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The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is an American television series that was broadcast on NBC from September 22, 1964, to January 15, 1968.

History

There were 105 episodes (see 1964 in television and 1968 in television) created by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer that made up this series. The first season was broadcast in black-and-white. The series centered on a two-man troubleshooting team for a covert espionage organization: American Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn), and Russian Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum). Leo G. Carroll played Alexander Waverly, the British head of the organization. Lisa Rogers (Barbara Moore) joined the cast as a female regular in the fourth season.

James Bond creator Ian Fleming contributed to the show's creation. The book The James Bond Films reveals that Fleming's TV concept had two characters: Napoleon Solo and April Dancer (The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.). ("Mr. Solo" was originally the name of a crime boss in Fleming's Goldfinger.) Robert Towne and Harlan Ellison wrote scripts for the series, which was originally to have been titled Solo. Author Michael Avallone, who wrote the first original novel based upon the series (see below), is sometimes incorrectly cited as the creator of the series (such as in the January 1967 issue of The Saint Magazine). At one point, Fleming's name was to have been connected more directly with the series. The cover of the original prospectus for the series showed the title Ian Fleming's Solo. Solo was originally slated to be the "solo" star of the series, the only "Man". But a minor walk-on by a Russian agent named Illya Kuryakin caught fire with the fans, and the two were permanently paired.

Premise

The series, though fictional, achieved such notability as to have artifacts (props, costumes and documents, and a video clip) from the show included in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library's exhibit on spies and counterspies. Similar exhibits can be found in the museums of the Central Intelligence Agency and other agencies and organizations involved with intelligence gathering.

Background

The show revolved around a fictional secret international law-enforcement agency, the United Network Command for Law Enforcement; it was engaged in a constant struggle against a vast organization known as THRUSH (originally named WASP in the series pilot movie). Originally the acronym for Thrush was never explained, but in several of the U.N.C.L.E. novels written by David McDaniel, it was explained to mean Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity, and remains exclusive to the paperbacks and not the series itself. THRUSH's aim was to conquer the world. Napoleon Solo said, "THRUSH believes in the two-party system: the masters and the slaves." So dangerous was the threat from THRUSH that governments, even those most ideologically opposed such as the United States and the USSR, cooperated in the formation and operation of U.N.C.L.E. Similarly, if Solo and Kuryakin held opposing political views, the writers allowed little to show in their interactions.

Though executive producer Norman Felton and Ian Fleming had developed the character of Napoleon Solo, it was producer Sam Rolfe who created the organization of U.N.C.L.E. Unlike the nationalistic organizations of the CIA and James Bond's MI6, U.N.C.L.E. was a worldwide organization that comprised agents from all corners of the globe. The character of Illya Kuryakin was created by Rolfe as a Russian U.N.C.L.E. agent.

The creators of the series decided that the involvement of an innocent character would be part of each episode, giving the audience someone with whom it could identify. Through all the changes in series in the course of four seasons, this element remained a factor — from a suburban housewife in the pilot, "The Vulcan Affair" (film version: "To Trap a Spy"), to the various people kidnapped in the final episode, "The Seven Wonders of the World Affair".

Season 1

The show's first season was in black & white. Rolfe's genius was to create a kind of Alice in Wonderland world, where the monotony of everyday life would intermittently intersect with the looking glass fantasy of international espionage which lay just beyond mundane everyday life. The U.N.C.L.E. universe was one where the weekly "innocent" would get caught up in a series of fantastic adventures, in a Manichean battle of good and evil. In its idealistic depiction of an international organization that transcended borders and agents of all nationalities worked together, Rolfe's U.N.C.L.E. anticipated Gene Roddenberry's interstellar United Federation of Planets in "Star Trek" two seasons later. Rolfe also skillfully blended deadly suspense with a light touch, reminiscent of the best of Hitchcock. In fact, U.N.C.L.E. owes just as much to Alfred Hitchcock as it does Ian Fleming, the touchstone being North by Northwest, where an innocent man is mistaken for an agent of a top secret organization headed by Leo G. Carroll.

UNCLE headquarters in New York City were most frequently entered by a secret entrance in Del Floria's Tailor Shop. Another entrance was through The Masque Club. Mr. Waverly had his own secret entrance. Unlike the competing TV series I Spy however, the shows were overwhelmingly shot on the MGM back lot. The same outside staircase was used for episodes set throughout the Mediterranean and Latin America, and the same eucalyptus dirt road on the back lot in Culver City stood in for virtually every continent of the globe. The episodes followed a naming convention where each title was in the form of "The ***** Affair", such as "The Vulcan Affair", "The Mad, Mad, Tea Party Affair", "The Waverly Ring Affair", and "The Deadly Quest Affair", the only exceptions being, "Alexander the Greater Affair", parts 1 & 2.

Rolfe managed to make the implausibility of it all seem not only feasible but entertaining. Frogmen emerging from wells in Iowa, shootouts between UNCLE and THRUSH agents in a crowded midtown Manhattan movie theatre, top secret organizations hidden behind innocuous brownstone facades; this was a parallel universe that lay just beyond our own. Rolfe left the show at the conclusion of the first season, frustrated by lack of recognition of his role in the show's success and his lack of monetary compensation.

In its first season The Man from U.N.C.L.E. competed against The Red Skelton Show on CBS and Walter Brennan's short-lived The Tycoon on ABC.

Seasons 2-4

Switching to color, U.N.C.L.E. continued to enjoy huge popularity but the new producer, David Victor, read articles that called the show a spoof and that is what it became. Over the next three seasons, no fewer than five different show runners would supervise the U.N.C.L.E. franchise, and not one of them had a clear understanding of what made the show's unique qualities. Also, U.N.C.L.E. had spawned a swarm of imitators. In 1964, it was the only American spy show on American TV; by 1966, there were nearly a dozen. In a vain attempt to emulate the success of ABC's mid-season hit, Batman, which had taken the nation by storm upon its debut in spring of 1966, U.N.C.L.E. devolved into self-parody and slapstick.

This campiness was most in evidence during the third season, when the producers made a conscious decision to increase the level of humor (though second season had shown a considerable increase towards a farcical approach with "The Yukon Affair" and "The Indian Affairs Affair"). With unfunny shows like "The My Friend the Gorilla Affair," the show tested the loyalties of its supporters and this direction resulted in a severe ratings drop, and nearly resulted in the show's cancellation. It was renewed for a fourth season and an attempt was made to go back to serious storytelling, but the show's final producer, Anthony Spinner, turned it into a grim, plodding shadow of its former self, and it was cancelled midway through its fourth season.

The theme music, written by Jerry Goldsmith, changed slightly each season. Goldsmith only provided four original scores and was replaced by Morton Stevens, who also composed four scores for the series. After Stevens, Walter Scharf did six scores, and Lalo Schifrin (who later wrote the memorable Mission: Impossible theme) did two. Gerald Fried was composer from season two through the beginning of season four. The final composers were Robert Drasnin, Nelson Riddle and Richard Shores. The music reflected the show's changing seasons – Goldsmith, Stevens and Scharf composed compelling and dramatic scores in the first season using brass, unique time signatures and martial rhythms, Gerald Fried and Robert Drasnin went for a lighter approach in the second, employing harpsichords and bongos and by the third season, the music had become pure farce exemplified by an R&B organ and saxophone version of the theme. The fourth season's strained attempt at seriousness was duly echoed by Richard Shores' somber and uninspired scores.

Props

Solo and Kuryakin, trained in martial arts, also had a range of useful spy equipment, including handheld satellite communicators to keep in contact with UNCLE headquarters. A catchphrase often heard was "Open Channel D" when agents used their pocket radios (originally disguised as cigarette packs, later as a cigarette case, and in following seasons, as pens).

One prop, often referred to as "The Gun," drew so much attention that it actually spurred considerable fan mail, often so addressed. Internally designated the "U.N.C.L.E. Special", it featured a modular semi-automatic weapon, originally based on the Mauser Model 1934 Pocket Pistol, but soon replaced by the more-readily available Walther P38 pistol. As such, the gun could be converted into a longer-range carbine by attaching a long barrel, extendable shoulder stock, telescopic sight, and extended magazine. The magazine was actually a standard magazine with a dummy extension on it, but it inspired several manufacturers to begin making long magazines for various pistols. The gun usually fired some form of a fast acting tranquilizing dart instead of bullets as opposed to the lethality of a THRUSH weapon. While many of these continue to be available 40 years later, long magazines were not available for the P-38 for some years. However, they are now being custom made, as are reproduction parts for the U.N.C.L.E. carbine, and sold at "TheUncleGun.com" . "Pictures" of their U.N.C.L.E. gun reproductions can also be seen on the official "Man From U.N.C.L.E. DVD set" The "U.N.C.L.E. Special"-configured Walther P38 would later become the distinctive alternate mode for the Transformers character Megatron, the evil leader of the Decepticons. THRUSH had an equally impressive range of weaponry, much of it only in development before being destroyed by our heroes; their most notable item was the infrared sniperscope, enabling them to target gunfire in total darkness. A major design defect of the sniperscope (both in the TV series and in the real world) was that its image tube's power supply emitted a distinctive whining sound when operating. This device was built around a U. S. Army-surplus M1 carbine.

A few of the third- and fourth-season episodes featured an "U.N.C.L.E. car", which was developed from the Piranha, a concept car built to prove the usefulness of plastics in auto construction.

Spin-offs

The series was popular enough that a spin-off series, The Girl from U.N.C.L.E., ran for one season, starring Stefanie Powers as agent "April Dancer" (a character name credited to Ian Fleming). There was some crossover between the two shows, and Leo G. Carroll played Waverly in both programs, becoming one of the first actors in American television to star as the same character in two separate series (a feat later repeated by Richard Anderson and Martin E. Brooks on The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman).

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. rated so highly in America and the UK that MGM and the producers decided to film extra footage (often more adult to evoke Bond films) for two of the first season episodes and release them to theaters after they had aired on TV. The episodes with the extra footage that made it to theaters were the original pilot, "The Vulcan Affair" retitled To Trap a Spy, and also from the first season "The Double Affair" retitled as The Spy With My Face. Both had added sex and violence, new sub-plots and guest stars not in the original TV episodes. They were often released as an U.N.C.L.E. double-feature program first run in neighborhood theaters, bypassing the customary downtown movie palaces which were still thriving in the mid-60s and where new movies usually played for weeks and even months before coming to outlying screens.

A selling point to seeing these films on the big screen back then was that they were being shown in color, at a time when most people had black and white TVs. The words IN COLOR featured prominently on the trailers, tv spots and posters for the film releases.

Subsequent two-part episodes, beginning with the second season premiere, "Alexander The Greater Affair," retitled One Spy Too Many for its theatrical release, were developed into one complete feature film with only occasional extra sexy and violent footage added to them, sometimes as just inserts.

All of the films were successful in many parts of the world, even those where the TV show did not air, sometimes surpassing box office receipts of the most recent Bond film. The later films were not released in America, only overseas, but the first few did well in American theaters and remain one of the rare examples of a television show released in paid theatrical engagements.

Among the films in this series:

  • To Trap a Spy (1964)
  • The Spy with My Face (1965)
  • One Spy Too Many (1966)
  • One of Our Spies is Missing (1966)
  • The Spy in the Green Hat (1966)
  • The Karate Killers (1967)
  • The Helicopter Spies (1968) (TV)
  • How to Steal the World (1968)

The U.N.C.L.E. fad also inspired a related series of books, the best of which, in most opinions, were written by David McDaniel. See below for a listing.

Other spin-offs included a Man from U.N.C.L.E. digest-sized story magazine, board games, action-figures, and toy pistols. The show also inspired the naming of the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents.

Several comic strips based on the series have been published. In the US, there was a Gold Key Comics comic book series (one based on the show), which ran for about a dozen issues. Entertainment Publishing released an eleven issue series of one- and two-part stories from January 1987 to September 1988 that updated U.N.C.L.E. to the Eighties, while largely ignoring the reunion TV-movie. A two-part comics story, "The Birds of Prey Affair" was put out by Millennium Publications in 1993, which showcased the return of a smaller, much more streamlined version of Thrush, controlled by Dr. Egret, who had melded with the Ultimate Computer. The script was written by Mark Ellis and Terry Collins with artwork by Nick Choles, and transplanted the characters into the present day.

Two Man from U.N.C.L.E. strips were originated for the British market in the 1960s (some Gold Key material was also reprinted), the most notable for Lady Penelope comic, which launched in January 1966. This was replaced by a Girl from U.N.C.L.E. strip in January 1967. Man from U.N.C.L.E. also featured in the short-lived title Solo (published between February and September 1967) and some text stories appeared in TV Tornado.

Reunion TV-movie

A reunion telefilm, The Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E., subtitled The Fifteen Years Later Affair was broadcast on CBS in America on April 5, 1983, with Vaughn and McCallum reprising their roles, and Patrick Macnee replacing Leo G. Carroll as the head of U.N.C.L.E. A framed picture of Carroll appeared on his desk. The movie included a tribute to Ian Fleming via a cameo appearance by an unidentified secret agent with the initials "J.B." The part was played by one-time James Bond George Lazenby who was shown driving Bond's trademark vehicle, an Aston Martin DB5. One character, identifying him, says that it is "just like On Her Majesty's Secret Service," which was, of course, Lazenby's only Bond film.

The movie briefly filled in the missing years. THRUSH had been put out of business, and the remaining leader was in prison. (His escape begins the story.) Illya had quit U.N.C.L.E. after a mission had gone sour and an innocent woman been killed, and now designed women's clothing at Vanya's in New York. Napoleon had been pushed out of U.N.C.L.E. and now sold computers, though he still carried his U.N.C.L.E. pen radio for sentimental reasons (which is how the organization is able to contact him after so many years).

Solo and Kuryakin were recalled to recapture and defeat Thrush once and for all, but the movie misfired on a key point: instead of reuniting the agents on the mission -- and showcasing their witty interaction -- the agents were separated and paired with younger agents. Like most similar reunion films, this production was considered a trial balloon for a possible new series, but none emerged.

In an episode of the The A-Team, season five, where Robert Vaughn had a recurring role as General Stockwell, David McCallum guest starred in an episode titled "The Say Uncle Affair" as Stockwell's former espionage partner, Ivan. Footage from the series was used for flashbacks in the story, and the signature change of scene music from The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was used whenever scenes changed in that episode.

McCallum played one of the few characters ever to have been killed in an A-Team episode.

DVD releases

In November 2007, after coming to an agreement with Warner Home Video, Time-Life released a 41 DVD set (region 1) for direct order, with sales through stores scheduled for fall 2008. An earlier release by Anchor Bay, allegedly set for 2006, was apparently scuttled because of a dispute over the rights to the series with Warner Brothers.

A region 2 DVD (PAL for Europe) release of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. movies was released on September 8, 2003. The DVD contains five of the eight movies, missing the following: To Trap a Spy (1964), The Spy in the Green Hat (1966) and One of Our Spies is Missing (1966).

Original novels

Two dozen original novels were based upon Man from U.N.C.L.E. and published between 1965 and 1968 (for a time, the most of any American-produced television series except for Star Trek, though there have now been more original novels published based upon Alias and Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Freed from the limitations of network television, these novels were generally grittier and more violent than the televised episodes and were very successful.

  1. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (a.k.a. The Thousand Coffins Affair) - Michael Avallone
  2. The Doomsday Affair - Harry Whittington
  3. The Copenhagen Affair - John Oram
  4. The Dagger Affair - David McDaniel
  5. The Mad Scientist Affair - John T. Phillifent
  6. The Vampire Affair - McDaniel
  7. The Radioactive Camel Affair - Peter Leslie
  8. The Monster Wheel Affair - McDaniel
  9. The Diving Dames Affair - Leslie
  10. The Assassination Affair - J. Hunter Holly
  11. The Invisibility Affair - Buck Coulson and Gene DeWeese (writing as "Thomas Stratton")
  12. The Mind Twisters Affair - "Stratton"
  13. The Rainbow Affair - McDaniel
  14. The Cross of Gold Affair - Ron Ellik and Fredric Langley (writing as "Fredric Davies")
  15. The Utopia Affair - McDaniel
  16. The Splintered Sunglasses Affair - Leslie
  17. The Hollow Crown Affair - McDaniel
  18. The Unfair Fare Affair - Leslie
  19. The Power Cube Affair - Phillifent
  20. The Corfu Affair - Phillifent
  21. The Thinking Machine Affair - Joel Bernard
  22. The Stone Cold Dead in the Market Affair - Oram
  23. The Finger in the Sky Affair - Leslie.

Another volume, The Final Affair, also by David McDaniel, was completed but not published. Copies of the manuscript have circulated among fans for decades. Written after the series was cancelled, it was intended to provide a definitive conclusion to Solo and Illya's adventures. At one time there were plans to publish The Final Affair in a limited deluxe edition, but the project failed. Another book, The Catacombs and Dogma Affair, has been mentioned in some sources, but it isn't listed as one of the official U.N.C.L.E. novels (it's possible it might be one of the above volumes, retitled, or it may be the unpublished second U.N.C.L.E.novel by J. Hunter Holly, which has been circulated in mimeographed form among fans). Volumes 10-15 and 17 of the series were only published in the United States.

Two science-fiction novels - Genius Unlimited by John Rackham (a pseudonym used by Phillifent) and The Arsenal Out of Time by McDaniel - appear to be rewrites of "orphaned" U.N.C.L.E novel outlines or manuscripts.

The Rainbow Affair is notable for its thinly-disguised cameo appearances by The Saint, Miss Marple, John Steed, Emma Peel, Tommy Hambledon (at whose flat Solo and Ilya encounter Steed and Peel), Neddie Seagoon, Father Brown, a retired, elderly Sherlock Holmes, and Dr. Fu Manchu. The novel uses the same chapter title format that Leslie Charteris used in his Saint novels. (The title of one of the theatrical versions of UNCLE episodes, The Spy in the Green Hat, is very close to the title of The Man in the Green Hat, one of the "Hambledon" novels by "Manning Coles".)

Whitman Books also published three hardcover novels aimed at young readers and based upon the series. The first two books break the naming convention "The .... Affair" used by all other U.N.C.L.E. fiction and episodes:

  1. The Affair of the Gunrunners' Gold - Brandon Keith
  2. The Affair of the Gentle Saboteur - Brandon Keith
  3. The Calcutta Affair - George S. Elrick

A children's storybook written by Walter Gibson entitled The Coin of El Diablo Affair was also published.

The aforementioned digest magazine based upon Man from U.N.C.L.E. and often featured original novellas that were not published anywhere else. There were 24 issues running monthly from February 1966 till January 1968, inclusive.

Trivia

  • One of the original pen communicators now resides in the museum of the Central Intelligence Agency Unfortunately, the museum is not accessible to the public. Replicas have been made over the years for other displays, and this is the second-most-identifiable prop from the series (closely following the U.N.C.L.E. Special pistol).
  • Future Star Trek stars William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy appeared together in a 1964 episode, "The Project Strigas Affair." Shatner played a heroic civilian recruited for an U.N.C.L.E. mission, and Nimoy played the villain's bumbling henchman.
  • Barbara Feldon, later to become Agent 99 on Get Smart, played an U.N.C.L.E. translator eager for field work in "The Never-Never Affair."
  • Woodrow Parfrey appeared five times as a guest performer, more than any other actor, although he never received an opening-title credit. Usually cast as a scientist, he played the primary villain in only one episode, "The Cherry Blossom Affair."
  • Forty years after the debut of this series, both of its main stars found themselves enjoying renewed popularity on television, Vaughn in the British caper series Hustle and McCallum in the American military crime investigation series NCIS. In the season two NCIS episode "The Meat Puzzle," Leroy Gibbs mentions that when he was younger, Ducky Mallard looked like Illya Kuryakin.
  • One episode of the 1980s adventure series The A-Team was entitled "The Say U.N.C.L.E. Affair" and featured Vaughn and McCallum. Vaughn was a member of The A-Team's cast at this point, playing General Stockwell, while McCallum appeared as an enemy agent, Ivan. The episode was loaded with in-jokes referencing the series but otherwise there was no link to the original show.
  • The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was parodied in an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show, fittingly titled "The Man from My Uncle." In this episode, Rob Petrie (Van Dyke) allows his suburban house to be used as a stakeout for an unnamed government agency. They want to spy on one of his neighbors who has a deported nephew that may be back in the country illegally. Comedian Godfrey Cambridge guest stars as an agent whose name is Mr. Bond, a recurring joke in the episode. In the show's final scene, referred to in sitcom circles as the "tag," Rob is playing with the agent's walkie talkie and fantasizes that he is negotiating a hostage exchange with THRUSH.
  • Parodied by MGM itself on "The Mouse from H.U.N.G.E.R.," an episode of Tom and Jerry.
  • A few brief reference to U.N.C.L.E. are made in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier, along with appearances by characters from The Avengers, Danger Man, and The Prisoner. U.N.C.L.E. is never called by name in the story, although Waverly is mentioned, albeit by his last name only, as a schoolmate of Billy Bunter's at Greyfriars and also a member of a Cambridge Five.
  • In his 1980s album get happy!!, Elvis Costello wrote the track "Man Called Uncle". Even if the lyrics do not make any references to the show,the song has a Sixties upbeat feel connected with the original "Man from U.N.C.L.E" soundtrack.
  • In an episode of Tales from the Darkside titled "The Impressionist", a government organization named U.N.C.L.E. hires an impersonator to talk with an alien.
  • In the video game Duke Nukem 3D, there is a secret military base, and hidden on a telephone booth it says "U.N.C.L.E." rather than the typical "PHONE." Using this phone leads to a hidden area.
  • The British TV series The Avengers featured an episode titled "The Girl from AUNTIE".
  • An Argentinian Funk duo was named Illya Kuryaki and the Valderramas honoring the fictitious spy.
  • In the Randall Garrett novel Too Many Magicians, character Tia Einzig's father's brother Neapeler is said to come from the Isle of Mann, and thus is the Uncle from Mann.
  • The English 2 Tone band The Specials made an instrumental song called "Napoleon Solo." It was also the name of a Danish 2 Tone band.
  • Space–surf band Man or Astro-man? covered the theme song for their 1994 EP Astro Launch.

See also

References

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