on the way over the Atlantic and then give to a friend at the other end. There’s nothing particularly profound about Once A Crooked Man but I hope it is, as my father said, a good yarn.

Has it always been an ambition to write a book?

No. The genesis of this book started before NCIS, so it’s been many years. It started as an exercise in teaching myself how to write. It was purely and simply a lesson to myself. I left school when I was 16, so all of what I’ve learned in life from an academic point of view has been taught by myself, reading books or talking to people who know more than I do. I had this desire to learn how to write. My first efforts were pretty pathetic but over the years with rewriting and enjoying the exercise of learning, the book that we now have is what’s been born.

The title refers to the nursery rhyme but what was the nursery rhyme referring to?

It’s all about the feud between England and Scotland and the borderlands. That’s the crooked fence.

We’re still living in the crooked UK.

It’s a pretty crooked world at the moment.

You emigrated from the UK because you felt it was becoming a socialist country. Has it turned out the way you thought?

Would you say Britain is socialist? How many Conservative MPs are there in Scotland?

One.

Exactly. I rest my case.

But there is only one Labour MP as well.

Yes. But the SNP are pretty far to the left as I remember.

They appear to be – they have their headline policy about nationalism but most people don’t look beyond that to see what they really represent.

I think my favourite quote over the years was from Margaret Thatcher when she said that welfare is a wonderful idea until you run out of other people’s money. That really sums up the way I feel. We spend our lives concerned about people who are not well off and you can’t just wave a magic wand. These problems go deep into history. The complexity of international and current affairs has reached mind-blowing proportions.

How do we deal with the complexity?

One thing I believe is that the human being – the actual spirit of a human being – is to be independent, have a good job, have a family that he or she supports. The unit of the family is the basic building block of a very firm, strong society that demands very little from government. When 50 or 60 per cent of the population rely on the government for food and shelter, the whole structure is so lopsided that it collapses under its own weight.

You sound like you could be a politician.

In order to solve these problems, you have to have incredibly bright and intelligent people running the country for us, and you don’t always find that’s the case.

TV politicians are taking over, as Donald Trump is proving.

It’s quite unique in this country. He’s telling it how it is.

Do you welcome that kind of politics?

I welcome the fresh air Trump is blowing through the Republican Party. He’s not a politician, and so how someone from outside politics comes crashing in and then has to become a true politician and a diplomat… I’ll be fascinated to watch what happens.

But in comparison, Obama seems like an intellectual, the type we just said should be in charge.

Obama is an ideologue. He has his way and he won’t accept any other. The consequences of Obama’s brand of socialism in a country like America, which wasn’t really founded on these principles, have become enormous.

As an actor whose day job involves being in the midst of exciting crimes and adventures, does it make that side of life seem closer to your own real life?

I don’t think it has anything to do with acting. Life as far as I’m concerned is made up of good and bad people. There is a misconception that the criminal element is stupid and greedy, they’re not. The book did start out with the premise that crime pays, and it pays well. I have noticed in this world – the number of people that you think are straight and upright citizens, then all of a sudden they’re being indicted for some heinous crime… It makes you realise there are a lot of bad people in this world.

Fifty years on from The Man From U.N.C.L.E, the East and West are still at loggerheads.

Again, yes. After a long period of détente, now sabre rattling.

The first action figure was GI Joe, released in 1964. An Illya Kuryakin toy was released in 1965, which means you must have been one of the first real people to become an action figure.

I have it actually, I bought it once in a second hand shop and gave it to my wife. It looks like Ken, the Barbie doll. I think it may have been the same company that did it.

In The Great Escape you were a member of one of the best casts ever seen on film.

Just looking around and seeing Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and the whole gang… You felt part of a very distinguished cast. But at the same time you had no idea how successful the movie would be. It wasn’t until they screened it at the Odeon, Leicester Square. We were sitting upstairs in the balcony, the curtains parted and that wonderful music by Bernstein came on. You realised, hey this is going to be good. I can remember that first screening as if it were yesterday.

Where did the idea come from for Steve McQueen to throw the baseball against the wall of his cell?

There was a point in the movie where we stopped for at least a day or possibly two. Steve McQueen and John Sturgess went off together to an office somewhere and I believe that’s when the whole baseball thing came up, during those discussions.

Once a Crooked Man is out now

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