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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



Sam Rolfe, listed in the credits as developer of the series, was its first-season producer. Most fans credit him with establishing the world of U.N.C.L.E. and laying the framework for the series. Rolfe was meticulous about detail, a factor glaringly absent in later years of the show after other producers took over. For example, in the first-season episode "The Love Affair," Waverly rips an incoming message from the Los Angeles U.N.C.L.E. office from the teletype machine. The top line gives the time as "10:15 PDT." At that moment, Waverly's secretary Sarah (Leigh Chapman) returns from lunch and Waverly chides her for being late. When it's 10:15 in Los Angeles, it's 1:15 in New York. In later years we see cars in London with left-hand drive, U.N.C.L.E. agents not wearing their badges in the office, and other slips.

Rolfe left the series after the first season to rest and work on ideas for other projects, while Felton remained as executive producer throughout the run of the show. There were three producers in the second season, each handling approximately a third of the episodes: David Victor, Mort Abrahams, and Boris Ingster. The second season had a lighter tone than the first, with more humor and bantering between Solo and Kuryakin. The shift from black-and-white to color probably contributed to the less serious "feel" of the show. Ingster remained as producer for the third season and can probably be credited--if that is the right word--for the "silly spoof" period of the series. Anthony Spinner was the fourth-season producer, when the show returned to serious adventure. The show was canceled midway into the fourth season after 16 episodes. In all, there were 105 episodes of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

The four years from November 1963, when the pilot was filmed, to November 1967, when production ended, were turbulent times in the history of America. U.N.C.L.E. reflects some of the turbulence of those years. The early black-and-white episodes from 1964-65 have sort of a '50s feel to them: ladies wear demure knee-length dresses in traditional styles; men wear hats. By the second season, 1965-66, we see fashions and tastes beginning to change. There's an episode from October 1965 called "The Discotheque Affair" which heralds the changes in pop music. Yet in "The Foxes and Hounds Affair," shown a week earlier, Solo asks the "innocent" caught with them in a THRUSH jail to give him her stockings to help them escape. Pantyhose hadn't yet come into fashion, but it would by 1967. By the third season we see girls in plastic minidresses with cut-out circles at the waist. The third season gave us such dreadful episodes as "The Pop Art Affair," in which the changing culture becomes the focus of the episode. The producers were too old to understand the hip youth culture, yet they were pressured to create a show that appealed to that audience. The result was an embarrassment for all concerned. The fourth season, while toned-down substantially, still gives us "The Gurnius Affair," with Judy Carne in bright orange and Solo in white socks and black shoes and a bathrobe, no less, and other fashion atrocities. Looking back on these episodes after nearly thirty years, the first season looks closer to our present time than the later ones.

Another major upheaval in American society during those years, of course, was the Vietnam war. In 1964 Americans were just beginning to realize how serious the war actually was; by 1967 it was impossible to ignore. U.N.C.L.E. studiously avoided any references to the conflict, either pro or con. However, in the first-season episode "The Hong Kong Shilling Affair," the "innocent" is described as a 26-year-old Marine decorated three times in Vietnam. But considering all the klutzy mistakes he makes in the course of the story, it is doubtful that anyone connected with that episode actually understood what it meant to be a decorated Vietnam veteran--and a Marine at that.

Robert Vaughn, a supporter of Robert Kennedy, was opposed to the war but made a point of checking his politics at the door when it came to U.N.C.L.E. One wonders, however, if he had anything to do with decorating a blackboard used in the final scene of "The Thor Affair," a third-season episode shown in the fall of 1966. The blackboard, which appears only in the background, is supposed to be part of a kindergarten classroom, yet we see scribbled on it the algebraic equation a2 + 2ab + b2. And at the bottom of the board is the notation LBJ = HHH =H3= RFK, referring to Lyndon B. Johnson, Hubert H. Humphrey, and Robert F. Kennedy.

The final episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was the two-parter, "The Seven Wonders of the World Affair." It concerned a renegade U.N.C.L.E. agent who tried to establish a utopian society. At the end of the story, he is killed, and in the final scene, we see his coffin being loaded onto an airplane. Solo, Kuryakin, and Waverly follow the coffin aboard the jet. Waverly says to Solo and Kuryakin, "Good job, gentlemen." It was his epitaph for the series. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. died on American network television January 15, 1968. Our four-year affair was over. Or so we thought.

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.