Our archive of Fleming U.N.C.L.E. correspondence

Ian Fleming

Ian Fleming

As a footnote to our Oct. 3 post about correspondence related to Ian Fleming’s involvement with The Man From U.N.C.L.E., we’ve put up the text from some of the letters.

You can view that text ON THIS PAGE at our sister site, THE SPY COMMAND FEATURE INDEX.

Most of the letters displayed there are from Felton to Fleming, but one is by the 007 author after he signed away his rights to the television series for 1 British pound.

Also included is the text of the cease-and-desist letter sent by attorneys representing 007 producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, which sought to stop production of the show.

Finally, there’s a 1965 letter from Felton to an MGM executive in England. MGM had been approached about Felton’s availability to help with what would become The Life of Ian Fleming by John Pearson. In the letter, Felton discusses how his lawyers said not to talk about Fleming at all.

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.

‘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.

Miscellaneous notes about the U.N.C.L.E. movie

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. teaser poster

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. teaser poster

No real spoilers (in terms of giving away plot points) but the most spoiler adverse should avoid until they’ve seen the movie.

A few tidbits after seeing The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie twice:

Alternating lead billing: Armie Hammer (Illya Kuryakin) gets top billing in the main titles while Henry Cavill (Napoleon Solo) gets top billing in the end titles.

Possible in-joke: In the end titles, we see Waverly’s dossier and discover he was, at one time, an opium addict. Director Guy Ritchie directed Sherlock Holmes movies in 2009 and 2011. The great detective was known, on occasion, to partake of opium. A passing reference to the director’s previous work?

Missed opportunity for an in-joke: The Waverly dossier in the end titles gives his birth date as March 1, 1913.

It would have been really cool if it had been April 29, 1913, the birth date of Norman Felton, the producer who initiated U.N.C.L.E.

Beyond that, a bespectacled Hugh Grant (who turned 53 during production) as Waverly looks somewhat like a 51-year-old version of Felton in The Giuoco Piano Affair, which aired in the first season of the 1964-68 television series. Obviously, some projection on the part of the Spy Commander.

A credit of note: Felton got an “executive consultant” credit on the movie even though he passed away in 2012, more than a a year before the Ritchie film began production.

Presumably, Felton’s credit was the result of a contractual obligation. John Davis, one of the producers of the movie, originally optioned the property in the early 1990s.

Thunderball reference: In the film, Armie Hammer’s Kuryakin beats up three Italian fellows, one of whom is named Count Lippi. The 1965 James Bond film included a minor villain named Count Lippe. Interestingly, the character was referred to as Count Lippi in a 1961 draft by Richard Maibaum.

REVIEW: Guy Ritchie adds an edge to U.N.C.L.E.

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

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

Director Guy Ritchie, after stripping out some familiar memes from his version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., adds in some edge that often wasn’t present in the 1964-68 television series.

It mostly works, although things don’t really kick in until the film’s second half. The first half is a little flat.

The proceedings get reinvigorated when Henry Cavill’s Napoleon Solo finds himself in peril starting at the midway point of the movie. From that point on, both Cavill and Armie Hammer’s version of Illya Kuryakin get more traction. Make no mistake. The movie remains light and breezy, but there’s a feeling of increased stakes.

The second half also is when Hugh Grant’s Waverly, a cagey British spymaster, starts to have a slightly bigger role. Grant, who turned 53 when U.N.C.L.E. was in production, is decades younger than Leo G. Carroll was when he played Waverly in the series. But Grant’s version is just as manipulative, if not more so, than the original.

Ritchie, who co-wrote the script with Lionel Wigram, essentially tore down the original show. No secret headquarters, no vast worldwide organization. Even if a sequel is made, it’s doubtful any of that would make a comeback in a Guy Ritchie U.N.C.L.E. universe.

Instead, the writers emphasize the basic characters — Solo, Kuryakin and Waverly. Even here, there are notable differences from the show. Solo’s still a womanizer who likes the finer things in life, but has a back story of being an art thief. Kuryakin is given a back story even more at odds with the show (which had very little background for the character).

Ritchie also emphasizes the Cold War setting in a way the original didn’t. It’s the initial layer of edge added by the director. The story begins in East Berlin as Solo, here a CIA agent, is assigned to “extract” Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander), a mechanic whose estranged father is a missing nuclear scientist.

That’s the beginning of a long sequence where Solo and Gaby are pursued by the seemingly indestructible Kuryakin, here a KGB operative. Things move quickly and it holds the viewer’s interest.

By comparison, the rest of the first half, while not bogging down, doesn’t move as quickly. We get the set up.

A mysterious organization is close to building an atomic bomb. The U.S. and Soviet Union decide they have to work together. Solo and Kuryakin size each other up (an excuse to add more of the back story the screenwriters have devised). Gaby is to be part of the mission because she has an uncle who works for the company run by evil mastermind Victoria (Elizabeth Debicki).

Besides all that exposition, Ritchie is setting things up for the second half, but not in a straight forward way.

The director pays lip service to U.N.C.L.E.’s idea of having an “innocent” be part of the plot. Instead, it’s sleight of hand, introducing a complication that — stop me if you’ve heard this before — adds edge to the film.

Despite all the alterations in their backgrounds, Cavill and Hammer do provide recognizable versions of Solo and Kuryakin. Each one ups the other equally. Each saves the other’s life. They eventually do operate as a a team.

Once Solo gets captured — and is being tortured by a former Nazi who’s pretty adept at it — the preliminaries are over and film gets down to business. Cavill is suitably suave and the British actor is convincing enough as an American who thinks his way out of trouble as much as he fights.

Hammer’s Kuryakin, or rather “Edgier Illya,” is falling for Gaby and Hammer does fine taking advantage of those scenes. “Edgier Illya” has more than a few psychological problems, and Hammer gets to play with that also.

For those who’ve never seen the original series, there really isn’t a need to catch up before seeing the film. For fans of the show, the ones who accept the film as an alternative reality will like it just fine.

One of the highlights of the movie is Daniel Pemberton’s score. It’s more Lalo Schifrin than John Barry, but that fits with Ritchie’s alternate universe U.N.C.L.E.

Some notes, mostly for fans of the show. Norman Felton (1913-2012), the executive producer of the series, is credited as an “executive consultant.” Sam Rolfe (1924-1993), who developed the series and was its first-season producer, receives no credit. Meanwhile, the 1965 Hugo Montenegro arrangement of Jerry Goldsmith’s theme is heard for *maybe* five seconds when Solo is checking radio stations while in a truck.

Also, for James Bond fans, a character gets to share the name of a minor villain in Thunderball, although here it’s spelled Count Lippi.

Finally, the end titles show dossiers of the principal characters. It’s an effect similar to, but more subtle than, the little scenes that occur in the end titles of Marvel Studios movies. Fans of the show will likely want to review them to see even more differences, particularly with Waverly’s.

For the Spy Commander, the movie was a tossup in the first half, but the second charged things up. GRADE: B-Plus.

Ian Fleming, without whom, etc.

Our annual post.

On the 51st anniversary of the author’s death, this headline has a double meaning.

Obviously, without Ian Fleming there would be no James Bond novels and thus no James Bond movies.

What’s more, had Fleming not written Thrilling Cities, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. wouldn’t have occurred. Television producer Norman Felton originally was contacted about trying to turn that book into a series. Felton didn’t see a series but ad-libbed a pitch. That led to meetings in late October 1962 between Felton and Fleming in New York.

In the end, there’s not a whole lot of Fleming in U.N.C.L.E. But he was still a catalyst for the show and without that series, there’d be no movie coming out this weekend.


David McCallum endorses the U.N.C.L.E. movie

David McCallum in a Man From U.N.C.L.E. publicity still

David McCallum in a Man From U.N.C.L.E. publicity still

David McCallum, the original Illya Kuryakin, endorsed The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie in AN INTERVIEW ON FOX NEWS.

The movie “in no way encroaches into what we did back in the ’60s and at the same time uses a lot of the elements that Norman Felton and Sam Rolfe created within the old Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” the 81-year-old actor said.

Felton was the executive producer of the original 1964-68 series, co-creating the character of Ian Fleming with author Ian Fleming. Rolfe took it from there, writing a detailed prospectus as well as the script for the pilot. Rolfe also was producer of the show’s first season.

“I think it’s a wonderful success,” McCallum said. “My favorite line in the whole movie, the new movie, is the last one delivered by Hugh Grant because clearly it’s going to lead to at least another Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie. I don’t think there’s any question of that.” Grant plays Waverly, portrayed by Leo G. Carroll in the series.

The movie has an “origin” story line, including background for Solo and Kuryakin.

“They’re interesting stories,” McCallum said of the background presented in the film. “We never went into any of that. It’s a shame.”

Based on discussions on social media the past few days, McCallum’s comments probably won’t matter much. Fans of the original show who want to see the movie, will do so. Original fans opposed to the idea of an U.N.C.L.E. film, aren’t going to change their minds. Warner Bros. is betting the material can find a 21st century audience.

For the entire interview, CLICK HERE.


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