Open Channel D.
Every Saturday for 13 weeks, we’re serializing Back Issue editor Michael Eury’s upcoming book Hero-A-Go-Go! — a ginchy exploration of the Silver Age and Swingin’ Sixties. For other installments, click here.
Hero-A-Go-Go! is due 4/19. You can pre-order it here.
This one’s for 13th Dimension columnist Dr. Christy Blanch, the biggest Man From UNCLE fan I’ve ever met.
See, I missed out on this one as a kid. I know it was on in syndication but for whatever reason, I was never turned onto the show, so my exposure was limited to merch ads in comic-book back issues.
Christy? She’s a true believer. And so when I saw that Michael Eury’s book featured a small, but informative, section on Napoleon Solo and his Russian confrere Illya Kuryakin as part of a larger chapter on ’60s spymania, I wanted to make sure The Man From UNCLE got its due in our weekly serial.
So, dig it Christy — and the rest of you looking for a fitting at Del Floria’s.
By MICHAEL EURY
The most successful of the Bond imitators, executive producer Norman Felton’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E. started its four-season run on NBC on September
22, 1964. The “Man” was super-agent Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn), chief operative for U.N.C.L.E. (United Network Command for Law and Enforcement), headquartered in New York City, with Mr. Alexander Waverly (Leo G. Carroll) offering a new mission each week in U.N.C.L.E.’s ongoing war with international crime cartel THRUSH.
Vaughn’s co-star was David McCallum, who, as Russian agent Illya Kuryakin, brokered détente to a Cold War-chilled America and induced date fantasies to the gaggles of girls who went ga-ga over his blond, Beatle-cut cuteness and exotic accent. McCallum became a sex symbol, his face dominating teen magazines and his popularity eclipsing headliner Vaughn’s.
Del Floria’s Tailor Shop was the storefront through which most operatives (and viewers) would enter U.N.C.L.E.’s headquarters via a secret portal. Each U.N.C.L.E. case was an “affair,” reflected by episode titles such as “The Vulcan Affair,” “The Deadly Toys Affair,” and “The Pop Art Affair,” a gimmick employed in other adaptive media including comic books. The Man from U.N.C.L.E ’s best-remembered phrase was “Open Channel D,” which agents would say when using their pocket communicators.
Season One was shot in black and white and was edgier than later seasons, and featured a guest-star who would be drawn into the story at hand. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. became a color show during Season Two, and became campier as well, partially in response to Batman’s popularity, with many of Solo’s and Kuryakin’s antics stretching credibility. The show boasted its strongest ratings during its second season, ranking 13th with a 24.0 Nielsen rating and producing a spin-off, The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.
U.N.C.L.E.mania included the repackaging of TV episodes as movies, a series of novels, and enough toys and collectibles—walkie-talkies, a View-Master packet, coloring books, 12-inch action figures, Aurora model kits, and trading cards among them—to fill a curio cabinet.
As with all crazes, the mania began to fade and ratings dipped in Season Three. By the fourth and final season, the zaniness was ratcheted back and a new cast member was added, Barbara Moore as Mr. Waverly’s secretary, Lisa Rogers. The series made its final telecast on January 15, 1968. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. has since spawned a 1985 reunion telefilm and a 2015 movie reboot.
Gold Key Comics published 22 issues of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. from 1965 to 1969. Each issue featured a photo cover; scripts were by Paul S. Newman or Dick Wood and artists included Don Heck, George Tuska, Werner Roth, and Mike Sekowsky.
NEXT WEEK: Hey, hey, it’s THE MONKEES! Click here.
You can pre-order Hero-A-Go-Go! here.