Noel Harrison, Girl From U.N.C.L.E. co-star, dies at 79

Noel Harrison in a Girl From U.N.C.L.E. publicity still

Noel Harrison circa 1966

Noel Harrison, who played Mark Slate in The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., died on Oct. 20 at age 79.

Word spread among fans after a message Harrison’s wife, Lori, had been sent out. Meanwhile, Andy Williamson, a U.K. musician MADE A POST ON TWITTER that read:

Andy Williamson‏@bigbuzzard
Sad Sad news that fellow #kidney patient #NoelHarrison died yesterday. I loved playing with him last year.

Later, Stefanie Powers, his U.N.C.L.E. co-star, also POSTED ON TWITTER about the death of Harrison:

Stefanie Powers‏@Stefanie_Powers
My darling friend Noel Harrison passed last night. Let us all light a candle to speed him on his way – he deserves to fly with the angels

Powers and Harrison, the son of actor Rex Harrison, were the leads of the spinoff from The Man From U.N.C.L.E. The show only ran one season, 1966-67.

In the pilot, an episode of Man, Mark Slate was a middle aged U.N.C.L.E. agent (Norman Fell) who was trying to hide the fact he was over the age of 40, which was supposed to be the mandatory retirement age for field agents.

That concept was dropped when Girl was picked up as a series. Slate was remade as a British agent in his 30s in the person of Harrison. Executive Producer Norman Felton, who had seen Scotsman David McCallum become a star as Illya Kuryakin on Man, in effect tried to see if lightning would strike twice. It didn’t.

Right from the start, Girl took on a very light touch. Also, the Girl concept was forced on Felton by NBC, which specifically wanted the spinoff to feature a woman agent. Felton & Co. weren’t comfortable having Powers’s April Dancer get into big fights; as a result, Harrison’s Slate ended up absorbing enough beatings for two characters. That had the effect of making Harrison’s Slate look like a weaker character.

Harrison’s Slate perhaps came across best in an episode of Man, The Galatea Affair. It was originally written as a typical Napoleon Solo-Illya Kuraykin story. Harrison got the bulk of the Solo part. The episode was also a play on My Fair Lady, in which Slate trains a low-class English woman to take the place of a countess (both parts being played by Joan Collins).

After Girl ended, Harrison ended up in one more notable spy television story: the only three-part episode of Mission: Impossible, The Falcon. Harrison played the childlike member of a royal family of a country who’s being used as a dupe by an ambitious general (John Vernon). The story is even more complicated than the typical M:I tale and features a number of cliffhangers along the way.

Harrison also had a career as a musician, perhaps best known for singing The Windmills of Your Mind, the title song for the original version of The Thomas Crown Affair.

UPDATE (Oct. 22): The BBC has AN OBITUARY of Harrison on its Web site. You can also click to see obits from THE ASSOCIATED PRESS and the U.K. TELEGRAPH NEWSPAPER.


GIRL FROM U.N.C.L.E. REVIEWS on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode guide