A sampling of Ian Fleming’s U.N.C.L.E. correspondence

Ian Fleming

Ian Fleming

A Bond collector friend let us look over his photocopies of various Ian Fleming correspondence. Much of it included the 007 author’s involvement with The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series.

First, there were photocopies of 11 Western Union telegraph blanks where Fleming in October 1962 provided ideas to U.N.C.L.E. producer Norman Felton. The first blank began with “springboards,” ideas that could be the basis for episodes.

One just reads, “Motor racing, Nurburgring.” Fleming had a similar idea for a possible James Bond television series in the 1950s. This notion was included in this year’s 007 continuation novel Trigger Mortis by Anthony Horwitz, which boasts of containing original Ian Fleming content.

On the fifth telegram blank, Fleming includes this idea about Napoleon Solo: ““Cooks own meals in rather coppery kitchen.”

Whether intentional or not, this idea saw the light of day in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie released in August. In an early scene in the film, Solo (Henry Cavill) is wearing a chef’s apron, having just prepared dinner for Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander) after getting her across the Berlin Wall.

Fleming also made some other observations about Solo and the proposed series.

Telegraph blank No. 8: “He must not be too ‘UN’” and not be “sanctimonious, self righteous. He must be HUMAN above all else –- but slightly super human.”

Telegraph blank No. 11: “In my mind, producing scripts & camera will *make* this series. The plots will be secondary.”

On May 8, 1963, the Ashley-Steiner agency sends a letter to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which includes details about Fleming’s financial demands for being a participant in U.N.C.L.E.

“He definitely wants to be involved in the series itself if there is a sale and is asking for a mutual commitment for story lines on the basis of two out of each 13 programs at a fee of $2500.00 per story outline,” according to the letter.

Fleming also wants a fee of $25,000 to be a consultant for the series per television season. In that role, the author wants two trips per “production year” to travel to Los Angeles for at least two weeks each trip and for as long as four weeks each trip. The author wants to fly to LA first class and also wants a per diem on the trips of $50 a day.


On June 7, 1963, Felton sends Fleming a letter containing material devised by Sam Rolfe, the writer-producer commissioned to write the U.N.C.L.E. pilot.

“In the latter part of the material, which deals with the characterization of Napoleon Solo, you will discover that those elements which you set down during our New York visit have been retained,” Felton writes Fleming. “However, the concept for a base of operations consisting of a small office with more or less a couple of rooms has been changed to a more extensive setup.”

This refers to the U.N.C.L.E. organization that Rolfe has created in the months since the original Fleming-Felton meetings in New York.

“It will give us scope and variety whenever we need it, although as I have said, in many stories we may use very little of it,” Felton writes. “This is its virtue. Complex, but used sparingly.

“In my opinion almost all of our stories we will do little more than ‘touch base’ at a portion of the unusual headquarters in Manhattan, following which we will quickly move to other areas of the world.”

At the same time, Felton asks Fleming for additional input.

“I want the benefit of having your suggestions,” Felton writes Fleming. “Write them in the margin of the paper, on a telegraph blank or a paper towel and send them along. We are very excited, indeed, in terms of MR. SOLO.” (emphasis added)

However, Fleming — under pressure from 007 film producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman — soon signs away his rights to U.N.CL.E. for 1 British pound.

On July 8, 1963, Felton sends Fleming a brief letter. It reads in part:

Your new book, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”, is delightful. I am hoping that things will calm down for you in the months to come so that in due time you will be able to develop another novel to give further pleasure to your many readers throughout the world.

They tell me that there are some islands in the Pacific where one can get away from it all. They are slightly radioactive, but for anyone with the spirit of adventure, this should be no problem.

Fleming responds on July 16, 1963.

Very many thanks for your letter and it was very pleasant to see you over here although briefly and so frustratingly for you.

Your Pacific islands sound very enticing, it would certainly be nice to see some sun as ever since you charming Americans started your long range weather forecasting we have had nothing but rain. You might ask them to lay off.

With best regards and I do hope Solo gets off the pad in due course.

A pre-SPECTRE look at The Year of the Spy’s box office

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation's teaser poster

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation’s teaser poster

At the worldwide box office, The Year of The Spy has had one breakaway hit so far before the movie that’s a virtual lock to be the No. 1 spy film. That, of course, would be SPECTRE, the 24th James Bond film due out this fall.

The breakaway hit to date is Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, with an estimated worldwide box office of $656 million through Sept. 20, according to the BOX OFFICE MOJO WEBSITE.

Parmount originally scheduled the M:I film for Dec. 25, just a week after the new Star Wars movie. Paramount, the studio that controls the M:I franchise, changed the release date to July 31. The box office results have proven a smart move for executives at Paramount.

The movie fifth M:I film with Tom Cruise has been helped by ticket sales in China that have exceeded $100 million, ACCORDING TO FORBES.COM.

Another winner was Kingsman: The Secret Service, with a worldwide box office EXCEEDING $410 MILLION, including almost $282 million outside the United States. It was based on a comic book by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons which wasn’t exactly well known among the general public.

Other spy entries include Taken 3, the last of a three-film series, at $325.8 million worldwide  and the Melissa McCarthy comedy Spy at $236.2 million.

Lagging the others was director Guy Ritchie’s version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., released on Aug. 14 in the U.S., with an estimated worldwide box office of $99.5 million as of Sept. 20.

That’s not enough to recover the estimated $75 million production budget plus additional marketing expenses, which included, among other things, a May press junket in Rome. U.N.C.L.E. was the biggest loser from Paramount’s release date change for Mission: Impossible Rogue Agent.

SPECTRE will be the big finale for The Year of The Spy. The 007 film is coming off 2012’s Skyfall, the first Bond film to cross the $1 billion box office mark on an unadjusted basis. SPECTRE will not only be the most costly 007 film, it will be one of the most expensive movies of all time, with a production budget of $300 million or more.

M:I Rogue Nation box office surges past $500M

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation's teaser poster

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation’s teaser poster

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation’s worldwide box office surged past the $500 million mark this weekend.

The fifth installment of the series starring and produced by Tom Cruise was No. 4 at the U.S. box office for the Sept. 4-6 weekend with an estimated $7.15 million, according to data compiled by BOX OFFICE MOJO.

The movie’s total U.S. take is now an estimated $180.4 million, with estimated foreign box office of $328.7 million, for a combined total of more than $509 million.

M:I Rogue Nation originally was slated for Dec. 25, but Paramount moved up the film to July 31, getting it out of the way of Walt Disney Co.’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, expected to be a huge hit.

The movie most affected by Paramount’s release switch was another spy film, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. The U.S. ticket sales for that film have stayed below M:I’s every week since U.N.C.L.E.’s Aug. 14 release.

U.N.C.L.E. finished No. 7 in the U.S. for the weekend, at $3.445 million. It’s now at $39.4 million in the U.S. and $85.4 million worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo. The movie still is being released internationally, including mid-September in France.

GUEST REVIEW: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

U.N.C.L.E. movie poster

U.N.C.L.E. movie poster

By Nicolás Suszczyk, Guest Writer

I never fully watched The Man from U.N.C.L.E. I wasn’t born when it was released and no DVDs (and few TV telecasts) where released in my country, at least in my teens.

As a Bond fan, of course, I enjoyed many rip-offs, from the funny ones like Get Smart, Johnny English and Kingsman: The Secret Service to the more realistic ones like Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible saga, the Harry Palmer films and a few modern-espionage films like The International.

Still, I barely knew about Napoleon Solo and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. except for the fact it was one of the many ingredients of the ‘60s spy phenomenon and the Ian Fleming connection with the character of Napoleon Solo. I was kind of interested, but I never ended up closely following the episodes as I did with Zorro, Batman, The Saint or other cult TV series.

So, what follows “review” of someone in the mid-20s who hasn’t properly watched the original TV series produced by Norman Felton but has an idea on it.

I had a free afternoon so I booked the tickets on a close theatre in my hometown in Buenos Aires. The screening was around 6:30 p.m. As I entered the theatre, all the seats were empty! I wondered if some of the negative reviews had such an impact on people that left Napoleon Solo a bit… “solo” (if you speak Spanish, you’ll get the word game).

A few minutes later, people appeared — not many, five or seven more, making around ten people if you count me. On a side note, I catched the SPECTRE teaser trailer before the film. I’ve always been unlucky in finding a Bond trailer on a screening, something that only happened before in 2002 when the Die Another Day trailer popped up before My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the movie my grandmother took me to watch.

And then, Guy Ritchie’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E. filled the screen.

Overall, the film is enjoyable… enough to relax after a tough day at work, at least. It looks indeed as a movie set in the 1960s: a masterful work of the cinematographer, the costume designer, and Daniel Pemberton in the music department.

There’s a lot of humor like the one you’ll find in Kingsman: The Secret Service, but a lot less exaggerated, and more in the vein of the 1972 TV series The Persuaders. The Henry Cavill-Armie Hammer relationship onscreen is in a way very similar to the Roger Moore-Tony Curtis one.

A scene of Napoleon Solo (Cavill) comfortably drinking wine and having sandwiches while sitting in a truck as Russian agent Ilya Kuryakin (Hammer) gun fighting his enemies on a boat is particularly effective and funny for the inclusion of “Che Vuole Questa Musica Stasera” (sung by Peppino Gagliardi) as both events are taking place. This rivalry that slowly turns into friendship is akin to The Persuader’s pilot “Interlude.”

Other of the film’s pros is the backdrop created for the protagonists: Solo being an art thief working for the CIA on probation and Kuryakin having with anger management problems. The girls, Gaby (Alicia Vikander) and Victoria (Elizabeth Debicki), are in a way the stereotypical “good girls” and “bad girls” you’ll find in any retro spy series. They are not complex characters, but they fit very well into the film.

More into the 60s influence, the scene where Solo is tortured seems to have a small nod to the 1967 spoof version of Casino Royale, where Le Chiffre (Orson Welles) provides a “mind torture” to Peter Sellers’ Evelyn Tremble, aka James Bond 007, when uncle Rudi shows a video of the Nazi “achievements” as the hero is tied to an electric chair.

A special mention is deserved by Hugh Grant as Waverly, whose presence itself is more than welcome and adds a special touch to the film with his comic quips.

There is, however, a big negative point in The Man from U.N.C.L.E.: the editing. It tried to be artistic and it perhaps succeeded in the desired effect, but the fast camera shots, the flashbacks and the split-screen shots are very distracting. It happens, even in a more confusing way, the same that in the shakey cam shots of Quantum of Solace.

The film’s ending offers a nice cliffhanger, maybe predictable, but very similar to the current “reboot” movies where we see the inception of what has been established before. There is a word association to the last line said by Waverly to the relationship a character had with other, something that would probably get lost in translation for many non-English speaking countries.

Verdict: Love the ‘60s spy movies with lots of humor? Watch it!

U.N.C.L.E.: 2d U.S. weekend is good news, bad news

Logo for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie

Logo for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie

UPDATE (Aug. 26): The final second weekend figure for U.N.C.L.E. was $7.3 million, a 45.5 percent decline from the debut weekend, according to BOX OFFICE MOJO.

ORIGINAL POST (Aug. 23): For The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie, its second U.S. weekend had good news and bad news.

Relatively speaking, it was better than average in one key respect.

The Guy Ritchie-directed film will decline this weekend by an estimated 45 percent to $7.4 million, Exhibitor Relations SAID ON TWITTER. It called the results “respectible.”

A falloff of at least 50 percent between the first and second weekend is expected. A decline less than that is considered above average.

The U.N.C.L.E. movie’s cumulative U.S. box office is an estimated $26 million, Exhibitor Relations said.

The final weekend figures come out on Monday.

For perspective, the No. 1 movie at the box office, for the second weekend in a row, was Straight Outta Compton. It had estimated ticket sales of $26.7 million, a 56 percent decline from last weekend, Exhibitors Relations SAID IN A SEPARATE TWEET.

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, meanwhile, IS COMING IN AT NO. 2 at about $11 million. The fifth M:I film with Tom Cruise was released July 31, two weeks before U.N.C.L.E.

The U.N.C.L.E. film is in the midst of its international rollout. Variety reported in 2013 its production budget was $75 million.

The nature of fandom

SPECTRE teaser poster

Fans feel possessive of what they like, whether it be James Bond or something else.

It’s no secret that fans — whether they like James Bond or other characters — can feel a little possessive. But there’s an interesting essay about the hazards of giving fans what they want.

The article appeared on the DEN OF GEEK WEBSITE. But before we provide the details, here’s a passage of James Hunt’s essay that applies to any fandom.

Fandom at its best is a celebration of a shared enthusiasm for something, but it takes only a little nudging to turn it. Fandoms start off based on something good, but they soon start to feel like they own the thing they love, and that the creators employed to write (or draw, or direct) that thing are only stewards who have to feed the fandom beast or meet with disapproval. Things turn toxic.


The lesson? Be careful what you wish for. Not because you might get it, but because you risk getting only that and nothing else. It’s fine to think about what you might like to see. It’s fine to criticise developments you don’t enjoy. But once you expect anything more specific than a well-told story, you may have to blame yourself if you don’t even get that.

On related note, years ago a friend who had been actor said something to the effect, “The only thing an actor owes an audience is his or her best performance.”

Yet, if you’ve been on social media or checked out Internet message boards, many fans do feel a sense of ownership. It’s certainly true that fan dollars support the entertainment. Yet, sometimes things go beyond that.

With The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie, some fans severely criticize it as betraying the 1964-68 original series because of alterations to the backgrounds of the lead characters. Clearly, director Guy Ritchie stripped a lot of memes from the series out of his movie to concentrate on the characters, played in the film by Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer.

Anyway, the Hunt essay is about Avengers: Age of Ultron. It also includes this quote from the late Marvel Comics writer Mark Gruenwald: “The writer’s job isn’t to give the fans what they want. The writer’s job is to give the fans what they didn’t even know they wanted.”

The full essay can be viewed BY CLICKING HERE. While it’s primarily about this year’s Avengers film, it’s worth checking out for any fan of any popular entertainment.

It’s particularly worth reading for 007 fans before publicity for SPECTRE gears up.

‘Mr. Warner’ and creator credits

Sam Rolfe, circa 1964

Sam Rolfe, circa 1964

Fans of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series, for the most part, weren’t happy to see that Sam Rolfe — the major creator of the 1964-68 television series — didn’t get a credit with the movie that debuted this month.

Rolfe (1924-1993) created Illya Kuryakin, Alexander Waverly as well as the U.N.C.L.E. organization and format. The main element he didn’t create was Napoleon Solo, which had been hashed out by executive producer Norman Felton and 007 author Ian Fleming.

Felton (1913-2012) did receive an “executive consultant” credit in the U.N.C.L.E. film.

The series didn’t carry a formal creator credit. Instead it was either, “Developed by Sam Rolfe” or “The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Developed by Sam Rolfe,” depending on the season of the show.

While Rolfe not getting a mention is understandably disappointing, Warner Bros., aka “Mr. Warner” on this blog has an interesting history.

In the early days of Warner Bros. television, the real-life Mr. Warner (Jack) had an aversion to bestowing a creator credit. Roy Huggins didn’t get a creator credit for either Maverick or 77 Sunset Strip. Charles Larson (the person who most likely deserved one) didn’t get a creator credit for The FBI, a co-production with Quinn Martin. On the other hand, When Maverick became a Warner Bros. movie in 1994, Huggins did get on-screen recognition.

Warner Bros. also controls DC Comics. The studio gives credit for movies based on DC characters where it has an obligation. Superman movies, for example, have a creator credit for Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster. Warner and DC only agreed to that in the 1970s as the first Superman film with Christopher Reeve was being prepared and there was a big public relations campaign for Siegel and Schuster.

Warners also gives Bob Kane the creator credit for Batman, although there’s evidence that uncredited Bill Finger really did the heavy lifting. In 2014, cartoonist Ty Templeton drew what a Batman without Bill Finger would look like. Anyway, Warners/DC also credits Charles Moulton (real name William Moulton Marston) for Wonder Woman.

Other than that, though, no creator credits. The 2011 Green Lantern, for example, movie didn’t credit John Broome and Gil Kane. The current Flash television series doesn’t credit Robert Kanigher and Carmine Infantino.

Put another way, Sam Rolfe — who wrote the U.N.C.L.E. pilot and produced the show’s first season — has plenty of company. Also that “developed by” credit probably gives the studio legal leeway in not including Rolfe in the movie’s credits.


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