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Fifty Fascinating Facts about The Man from U.N.C.L.E

Mohan is a family physician, film and TV aficionado, a keen bibliophile and an eclectic scribbler.

Spy versus Spy

If you are of a certain age ( ahem!) and fondly remember the arrival of Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin onto your unsuspecting TV screen, you have come to the right place.

Born in September 1964, The Man from U.N.C.L.E brought glamour, intrigue and suspense to high school kids ( and their parents) who weren't yet old enough to sample Mr Bond's adventures. With an imminent release of Guy Ritchie's big screen version of the TV series, it is perhaps time to reminisce on the wonders of U.N.C.L.E - the great writing, the popular lead actors, the brilliant gadgets and the merchandising of toys it spawned. It may have descended into kitsch and camp and lose its way a bit in the third season, but it still is held dearly by many and has a dedicated cult following.

Here, for your delectation are Fifty fascinating facts about The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Well, I will present the fifty facts and it will be you, dear reader, who decides whether they are fascinating or not.

Ian Lancaster Fleming (28 May 1908 – 12 August 1964)

Ian Lancaster Fleming (28 May 1908 – 12 August 1964)

1.Ian Fleming's Solo

The creator of the 'other' famous spy series is also the originator of the premise that birthed The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

To put things in context, The world's most popular spy arrived onto the silver screen in October 1962, with the immortal words 'Bond, James Bond' in Dr No. American Television at that time was full of Medical shows, Westerns and Police shows. Producer Norman Felton from Arena Productions was keen to see a new genre of spy thrillers on TV.

To this end, he approached Ian Fleming to suggest ideas and to write a series. Fleming proposed a spy with several similarities to Bond and named him Napoleon Solo. He also suggested that the spy will have a boss whose secretary would be of similar ilk as Miss Moneypenny. He called her April Dancer. The series was to be named Ian Fleming's Solo.

Sadly Fleming's association was cut short swiftly by the Bond film producers Broccoli and Saltzman who were concerned about the Flemings involvement with a TV series and the inevitable similarities to Bond. The use of Fleming's name was also advised to be dropped.

The name Napoleon Solo however, remains as Fleming's legacy. As does the name April Dancer, who went on to become The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.

Original pilot before name change to The Man from U.N.C.L.E

Original pilot before name change to The Man from U.N.C.L.E

North by Northwest ( 1959)

North by Northwest ( 1959)

2. North by Northwest

The key influence for Felton's vision was not, in fact, James Bond. It was rather the Hitchcock masterpiece, North by Northwest. Felton brought in showrunner, writer and producer Sam Rolfe to launch the series. Rolfe established several of the series' key factors - the concept of a global organisation with international agents, the interplay between the two main leads, the unique gadgets and the thrilling plot twists. sadly Rolfe left after the first - considered by many the best- season.

The premise of an innocent caught in an intrigue, the world of spies that co-exist all around us and the suggestion that we may be caught up unawares in the sinister shenanigans were all inspired by the film North by Northwest. This became the central conceit of the the series- the introduction of an 'innocent' who gets swept up in international intrigue and remained a constant throughout all the seasons.

3.Colour vs Black & White

The pilot episode was shot in colour as well as black and white. The rather short sighted ( colour blind?) NBC decided not to give the go ahead for a colour broadcast and the first season ended up being broadcast in Black and White.

The film versions of some of the first season episodes ( put together for a theatrical release) were thankfully in colour. It would have certainly been glorious to see all of the first season in colour as many fans agree that it contained some of the best episodes of the series.

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4. U.N.C.L.E

The worldwide spy network with international agents was envisioned by Sam Rolfe. He decided to leave the acronym unexplained initially but was forced to come up with an expanded explanation as the United Nations objected to the name U.N.C.L.E. Several fans mistook U.N.C.L.E for one of the many UN organisations - some went as far as visiting the UN offices in New York and demanding to see the U.N.C.L.E. HQ in the basement. The UN even received several job applications to join the U.N.C.L.E.

Rolfe came up with the name United Network Command for Law and Enforcement. He mentions the organisation in the end credits as a bit of an in-joke :

"We wish to thank the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, without whose assistance this program would not have been possible."

A THRUSH uniform patch

A THRUSH uniform patch


Every self respecting spy network needs a suitable villainous global enemy . Bond has his SMERSH and SPECTRE. Sam Rolfe, who wrote the first season originally called the global villains THRUSH. As there was concern from MGM's legal department that this was too similar to SMERSH it was then changed to WASP.

The TV show Stingray has an organisation called WASP - World Aquanaut Security Patrol - so the name was changed back to THRUSH when the series was first broadcast.

The series never mentions in its entire run what THRUSH stands for, so it was left to David McDaniels, one of the writers of the paperback tie-ins to come up with a solution.

He expands THRUSH as "The Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity" in the book 'The Dagger Affair'. Apparently when he impressed producer Norman Felton with this clever coinage.