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 He also penned an unpublished U.N.C.L.E. story, The Final Affair, which sought to tie up loose ends from the series, which was abruptly canceled in the middle of its fourth season.

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The acronym (which really isn’t) that won’t go away

Image from Batman '66 Meets The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Image from Batman ’66 Meets The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

On The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Thrush was never an acronym. But the notion that is is survives almost a half-century after the show ended its original run.

The comic book miniseries Batman ’66 Meets The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which is wrapping up its six-issue run, spells it as “T.H.R.U.S.H.”

Separately, the book Some Kind of Hero: The Remarkable Story of the James Bond Films, published in late 2015, has a chapter about “Bondmania” of the 1960s which references U.N.C.L.E. Authors Matthew Field and Ajay Chowdhury write that agents Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin “were usually pitted against agents of T.H.R.U.S.H. (Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humankind).”

We’ve referenced this before, but the idea of Thrush as an acronym was created by writer David McDaniel, author of a 1960s licensed U.N.C.L.E. paperback, The Dagger Affair.

McDaniel envisioned Thrush as having been created by Sherlock Holmes villain Professor Moriarty. McDaniel’s acronym had “Humanity” instead of “Humankind.” Regardless, it was very clever and McDaniel is credited by many U.N.C.L.E. fans as the best writer of the paperback tie-in novels.

David McDaniel's The Dagger Affair

David McDaniel’s The Dagger Affair

However, the 1964-68 series presented its own origin for Thrush in the second-season episode The Adriatic Express Affair. In that installment, written by Robert Hill, Madame Nemirovitch (Jessie Royce Landis) reveals herself to be the founder of Thrush.

In real life, the production team had a devil of a time coming up with a name for the villainous organization. It was Thrush when the pilot was filmed in late 1963. But NBC, the network that ordered up the show, had its doubts.

At one point, the name was going to be “Wasp.” In fact, in the movie version of the pilot, To Trap a Spy, “Wasp” was dubbed when actors said “Thrush.” However, Wasp was dropped, apparently in part, because the upcoming Gerry Anderson series Stringray was going to have W.A.S.P. being the organization of the heroes.

Another U.N.C.L.E. possibility was MAGGOT. In fact, the first draft script of The Double Affair (which would be turned into the U.N.C.L.E. movie The Spy With My Face), dated May 1964, uses MAGGOT as the name.

Eventually, everybody went back to Thrush. And so it stayed for the 105 episodes of the series, as well as the 29 episodes of the spinoff show The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.

Still, over the years, the McDaniel version has won out even though it wasn’t official canon. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend, as the saying goes.