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U.N.C.L.E. background and historydivider

by Kathleen Crighton

Originally published in Epi-Log Journal, issue 12, January 1994
Used with permision from author



The early first-season episodes open with an introduction to the organization to give viewers an idea of what the show is all about. We see a skyline shot of New York City from the East River, the United Nations building prominent on the shoreline. Then the scene cuts to a street of storefronts and brownstone apartments, and we see Solo and Kuryakin strolling casually into Del Floria's tailor shop, just below street level. An announcer says, "In New York City, on a street in the East Forties, there's an ordinary tailor shop...or is it ordinary?"

The scene cuts to the interior of Del Floria's, where Solo and Kuryakin nod to the proprietor and disappear into the dressing room. Del Floria presses the steam iron twice, and the back wall of the tailor shop opens into the reception area of a rather austere office. A receptionist pins triangular badges on the left side of the agents' jackets, and they walk down a corridor lit from above by a panel of flashing lights. The announcer explains, "We entered through the agents' entrance, and we are now in U-N-C-L-E Headquarters. That's the United Network Command for Law and Eenforcement. U.N.C.L.E. is an organization consisting of agents of all nationalities. It's involved in maintaining political and legal order anywhere in the world."

The two agents enter a control room filled with telecommunications equipment and banks of computers with flashing lights. An older man is seated at a desk, busy with the controls. The first agent checks settings on the computer, then turns to the camera. "My name is Napoleon Solo," he says. "I'm enforcement agent in Section Two here--that's Operations and Enforcement."

The second agent, who is busy putting together a gun, says, "I am Illya Kuryakin. I am also an enforcement agent. Like my friend Napoleon, I go and I do whatever I am told to by our chief." He turns to the older man at the console.

The chief turns around, somewhat confused. "Eh? Oh. Yes. Alexander Waverly, Number One, Section One, in charge of this, our New York headquarters. It's from here I send these young men on their various missions." The scene freezes, the music comes up, and the title of the week's episode appears on the screen.

After the first several episodes, the opening was changed to show only a scene from the beginning of "The Vulcan Affair." We see a shadow on the wall of a man with a gun. He sees a darkened figure standing before him and fires at it. The figure is standing behind a transparent wall of glass or plastic, and as the bullets strike the wall it splinters but does not collapse. The lights then come up to illuminate the man behind the shattered wall. He raises his own gun at the intruder, pointing it directly at the camera, and we see the face of Napoleon Solo. Again the scene freezes, and we hear the music and see the title of the week's episode.

From the second season forward, this opening was dropped in favor of a short introductory scene which segued into the opening credits. The introductory scene was preceded by a shot of the U.N.C.L.E. logo--a black globe banded horizontally and vertically in white, with a series of semicircles extending from the top of the globe. To the right of the globe is the black silhouette of a man holding a gun at his side, and a black band beneath the globe and the man features the name "U.N.C.L.E." in outlined letters. The logo is superimposed on a map of the world--plain yellow continents with no country borders (a tribute to the one-world philosophy of U.N.C.L.E., perhaps?) and blue seas. We also see the logo in the black-and-white first season, but the background map has the names of countries and cities on it.

Each episode was divided into four acts, and each act had a title related (sometimes marginally) to some event within it. The act titles picked up on dialogue, puns, literary allusions, and other devices. Fourth-season episodes had no Act I titles.

Another trademark of U.N.C.L.E. was the "flash" shot spanning two scenes, where the camera panned in a rapid multicolor blur with musical accompaniment. In addition, scenes just before commercials often ended in a freeze, then blurred out.

Rolfe envisioned U.N.C.L.E. as being organized into overlapping directorates. They were:

Section One: Policy and Operations

Section Two: Operations and Enforcement

Section Three: Enforcement and Intelligence

Section Four: Intelligence and Communications

Section Five: Communications and Security

Section Six: Security and Personnel

Aside from Sections One and Two, these divisions of U.N.C.L.E. were seldom mentioned during the course of the series. Waverly was said to be one of five directors of Section One stationed in various offices around the world.

Next to Del Floria's, the two things most people remember about U.N.C.L.E. are the guns and the communicators. The U.N.C.L.E. Special originally was a modified German Mauser pistol. It had various attachments, including a shoulder stock, an extended barrel, and a silencer. Later in the first season, the gun was changed to a Walther P-38, which was more reliable and cost less than the Mauser. Solo's gun had a white letter S on the grip, while Kuryakin's sported a K. The THRUSH guns were based on the M-1 carbine, with a large night scope added for dramatic effect.

In the first season, the U.N.C.L.E. communicator was disguised as a cigarette case. In order to operate the communicator over long distances, it was necessary for the agents to connect it by wires into some sort of telephone line. Thus in "The Gazebo in the Maze Affair," when Solo is forced against his will to call Waverly from England, he has to hook his communicator to a phone line. He explains the delay in reaching Waverly by saying, "It takes a minute. It has to bounce off the Telstar satellite." (Telstar, one of the first communications satellites, was perhaps the only one to have a piece of popular instrumental music named in its honor.)

Midway through the second season, the cigarette case communicator was replaced with the famous pen communicator, presumably a newer model which didn't require hooking up to a telephone line. The agent would pull the cap off the pen, twist the barrel, raise a small antenna, and speak into the tiny microphone. "Open Channel D" became the show's most famous line, similar to Star Trek's "Beam me up, Scotty."

There was also an U.N.C.L.E. car, a custom-designed vehicle featuring gull-wing doors like the DeLorean. It was outfitted with all sorts of special props, much like the cars used in the James Bond movies. It had only one problem: it couldn't seem to run for very long without breaking down. Consequently, it is seen in only a few episodes in the third and fourth season. Solo and Kuryakin are most often seen chasing the bad guys in Chrysler Corporation sedans and convertibles. We also see them driving a baby blue Triumph in some later episodes.

Part I: Introduction
Part II: The Birth of U.N.C.L.E.
Part III: The U.N.C.L.E. Organization
Part IV: Napoleon Solo, Illya Kuryakin and Alexander Waverly
Part V: Evolution of a Hit Series
Part VI: Guest Stars
Part VII: The U.N.C.L.E. Sets
Part VIII: The Four Seasons
Part IX: Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.