UPDATE: 20 years of the U.N.C.L.E. episode guide

The original U.N.C.L.E.s, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum

The original U.N.C.L.E.s, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum

Originally posted May 18. Re-posting (with some tweaks and additions) today, Dec. 1, the date of the actual anniversary.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode guide marks its 20th anniversary today. Naturally, after researching some things, the Spy Commander couldn’t wait to do a post.

The episode guide was one of the first U.N.C.L.E. fan sites. It first went live on Dec. 1, 1996. It wasn’t complete at the time by any means, but there were at least some reviews for each of the four seasons of the show.

The following summer, the Spy Commander did a geeky thing, sending a printout of the website to retired executive producer Norman Felton. After putting it in the mail, I immediately had the equivalent of buyer’s remorse.

Some of the Season Three reviews (when the show often took a campy approach) were pretty rough. What if Felton became offended? I wondered. Yikes.

Not to fear. Felton sent a letter dated June 23, 1997. At the top, there was a cartoon of someone critiquing a frustrated William Shakespeare. “Good, but not immortal.”

The letter read thusly (underlined words are highlighted with asterisks) in part:

Terrific! The pages from the Web page — yes, and there were ‘duds’ along the way — but enough *good enough* for our *fans*, yes?

In a P.S. he said he might send a copy of a screenplay he was about to finish. “*Not* in the vein of U.N.C.L.E. — and certainly *not* immortal. Wow!”

Also included were two strips of film with a Post It Note. “Enclosed bits of film made to checking lighting for the cameraman” during filming of U.N.C.L.E.’s pilot.

The Spy Commander did a second geeky thing. Making yet another printout, I went to a collectible show in suburban Chicago in the late 1990s where Robert Vaughn, who played Napoleon Solo, had a table signing autographs.

“What’s that?” he asked.

“It’s a printout of a website.”

No reaction from an actor. I began to try to explain but simply felt embarrassed for bringing the printout. Later, I was told from someone who talked to him extensively he wasn’t on the internet much at the time.

The episode guide also generated a response from writer Stanley Ralph Ross, a frequent writer for the 1966-68 Batman show, who also penned some third-season U.N.C.L.E. episodes. He liked how the episode guide noted how the writer used the same joke in U.N.C.L.E. and Batman.

An e-mail interview ensued. “I have some funny stories about the show, especially when I was in The Pop Art Affair,” he wrote in a June 21, 1999, e-mail. Ross said he did an uncredited rewrite on the episode and got a part in the third-season episode as part of the deal.

“David  asked me to stand on a box,” Ross wrote. “I am already 6:6 and said that he would look like a midget but he replied that the taller I was, the stronger and more macho he would seem for having me beat up.” Ross referred to 5-foot-7 David McCallum, who played U.N.C.L.E. Russian agent Illya Kuryakin.

The U.N.C.L.E. episode guide, meanwhile, has had its share of ups and downs. It originally was hosted by AOL. But in 2008, AOL stopped hosting websites. It moved to the Her Majesty’s Secret Servant website. But when HMSS went offline in 2014, the episode guide went dark with it — missing the show’s 50th anniversary in September of that year.

But you can’t keep a good U.N.C.L.E. agent down. The episode guide returned on Oct. 18, 2014 on WordPress, part of a family of websites including The Spy Command.

Since then, the site has been improved, including finally finishing reviews for The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.  and updating and adding features because of the 2015 movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. with Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer.

As far as those two geeky incidents? I don’t really have regrets. Felton died in 2012 and Vaughn on Nov. 11 of this year. My interactions with them may have been awkward. But at least I did gain some insight because of them.

In particular, I remember Vaughn talking about the end of the series at one of the collectibles shows. He said he wasn’t crushed about the show being canceled.  “I just went on to the next thing I had to do.”

Hopefully, the episode guide will remain around for a while — good, but not immortal.

5 Responses

  1. […] DEC. 1, 2016: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode guide marks its 20th anniversary. […]

  2. Am grateful for this site. As things fade in our memory, we can imagine being alone in our appreciation of favorite interests. But the episode guide shows someone else was paying attention to details! As a 1960’s fan, MFU night could never come fast enough! After cancellation, it dropped out of sight. Until an independent station ran it in the ‘80’s. Station was sold. Series disappeared. Never imagined the internet would be a connection.

    Saddest day, being notified too late about the 50th anniversary in LA. Classic TV began showing it yet again. And found the episodes, like the ones less favored at various ages, becoming more interesting with perspective. Such as appreciating the athleticism of both actors! Particularly McCallum who seemed fearless. It must’ve been a physically grueling show! Came to appreciate the consummate acting skills of Leo G. Carroll! Even for a hypothetical premise, Mr. Carroll put every effort into his lines. Playing the role with many nuances, being missed as a kid.

    Of course, read Heitland’s book. Now reading Vaughn’s autobiography. Which explains his deep experience with serious acting. And why (IMO) he brought a richness to the role, that could’ve been overlooked by a less seasoned actor. He gave meaning to gestures and emphasis to dialogue. And was very flattering of David McCallum. Who could’ve been annoying competition! But wasn’t. There was a line-up of substantial character actors. And having visited the MGM Studio, came to appreciate how they turned a backlot into an international setting! Can you imagine what they could’ve done with double the budget? I will never tire of the series. And refer to the guide often! Thank you so much for all the work that went into the site! I would enjoy reading more comments from other fans.

  3. I’ve had a printout of the guide since the late 90s. Unsurpassed and unequaled!

    In the Tulsa market, U.N.C.L.E. was replaced in its network time slot (by what, I can’t remember). It appeared at 10:30pm on Sunday, immediately following a local fishing show. I still remember the thrill of stayibg up late and hearing the fishing show’s closing theme, because the next thing up was the stark b&w UNCLE opening with the Goldsmith/Stevens music. (I preferred the Stevens version with marimba(?) as it seemed to add a little crazy anything-can-happen feel.)

    I had the board game and the card game (allegedly played by the agents to keep their wits sharp). My brother had the toy gun set. I was disappointed with the Montenegro album, but find it delightful today.

    I finally have all MFU shows recorded with Windows Media Center/Raspberry Pi. I have a shortcut to the guide on my smartphone. Now there’s some technology I would have slavered over! A walkie-talkie in bank check box didn’t quite do it as a communicator.

    Thanks for the guide and the site!

  4. We got MfU here in New Orleans on the local NBC outlet, 7:30 on Tuesday nights to start and then 7 pm on Mondays. When it went to color, it made no difference to me; we only had a B & W TV set. After cancellation, the tie-in Ace novels and the original novelettes from the digest-sized magazine were all most fans had — that, and the occasional showing of “To Trap a Spy” or “The Spy With My Face” on late-night TV.

    In 1985, though, a cable channel began running the show at 10 pm weeknights. I rushed out and bought a VCR, which was not very cheap at the time, so I could tape the shows. Of course I was afraid that what I’d liked at 11-14 years of age would seem insipid to me at 32. But I was overjoyed to find that what I’d liked back then was still good, and what I’d found annoying or stupid was still that (though as an adult I could enjoy the humor more).

    At last the DVDs came out, and we could see the episodes in their original format and discuss them on the ‘Net.

  5. 20 years of any beloved (and very accomplished) endeavor is noteworthy, especially for the effort that goes into what only looks effortless! Having the passion for a specific interest is that it makes the experience timeless. What we remember now, puts us back in the moment of how we felt then. And isn’t it nice to have an excuse for being “in the moment” once again. In this article, what is being remembered fondly as “geeky decisions” is something that if you hadn’t followed your instincts, would’ve been forever a regret. Instead you established an “immortal” stamp in time. Having connected with both Vaughn and Felton (wasn’t geeky at all) but your own occasion for touching … the “reality of illusion.”

    Thank you for re-posting this article!

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