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U.N.C.L.E. Debuts

22nd September 2014

Fifty years ago today, another spy-fi sensation that involved 007 creator Ian Fleming debuted on US television

MI6 logo By MI6 Staff
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There have been a lot of significant James Bond anniversaries of late, but another pop culture phenomenon started fifty years ago today. It's success was also due, in part, to 007 creator Ian Fleming.

Conceived whilst James Bond was making his way from paperbacks to the silver screen, 'The Man From UNCLE' follows the exploits of two secret agents, American Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) and Russian Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum), who work for a fictitious secret international espionage and law-enforcement agency called U.N.C.L.E. (United Network Command for Law and Enforcement).

TV producer Norman Felton approached Ian Fleming in late 1962 to create a series based on the style of 'North By Northwest'. Fleming concocted a rough outline for the series with a central character called Napoleon Solo, who could be seen as an Americanized version of Bond. Also analogous his MI6 setup, Solo would report to a boss who had a secretary. In this case April Dancer was in place of Miss Moneypenny.

Fleming had to bow out of the creative process due to his contracts with the Bond producers, who had sent Felton a cease and desist letter in February 1964 that demanded the immediate end of the use of Fleming's name in connection with the series, and to stop using the Solo character.

In 'Goldfinger', which was being filmed at the time, a mafia boss character named Solo is dispatched by Odd Job and then crushed in the scrap yard. In fact, Felton's original series proposal was titled 'Ian Fleming's Solo'. Later, the series was originally to be called 'Mr. Solo' or just 'Solo', but the attention of Bond's legal team saw to that whilst the pilot was being filmed in November 1963.

Fleming had to sign an affidavit that nothing from the 'Solo' show infringed on any of his Bond characters that he had sold to EON Productions. Although there was always the threat of further legal action, Felton could keep the Solo character if the show name changed. Felton airbrushed a few of Fleming's details away due to their overlap with the Bond films. Whilst Solo survived, Dancer was nixed (although the character was used later). The character of Illya Kuryakin and the hierarchy of U.N.C.L.E. were creations of producer Sam Rolfe.

The pilot episode was originally a 70 minute colour feature, but that version has long been lost and a one-hour black and white version titled 'The Vulcan Affair' debuted on NBC on September 22nd, 1964. A colour feature film version titled 'To Trap A Spy' was created from the pilot and included some additional plot filmed in April 1964 with Italian actress Luciana Paluzzi playing a sexpot character who lures an agent to his death. Were Bond producers watching as they prepared for 'Thunderball'?

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