45th anniversary of the end of U.N.C.L.E. (and ’60s spymania)

The symbolism of a 1965 TV Guide ad for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. came true little more than two years later. (Picture from the For Your Eyes Only Web site)

The symbolism of a 1965 TV Guide ad for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. came true little more than two years later. (Picture from the For Your Eyes Only Web site)


Jan. 15 marks the 45th anniversary of the end of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. It was also the beginning of the end for 1960s spymania.

Ratings for U.N.C.L.E. faltered badly in the fall of 1967, where it aired on Monday nights. It was up against Gunsmoke on CBS — a show that itself had been canceled briefly during the spring of ’67 but got a reprieve thanks to CBS chief William Paley. Instead of oblivion, Gunsmoke was moved from Saturday to Monday.

Earlier, Norman Felton, U.N.C.L.E.’s executive producer, decided some retooling was in order for the show’s fourth season. He brought in Anthony Spinner, who often wrote for Quinn Martin-produced shows, as producer.

Spinner had also written a first-season U.N.C.L.E. episode and summoned a couple of first-season writers, Jack Turley and Robert E. Thompson, to do some scripts. Also in the fold was Dean Hargrove, who supplied two first-season scripts but had his biggest impact in the second, when U.N.C.L.E. had its best ratings. Hargrove was off doing other things during the third season, although he did one of the best scripts for The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. during 1966-67.

Hargrove, however, quickly learned the Spinner-produced U.N.C.L.E. was different. In a 2007 interview on the U.N.C.L.E. DVD set, Hargrove said Spinner was of “the Quinn Martin school of melodrama.” Spinner wanted a more serious take on the show compared with the previous season, which included a dancing ape. Hargrove, adept at weaving (relatively subtle) humor into his stories, chafed under Spinner. The producer instructed his writers that U.N.C.L.E. should be closer to James Bond than Get Smart.

The more serious take also extended to the show’s music, as documented in liner notes by journalist Jon Burlingame for U.N.C.L.E. soundstracks released between 2004 and 2007 and the FOR YOUR EYES ONLY U.N.C.L.E. TIMELINE.

Matt Dillon, right, and sidekick Festus got new life at U.N.C.L.E.'s expense.

Matt Dillon (James Arness), right, and sidekick Festus (Ken Curtis) got new life at U.N.C.L.E.’s expense.

Gerald Fried, the show’s most frequent composer, had a score rejected. Also jettisoned was a new Fried arrangement of Jerry Goldsmith’s theme music. A more serious-sounding one was arranged by Robert Armbruster, the music director of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Most of the fourth season’s scores would be composed by Richard Shores. Fried did one fourth-season score, which sounded similar to the more serious style of Shores.

Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin, however, weren’t a match for a resurgent Matt Dillon on CBS. NBC canceled U.N.C.L.E. A final two-part story, The Seven Wonders of the World Affair, aired Jan. 8 and 15, 1968..

U.N.C.L.E. wouldn’t be the first spy casualty. NBC canceled I Spy, with its last new episode appearing April 15, 1968. Within 18 months of U.N.C.L.E.’s demise, The Wild, Wild West was canceled by CBS (its final new episode aired aired April 4, 1969 although CBS did show fourth-season reruns in the summer of 1970) and the last episode of The Avengers was produced, appearing in the U.S. on April 21, 1969. NBC also canceled Get Smart after the 1968-69 season but CBS picked up the spy comedy for 1969-70. Mission: Impossible managed to stay on CBS until 1973 but abandoned spy storylines its last two seasons as the IMF opposed “the Syndicate.”

Nor were spy movies exempt. Dean Martin’s last Matt Helm movie, The Wrecking Crew, debuted in U.S. theaters in late 1968. Despite a promise in the end titles that Helm would be back in The Ravagers, the film series was done. Even the James Bond series, the engine of the ’60s spy craze, was having a crisis in early 1968. Star Sean Connery was gone and producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman pondered their next move. James Bond would return but things weren’t quite the same.

Dr. No’s 50th anniversary conclusion: legacy


In evaluating the legacy of Dr. No as it approaches its 50th anniversary, start with the obvious: There’s still a 007 film series to talk about.

James Bond isn’t the biggest entertainment property in the world the way it was in 1965. But its longevity is unique. The five decades that have passed include more than a decade of enforced hiatus (a troublesome 1975 financial split between Eon co-founders Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman; a legal fight in the early 1990s between Broccoli and MGM; and MGM’s 2010 bankruptcy) disrupting production of the Bond movies. But the Bond films soldier on, with the 23rd entry in the Eon Productions’ series, Skyfall, coming out soon.

The series turned actor Sean Connery into a major star. It made Roger Moore, known mostly as a television star, into a movie star. The same applies to Pierce Brosnan. It made Daniel Craig a star. Even George Lazenby (one movie) and Timothy Dalton (two) who had limited runs as 007 are identified with the series.

The films generated new fans of Ian Fleming’s hero to the point that the movie 007 long ago outsized the influence of his literary counterpart. Finally, the film 007 helped form an untold number of friendships among Bond fans who would have never met otherwise.

All of that began with a modestly budgeted film, without a big-name star, led by a director for hire, Terence Young, who’d be instrumental in developing the cinema version of Agent 007. Dr. No, filmed in Jamaica and at Pinewood Studios, made all that followed possible.

Fans may fuss and feud about which Bond they like best. This 007 film or that may be disparaged by some fans, praised by others. The series may get rebooted. Bond may get recast. The tone of the entries may vary greatly.

In the end, Bond continues. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. can’t say that; The Avengers, the John Steed variety which debuted the year before Dr. No, can’t say that; Matt Helm can’t say that. In time, we suspect, Jason Bourne, which influenced recent 007 movies, won’t either.

Many of those responsible for Dr. No aren’t around to take the bows. They include producers Broccoli and Saltzman; director Young; screenwriter Richard Maibaum; editor Peter Hunt; United Artists studio executive Arthur Krim who greenlighted the project; Joseph Wiseman, who played the title charater, the first film Bond villain; Jack Lord, the first, and some fans say still the best, screen Felix Leiter, who’d become a major television star on Hawaii Five-O; art director Syd Cain, the main lieutenant for production designer Ken Adam; and composer John Barry who orchestrated Monty Norman’s James Bond Theme and who would later define 007 film music.

That’s too bad but that’s what happens with the passage of time. The final product, though remains. It’s all summed up with these words:

James Bond will return.

One list of top 15 anticipated 2012 films excludes Skyfall

The Wrap, one of the big U.S. entertainment news Web sites, excluded Skyfall from its list of the top 15 most-anticipated films of 2012.

What made the list? Here’s part of it:

–Three major superhero movies (two based on Marvel Comics characters including THIS ONE, while the other features one of DC Comics big hitters).

–Two films featuring Abraham Lincoln as a character (including one where Honest Abe hunts vampires.

–Yet another remake of The Great Gatsby (a 1949 version was produced and co-scripted by 007 film scribe Richard Maibaum).

–A film remake of a gothic horror television soap opera.)

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:

Michael Gough, Batman’s Alfred and Avengers villain, dies

Character actor Michael Gough died April 17 at the age of 94. Most obituaries, LIKE THIS ONE IN THE U.K. NEWSPAPER THE GUARDIAN lead with how he played Alfred Pennyworth, Batman’s trusted aide, in four movies from 1989 to 1997. But he also holds a spot in spy entertainment.

Gough played the inventor of “The Cybernauts,” one of the best episodes of The Avengers TV series, starring Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg. It was written by Philip Levene, one of the best scribes for that series, and it inspired a sequel the following season (with Peter Cushing playing the brother of Gough’s character) and an episode of the 1970s series The New Avengers.

Here’s a look at the original episode. Gough shows up just before the 5:00 mark. RIP, Mr. Gough.

UPDATE: We couldn’t resist. Here’s the conclusion. Counting Macnee and Rigg, there are at least six people in either the cast or crew who have James Bond movie credits in this particular episode:

Danny Biederman’s spy fi collection

Danny Biederman has an impressive collection of spy fiction props, covering James Bond, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Get Smart and much more. Biederman has uploaded a YouTube video of highlights of news reports when parts of his collection were displayed at the CIA and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

During clips of the movies and shows in question, there’s music from a Gerald Fried tune originally composed for U.N.C.L.E. and part of Jerry Goldsmith’s score for Our Man Flint.

Take a look:

Almost 30 years ago, Biederman and Robert Short attempted to put together a movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (CLICK HERE and scroll to the second entry). They had gotten Bond veteran production designer Ken Adam interested in the project but it was not to be. There’s also a clip of Robert Conrad wishing he had kept James West’s sleeve gun that’s part of Biederman’s collection.

Alan Hume, director of photography for 007, the Avengers and Star Wars, dies

Alan Hume, director of photography for three James Bond movies, a Star Wars film and some episodes of the original Avengers television series, died July 13 at the age of 85.

The British Society of British Cinematographers has an obituary on its Web site. It reads in part:

A charming gentle man and consummate cinematographer who amassed over 100 credits in his career, his sparkling blue eyes and the warmth behind will be sadly missed. Elected to the BSC in 1964, Alan worked tirelessly for the Society, accumulating 22 years of service on the board; acting as President between 1969-1971.

Hume got his start in the 1940s, according to the BSC obit. In the 1960s, Hume photographed at least 26 episodes of The Avengers, according to his bio on IMDB.com. In the early to mid-1980s, he was director of photography on three consecutive James Bond movies: For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy and A View To a Kill. During that period, he also photographed Return of the Jedi, the third Star Wars movie to be released or, officially, the sixth chapter in the Star Wars saga.

Here’s OBITUARY ON THE CINEMA RETRO WEB SITE THAT YOU CAN READ BY CLICKING HERE.

And here’s the original theatrical trailer of For Your Eyes Only:

Agent Triple-X tops InStyle.com’s list of top female on-screen spies

InStyle.com, inspired by the recent arrest of real-life arrest of Russian spies, came up with its on-screen women spies.

Coming in at No. 1 was Major Anya Asamova, aka Agent Triple-X from 1977′s The Spy Who Loved Me. As portrayed by Barbara Bach, Triple-X was James Bond’s equal as a secret agent and was part of the reason the 1977 film helped revive the 007 film franchise, which had shown signs of slumping.

At No. 7 was Vesper Lynd, as played by Eva Green from 2006′s Casino Royale. Also of note was The Avenger’s Emma Peel at No. 2, with InStyle using photos of both Diana Rigg, the television original, and Uma Thurman, the movie version.

You can see the start of the post, and the full list BY CLICKING RIGHT HERE.

The brains behind The Avengers awarded with the OBE

Brian Clemens, a writer and producer on The Avengers, recently received an Order of the British Empire.

According to thisTHIS STORY on the BBC’s Web site:

The main creative driving force behind The Avengers, The Professionals and many other successful television series and films has been appointed OBE.

Brian Clemens, who lives near Ampthill, Bedfordshire, has been honoured in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list for services to broadcasting and drama.

Clemens wrote 32 episodes of The Avengers and another 17 of its 1970s revival, The New Avvengers, according tohis profile on IMDB.com.

Here’s the main titles to one of the episodes of The Avengers written by Clemens (b. 1931). It’s from the first season with Diana Rigg co-starring with Patrick Macnee. During this particular season Clemens was associate producer of the show. In the first color season, he’d get promoted to producer, a post he (along with Albert Fennell) held through the rest of the series. The pair would also produce the revival series.

We also give a shoutout to Wes Britton, who alerted us to Clemens getting the OBE.

UPDATE: Digging a little further back, here’s an opening and closing from earlier when Macnee co-starred with Honor Blackman on The Avengers. This episode was also written by Clemens.

1997: a 1960s spy reunion with Culp, Vaughn,Macnee and Bain

The Dick Van Dyke series Diagnosis Murder often engaged in “stunt casting,” in which the producers would deliberately cast actors famous for certain roles in the past and put them in a story that evoked their iconic images.

In November 1997, CBS aired an episode of the series called “Discards,” which featured the stars of 1960s spy shows. Most of the screen time went to Robert Culp, who played the father of a series regular. Besides Culp (I Spy), Robert Vaughn (The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) and Patrick Macnee (The Avengers) were on hand, playing spy types. What’s more, Barbara Bain was there actually reprising her Cinnamon Carter role from Mission: Impossible. On top of that, Phil Morris, the son of M:I’s Greg Morris appeared.

Here are some clips:

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