The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was a popular American television series that ran on NBC from September 22, 1964 to January 15, 1968.
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. (The meaning of the acronym was never revealed in the series, but one of the many original novels based upon the series speculated it stood for Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity.) THRUSH's aims were, essentially, to conquer the world. So dangerous was the threat from THRUSH that governments, even those most ideologically opposed to one another, had cooperated in the formation of U.N.C.L.E. James Bond's Ian Fleming contributed to the T.V. show creation. ("Napoleon 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.
The stories centred around one of the organisation's two-man troubleshooting teams, the American Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn), and the Russian Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum); they were well-trained in martial arts, and had a range of useful spy equipment, including hand held satellite communicators to keep in contact with the U.N.C.L.E. headquarters. 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 sniperscope, enabling them to target gunfire in total darkness. A major design defect of the sniperscope was that its image intensifier's power supply emitted a distinctive whining sound when operating. This weapon was built around a US Army-surplus M1 carbine.
Some episodes of the series may be seen as exhibiting extreme "campiness" when viewed by modern audiences, for example one scene (filmed on Chatsworth Boulevard in Northridge, California, a public street) featured a villain in an ice-cream truck being pursued by Kuryakin and Solo. The fleeing villain, yanking the sticks from what appear to be Popsicles, throws them as grenades at his pursuers, whereupon they explode. For some reason Illya's Karmann Ghia seems unable to catch up to the lumbering ice cream truck, which would allow the heroes to simply shoot the miscreant.
The U.N.C.L.E. headquarters in New York were most frequently entered by a secret entrance in the back-room of a laundry. Other entrances included a barber shop and a tailors' establishment. Unlike I Spy, however, the shows were overwhelmingly shot on the MGM back lot. The same outside staircase was used for episodes set thoughout the Mediterranean and Latin America. A few of the last episodes had an "U.N.C.L.E. car", which was developed from an American Motors concept car.
The show's episodes followed a naming convention where each title was in the form "The Something Affair" (examples: "The Vulcan Affair", "The Mad, Mad, Tea Party Affair", "The Take Me To Your Leader Affair", "The Deep Six Affair".) Other shows that followed similar conventions were The Wild Wild West, whose episodes were all titled "The Night of the Something", and the 1951-1959 Dragnet, whose episodes were all (except two) titled "The Big Something".
A catchphrase often heard was "Open Channel D!" when agents used their pocket radios (often built into pens).
Leo G. Carroll played Alexander Waverly, the British head of the organisation.
The series was popular enough that a spin-off series, The Girl from U.N.C.L.E., ran for one season, starring Stephanie 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 Waverley in both programs, becoming one of the first actors in American television to star 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).
Each two-part episode of Man from U.N.C.L.E. was later re-edited into a series of theatrical films which were initially released in Europe, and then to American TV. In each case, additional footage was shot. 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 - many written by David McDaniel and Peter Leslie. See below for a listing.
The theme music was written by Jerry Goldsmith and changed slightly each season.
Other spin-offs included a Man from U.N.C.L.E. digest-sized story magazine, two Gold Key comic book series (one based on the show which ran for about a dozen issues, the other a one-shot spinoff called Jet Dream based upon characters introduced in the comic book but not featured in the TV series), board games, action-figures, and toy pistols. The show also inspired the naming of the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. In the 1990s, another Man from U.N.C.L.E. comic book was published for a few issues, with the characters transplanted into the modern day.
A reunion television movie, The Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E., subtitled The Fifteen Years Later Affair was broadcast in 1983, with Vaughn and McCallum reprising their original roles, and Patrick Macnee replacing the now-deceased Leo Carroll as the head of U.N.C.L.E. The movie included a tribute to Ian Fleming via a cameo appearance by an unidentified secret agent with the initials "J.B."
In recent years there have been occasional reports of a Man from U.N.C.L.E. motion picture being planned, but as of 2004 nothing has been announced.
- Napoleon Solo was originally to have been Canadian, but it was decided that a series on an American network needed an American lead character.
The first Man from U.N.C.L.E.
novel, by Michael Avallone. Pictured: Robert Vaughn
Two dozen original novels were based upon Man from U.N.C.L.E. and published between 1965 and 1967. Freed from the limitations of network television, these novels were generally grittier and more violent than the televised episodes and were very successful.
- The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (a.k.a. The Thousand Coffins Affair) - Michael Avallone
- The Doomsday Affair - Harry Whittington
- The Copenhagen Affair - John Oram
- The Dagger Affair - David McDaniel
- The Mad Scientist Affair - John T. Phillifent
- The Vampire Affair - McDaniel
- The Radioactive Camel Affair - Peter Leslie
- The Monster Wheel Affair - McDaniel
- The Diving Dames Affair - Leslie
- The Assassination Affair - J. Hunter Holly
- The Invisibility Affair - Buck Coulson and Gene DeWeese (writing as "Thomas Stratton")
- The Mind Twisters Affair - "Stratton"
- The Rainbow Affair - McDaniel
- The Cross of Gold Affair - Ron Ellik and Fredric Langley (writing as "Fredric Davies")
- The Utopia Affair - McDaniel
- The Splintered Sunglasses Affair - Leslie
- The Hollow Crown Affair - McDaniel
- The Unfair Fare Affair - Leslie
- The Power Cube Affair - Phillifent
- The Corfu Affair - Phillifent
- The Thinking Machine Affair - Joel Bernard
- The Stone Cold Dead in the Market Affair - Oram
- The Finger in the Sky Affair - Leslie.
Another volume, The Final Affair 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's adventures. Another book, The Catacombs and Dogma Affair, has been mentioned in some sources, but it isn't listed as one of the official UNCLE novels (it's possible it might be one of the above volumes, retitled). Volumes 10-15 and 17 of the series were only published in the United States.
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:
- The Affair of the Gunrunners' Gold - Keith Brandon
- The Affair of the Gentle Saboteur - Brandon
- The Calcutta Affair - George Elrick
A children's storybook 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.
Parodies and jokes
The popularity of the show inspired several parodies and 'in-jokes'. For instance, fans have noted numerous references to Tulsa, Oklahoma, leading to such jocular assertions as "The real U.N.C.L.E. headquarters was located under a corn field, between Tulsa and Oklahoma City"
The original television show (as well as the James Bond movie series) inspired a parody series, Get Smart, which starred Don Adams. This show was very popular and in fact outlived Man from U.N.C.L.E. by several seasons. Items from the show Get Smart are included in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library's collection.
The Man From A.U.N.T.I.E.
The July 1965 issue of Mad Magazine featured a parody of The Man From U.N.C.L.E called "The Man From A.U.N.T.I.E." which stood for Association of Unbelievable Nauseating Television and Idiotic Entertainment.
The Avengers: "The Girl from A.U.N.T.I.E."
An episode of the British television series The Avengers was entitled "The Girl from A.U.N.T.I.E." and parodied the American series.
The A-Team: "The Say U.N.C.L.E. Affair"
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 A-Team's cast at this point, playing General Stockwell, while McCallum appeared as an enemy agent. The episode was loaded with in-jokes referencing the series but otherwise there was no link to the original show.