1966: Dick Van Dyke takes on the spy craze

Title card for The Man From My Uncle

In the 1960s, many television shows did a take on the spy craze. The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-66), one of the most acclaimed U.S. situation comedies, was no exception.

Near the end of its run, CBS aired “The Man From My Uncle.” It has references to both The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (near the peak of its popularity) and James Bond films. Amusingly, the episode doesn’t actually have spies.

Nevertheless, a nameless U.S. agency (resembling the FBI) asks Rob and Laura Petrie (Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore) for the use of their house to conduct a surveillance in their New Rochelle, New York, neighborhood.

The lead agent is Harry Bond (Godfrey Cambridge). Given this is 1966, the significance of agent Bond’s name is obvious when Rob looks at the agent’s identification.

ROB: Bond? Harry Bond? Hey, you’ve got the same last name…

BOND: Yeah. Please no jokes. I’m not 007.

Something similar happens a few moments later when Laura meets the government man.

LAURA: Bond? Isn’t that the name of….

Rob stops her before things get too far.

For those unfamiliar with the show, Rob was the head writer for a leading variety television program. The Dick Van Dyke Show was an early sitcom which depicted its lead character at both home and at work.

As a result, in this story, Rob is nervous and excited that a government man is working out of his home. Rob’s anxiety around Harry Bond is the source of much of the humor of the episode.

Harry Bond’s quarry is a criminal who has a relative living in Rob’s neighborhood. Suffice to say, the feds eventually get their man despite Rob’s offers of assistance.

At the end of the episode, Rob speaks into what he thinks is his son’s walkie talkie.

ROB: Hello, Thrush? This is agent Triple-oh-nine. If you do not release our agents immediately, we will activate our atomic de-activator and blow up your tonsils. Do you read me there, Thrush?

BOND: This is Thrush.

ROB (embarrassed): Hi, Thrush.

BOND (bemused): We read you and will release all your agents if you just stop playing with our equipment.

ROB: Mr. Bond, I’m sorry. I thought this was my son’s.

BOND: That’s all right, Triple-oh-nine. We’ll be right in.

For those not familiar with U.N.C.L.E., Thrush was the villainous organization of that 1964-68 series.

Godfrey Cambridge’s title card for The Man From My Uncle

Trivia: The Man From My Uncle was written by Garry Marshall and Jerry Belson. While mostly known for writing comedy, the duo also wrote an episode of the hour-long drama I Spy that same season.

Sheldon Leonard was the executive producer of both The Dick Van Dyke Show and I Spy. Marshall and Belson later developed Neil Simon’s play The Odd Couple into a television series.

Marshall (1934-2016) later became a director of such films as Pretty Woman and The Princess Dairies.

Godfrey Cambridge died in 1976 in the TV production Victory at Entebbe, where he was playing Ugandan president Idi Amin. He was replaced by Julius W. Harris, who had portrayed Tee Hee in Live And Let Die.

Meanwhile, you can view The Man From My Uncle below (at least as long as YouTube doesn’t yank it).

Advertisements

What if Godfrey Cambridge had played Fleming’s Mr. Big?

The 1973 James Bond film Live And Let Die is noteworthy because it was Roger Moore’s first 007 film and sported a catchy title song written and performed by Paul McCartney.

But it’s far from a faithful adaptation of an Ian Fleming novel. In fact, bits from the namesake novel wouldn’t be used until 1981’s For Your Eyes Only and 1989’s Licence to Kill And the talented Yaphet Kotto doesn’t play Ian Fleming’s Mr. Big. He’s really playing the Dr. Kananga of screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz.

So what would a film version of Fleming’s Mr. Big looked like? Well, we can look to the late Robert Culp, who wrote and directed a first-season episode of I Spy that featured an Oxford-educated Zulu who’s dealing industrial diamonds and stolen radioactive isotopes with Communist China. That villain was played by Godfrey Cambridge, who comes across as quite Flemingesque.

To see what we mean, you can go to Hulu.com or CLICK HERE to watch the episode. Or you can CLICK HERE. Cambridge doesn’t show up until the second half of the episode but he’s quite memorable. Cambridge died in 1976 while playing Idi Amin in a television production about the Israeli raid on Entebbe. His replacement? Julius W. Harris, who played Tee Hee in Live And Let Die.