Skip to main content

Leach, Laura



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

American television in the mid-1960s, reflecting both the international tensions of the Cold War and the strong popularity of the James Bond film series, experienced a slew of shows related to the mysterious cloak-and-dagger work of spies. One of the earliest of these, and one of the most enduring, was The Man From U.N.C.L.E.. The show premiered on September 22, 1964, and over most of the next four seasons - through 105 episodes and 8 movies (mostly derived from existing episodes) - enjoyed immense popularity and a dedicated cadre of fans. The show continues to thrive as a cult classic, and has the reputation of being of one the more influential spy shows on television.

U.N.C.L.E. was the brainchild primarily of three men: Norman Felton, Ian Fleming, and Sam Rolfe. Television producer and director Norman Felton decided in 1962 to get away from the more traditional dramas with which he had been associated, and, as he put it travel a new road that would lead to a series of fun and adventure. Felton thought that perhaps a spy thriller series (in the spirit of John Buchan or Graham Greene) would be an exciting idea. He met with author Ian Fleming (the creator of James Bond and himself a former intelligence operative) to consult on the potential project. Fleming created a general outline for the show, providing two main characters, spy Napoleon Solo and his 'secretary' April Dancer. In the end, Fleming had to pull out of the project (now called Solo) due to contractual obligations, and most of his creative contributions were dropped, save the names of his characters (which Felton confessed later to believing unusable and too exotic.)

Felton brought in fellow producer Sam Rolfe to help him develop the show, and the two men truly brought The Man From U.N.C.L.E. into being. Rolfe fleshed out the character of Solo, invented the concept of the U.N.C.L.E. organization and the fictional world surrounding it, and wrote the pilot episode, The Vulcan Affair. Although Rolfe left the show after the first season, his stamp on the show is clear.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. chronicles the adventures of two secret agents - American Napoleon Solo (played by Robert Vaughn) and Russian Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum). The two are operatives for U.N.C.L.E. (United Network Command for Law Enforcement), a worldwide secret organization dedicated to peace and order. Rolfe specifically designed U.N.C.L.E. as an international body free of ties to any one government but instead devoted to the interests of all nations and all peoples - this was reflected in the show's partnering of an American and a Soviet citizen, who in the real world of the Cold War would be ideological opposites.

Solo and Kuryakin travel the world in the course of their activities, though U.N.C.L.E. itself is headquartered in a secret fortress (hidden behind a series of brownstones) in New York City. The two men, along with all other U.N.C.L.E. agents, are supervised by agency head Alexander Waverly (Leo G. Carroll).

[Despite the UN in the name, and its headquarters' proximity to the real-life United Nations, Rolfe was adamant that U.N.C.L.E. was not in any way connected to the United Nations. This did not stop rabid fans throughout the show's run from bombarding the UN with inquiries about joining U.N.C.L.E.]

In the course of the show, Solo, Kuryakin, and their colleagues face a number of adversaries. However, U.N.C.L.E.'s archenemy throughout the series is a group called Thrush. Thrush is an evil, shadowy organization devoted, unsurprisingly enough, to world domination.

The show debuted in 1964 and was almost immediately embraced by the general public. Audiences enjoyed the adventures, the tongue-in-cheek humor (which became much more prominent in seasons 2-4, to the point where it almost became a spoof of itself; this change in mood produced a backlash among many fans and resulted in the show's declining popularity by its fourth season), and the entertaining implausibility of it all. Many fans, particularly female fans, were drawn to the character of Illya Kuryakin. Kuryakin was exotic, enigmatic, and emotionally complex, a contrast to his more traditionally suave and urbane partner Napoleon Solo. Fans responded to the depth of Kuryakin's character, and their enthusiasm made McCallum into a major international celebrity.

The popularity of the show inspired a brief spinoff in 1966: The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., starring Stefanie Powers as American U.N.C.L.E. agent April Dancer. It was not well-received and was cancelled after one season. Both series inspired a flurry of associated merchandise, including novels, comic books, buttons, games, toy guns and pen radios, among many others. [Many of these items are represented in the collection.] This type of cross-merchandising, now common for hit or cult television shows, was fairly unusual for the time. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. predates Star Trek by two years as perhaps the earliest television show to produce a passionate, organized adult fan base.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. ended its television run on January 15, 1968.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Laura Leach Collection of Man From U.N.C.L.E. Fanzines

Identifier: MsC0910

Collection of fanzines (primarily fan fiction) and other materials, including episode scripts, devoted to the 1960s cult television show The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Dates: 1964-2006