Requiem for a TV tie-in novel

David McDaniel’s The Dagger Affair

Once upon a time, when a television series debuted, it was accompanied by “tie-in” novels. Writers were hired before the series was out so the novels would be on sale when the TV show was on.

One of the most successful series of tie-in novels were commissioned for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (1964-68). More than 20 were published under the Ace brand.

One of the novels, in particular, still has an impact today.

That would be the fourth novel, The Dagger Affair by David McDaniel.

McDaniel was an actual fan of the show and came up with an origin or the villainous organization, Thrush. In McDaniel’s tale, Thrush was once an acronym, the Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity and had ties to Sherlock Holmes foe Professor Moriarty.

The thing is, many fans liked McDaniel’s take more than what clues were presented in the show.

A second-season episode, The Adriatic Express Affair, featured Thrush official Madame Nemirovitch (Jesse Royce Landis) claiming to be the founder of the organization. Other than that, the show itself didn’t provide a lot of details about how Thrush got started.

The more colorful McDaniel version got repeated in U.N.C.L.E. fan fiction. In fact, it has been repeated so often, it’s virtually accepted as canon, even when it’s not.

For example, there was The New York Times’s 2016 obituary for Robert Vaughn, who played Napoleon Solo in the series.

But no character (Vaughn) played was as popular as Napoleon Solo. From 1964 to 1968, in the thick of the Cold War, millions of Americas tuned in weekly to “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” to watch Mr. Vaughn, as a superagent from the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, battling T.H.R.U.S.H. (Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity), a secret organization intent on achieving world domination through nefarious if far-fetched devices like mind-controlling gas.

Among first-generation U.N.C.L.E. fans, McDaniel (1939-1977) is considered the best of the tie-in novel writers. He wrote other novels in the Ace series. He also penned an unpublished U.N.C.L.E. story, The Final Affair, which sought to tie up loose ends from the series, which was abruptly canceled in the middle of its fourth season.

1960s U.N.C.L.E. novel cited in New Yorker commentary

David McDaniel's The Dagger Affair

David McDaniel’s The Dagger Affair

This blog doesn’t do politics. However, a political commentary in The New Yorker does utilize spy fiction to make its case about the U.S. presidential election. Specifically, it cites The Dagger Affair, one of the 1960s Ace paperback novels based on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series.

The novel was written by David McDaniel, who came up with an origin for Thrush, the villainous organization opposed by U.N.C.L.E.

The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik, while not referencing The Dagger Affair nor McDaniel by name, uses the novel’s plot to illustrate the commentary about the election.

Here’s the key excerpt, which is the first (long) paragraph of the essay.

Somewhere in a paperback novel from the nineteen-sixties inspired, or willed into existence, by the “Man From U.N.C.L.E.” television series, the brave men of the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement find themselves actually sharing lunch with old enemies as they make a temporary alliance with the evil forces of THRUSH (the Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity—really) in order to defeat an outsider dangerous to both. They have joined forces, despite a century of enmity and countless encounters involving rogue agents and femmes fatales, because together they recognize that both sides—indeed, mankind itself—are threatened by a mad nihilist. (If a twelve-year-old’s memory serves, the nihilist, a super-scientist, has built a machine that negates energy itself.) Everything else, they agree, comes second to this threat. They make a toast, and a truce, to coöperate until the nihilist is defeated.

It should be noted that McDaniel’s novel isn’t canon. In the 1964-68 series, Thrush was just Thrush. However, many U.N.C.L.E. fans have adopted McDaniel’s version. The writer linked Thrush to Professor Moriarty, arch-foe of Sherlock Holmes. But Thrush as an acronym exists only in the Ace paperbacks, not on the show.

The main point of The New Yorker article concerns the relationship between Donald Trump and Mike Pence, the Republican nominees for president and vice president. If you want to check it out, CLICK HERE.

Speculation: could U.N.C.L.E. and Holmes be tied together?

David McDaniel's The Dagger Affair

David McDaniel’s The Dagger Affair

A response to a recent post has a reminder there’s a sort-of Sherlock Holmes tie to The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Could director Guy Ritchie, who’s helming a movie version of the 1964-68 series, seize upon that?

Background: The original show generated 23 paperback novels based on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Author David McDaniel penned many of the best. His first effort, The Dagger Affair, suggested that the villainous organization Thrush was a remnant of the group started by Professor Moriarty, the arch-nemesis of Sherlock Holmes.

McDaniel also devised that Thrush was really an acronym standing for the Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity.

The series had its own origin for Thrush, in the second-season episode The Adriatic Express Affair, written by Robert Hill, in which Thrush chieftain Madame Nemirovitch (Jesse Royce Landis) claims she founded the organization. The McDaniel version isn’t canon but many fans of the original show perfer it to the Nemirovitch version.

Ritchie’s second Holmes film, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, featured a showdown between Robert Downey Jr.’s Holmes and Jared Harris’s Moriarty. So for director Ritchie and his U.N.C.L.E. producer Lionel Wigram (who worked on the Holmes movies) this is familiar territory.

The new movie, scheduled to start filming on Sept. 7, is to depict the first mission where Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin are paired. Whether it also has an origin for Thrush (or THRUSH, if you prefer) remains to be seen.


NY Daily News offers U.N.C.L.E. paperbacks as contest prize

The Daily News, the New York tabloid newspaper, is offering 1960s Man From U.N.C.L.E. paperbacks as the prize for a contest.

For the full story, CLICK HERE. Or you can check out this excerpt:

Yes, dear reader, write the winning entry and you’ll receive eight vintage “Man From U.N.C.L.E.” novels, plus a bonus: a “Girl From U.N.C.L.E.” novel by the legendary Michael Avallone, a writer described by novelist Bill Pronzini as “of all the bad writers of the century, pre- eminently top of the heap – the Big Guy.”
Which brings us back to “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” A child of the kiss-kiss-bang-bang years of James Bond, I adored all matters cloak-and-dagger, including the adventures of Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) and Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum—yes, Dr. “Ducky” Mallard on “NCIS”) that aired on NBC from September 1964 to January 1968. With the initial success of “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” came the inevitable novelizations, packaged by Ace Books.

The article by Vince Gosgrove discusses novelizations of movies and television shows more broadly. Michael Avallone wrote the initial U.N.C.L.E. Ace novel and was followed by various authors, including David McDaniel, an U.N.C.L.E. fan favorite. The Ace books weren’t actually novelizations of televiswion episodes but original stories. Anyway, for the contest, entrants have 250 words to explain why they should get the books being offered. The Deadline is April 11 and entries should be e-mailed to

The Avengers: a half century of John Steed & Co.

Better late than never, we felt we should note this was the 50th anniversary of The Avengers, in which the English gentleman agent John Steed and his various associates battled forces that threatened the U.K.

Actually, when the show began in January 1961, Patrick Macnee, who played Steed, had second billing and Steed wasn’t yet in gentleman agent mode. Receiving top billing was Ian Hendry as Dr. David Keel. The show began with Keel’s financee being murdered. The mysterious Steed pops up and two proceed to avenge the death of the financee.

For the second season, Dr. Keel was gone and Macnee was now the clear star. Eventually, he’d partner with Cathy Gale (Honor Blackman), who favored leather clothing and was skilled at judo. Blackman went off to play Pussy Galore in 1964’s Goldfinger. Below, Cathy Gale tells Steed goodbye and the dialogue provides a hint of Blackman’s upcoming 007 role:

Diana Rigg took Blackman’s place as yet another “talented amateur,” Emma Peel. At this point, the U.S. television network ABC to import the U.K. series and the Steed-Peel combo clicked with American audiences. Also, the show apparently got a bigger budget. Production switched from videotape to film, freeing up the crew to shoot sequences outdoors and not just be confined to a studio. The original John Danworkth theme was discarded and a snappier theme, composed by Laurie Johnson, was recorded.

Macnee and Rigg had an appealing chemistry, helped along by scripts from the likes of Brian Clemens and Philip Levene. David McDaniel, who penned some of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. tie-in paperback novels worked Steed and Mrs. Peel into The Rainbow Affair, though the duo aren’t named.

However, after a couple of seasons, bigger things beckoned for Rigg. She, like her predecessor, would be the female lead in a James Bond movie, 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Another replacement, Tara King (Linda Thorson) rounded out the original show.

It’s hard to keep a good agent down. Macnee’s Steed had a return engagement in the 1970s in The New Avengers, this time with two partners, Gareth Hunt’s Mike Gambit (to take over some of the rough stuff from Steed) and Joanna Lumley as Purdey. The show was overseen by Clemens and Albert Fennell, who had produced the last few seasons of the original show. Laurie Johnson returned, composing a new theme. The New Avengers was shown by CBS in the U.S. as part of The CBS Late Movie. The New Avengers only lasted two seasons, though Diana Rigg did make a cameo as Mrs. Peel.

The Avengers was also something of a farm team for Eon Productions. Besides Blackman and Rigg, various character actors from the show got cast in Bond movies, such as Philip Locke (Vargas in Thunderball), Julian Glover (Kristatos in For Your Eyes Only) and James Villiers (Bill Tanner in For Your Eyes Only). And members of The Avengers crew, such as director of photography Alan Hume and art director Harry Pottle would get hired to work on Bond movies. Thus, it was appropriate that Macnee finally be cast in a 007 film, 1985’s A View To a Kill.

Inevitably, The Avengers would be considered for a feature film. The result was the uneven 1998 namesake film with Ralph Fiennes and Uma Thurman facing off against a villain played by Sean Connery. Macnee got a small voice-only cameo. Today, the original series remains fondly remembered while the film….well, the less said, the better.

Happy 50th, Mr. Steed. Here’s a look at the different main titles of The Avengers and The New Avengers:

The Final Affair

Back in the ’60s, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. spawned a series of popular paperback novels based on the television. Perhaps the most favorite among fans were the ones done by David McDaniel, which included an origin of Thrush (it was he, and not the show’s writers who decided it should be an acronym, the Technologial Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity).

One of his U.N.C.L.E. novels that was never published was The Final Affair, intended to wrap things up, including a final battle with Thrush, the death of U.N.C.L.E. chief Alexander Waverly and the return of agent Illya Kuryakin to Russia. However, with the series canceled in January 1968, there was no market for the book. Still, copies of the manuscript circulate among fans.

Blogger Randy Johnson (who is quick to remind readers he’s not the baseball pitcher who just retired), who writes about forgotten books, has done a post. You can READ IT BY CLICKING HERE. The post also includes a photo of the late author, taken shortly before his death.

We’ll also tip our cap once more to the Bish’s Beat blog, where we spotted the item.