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

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Name: The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
Abbreviation(s): MFU, Man from UNCLE, MUNCLE
Creator: Sam Rolfe, Norman Felton
Date(s): 1964-1968
Medium: television
Country of Origin: USA
External Links: The Man from U.N.C.L.E. on Wikipedia
The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. on Wikipedia
The Fans from U.N.C.L.E.
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

Contents

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was one of the big hits of the '60s, and one of the earlier and influential TV fandom series, thanks in a large part to the appeal of Illya Kuryakin, and his partner Napoleon Solo, with fangirls and fanboys of all ages.

It was a show that was possibly, the start of modern media fandom.

Canon Overview

cover of 11 & 2 #4, artist is Paulie
art from The Old World Affair, artist is Vanya

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was part cold war spy thriller, part idealistic world history, and part campy escapist entertainment. U.N.C.L.E., the United Network Command for Law Enforcement, was a multi-national organization under United Nations control and its primary purpose was to deal with THRUSH, essentially an Illuminati-style organization that was breaking out of the whole 'power behind the throne' role and going straight for the the throne itself, frequently using convoluted 'Bond Villain' plots. An innocent bystander was always drawn into the plot somehow, while the heroes—two U.N.C.L.E. agents named Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin—dealt with the threat.

The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. was a spin-off of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. that lasted one season.

The Characters

A brief overview of the main characters. For more information, see the The Man from U.N.C.L.E. on Wikipedia and The Fans from U.N.C.L.E..

  • Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn): lead Enforcement agent, American who served in the Korean War.
  • Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum): Napoleon's partner, Russian.
  • Alexander Waverly (Leo G. Carroll): Section One, Number One of U.N.C.L.E.
  • April Dancer (Stefanie Powers): the Girl from U.N.C.L.E.
  • Mark Slate (Noel Harrison): April's partner
cover of True Colours by Kitty Fisher, artist is Chris

Fandom History

When the show first aired in the 1960s, it ws a hit and very popular with teenagers:
"But if Trek was the Big Bang [of media fandom], MFU was the primer. Many Trek fans started first in MFU. Not in an organized way: in those days, you just hung around with your friends in the neighborhood. Or wrote pen pals. (And you couldn't call outside the local area: kids wouldn't even think of asking to use long distance.)

And sometimes, you wrote letters to Norman Felton, who created the series. And lo and behold: he wrote back!! A lot of these letters ---hundreds of the many thousands --- are still preserved in the Special Collections at the U of Iowa. Some of the people who wrote those letters are *still* in MFU fandom.....

But if you're talking *Media* Fandom, it all began right here: when an entire generation of teenagers sat down to watch The Man From U.N.C.L.E. every week on their black and white livingroom console television sets and dreamed themselves into the fantasy world of the series. MFU lent itself to such dreaming; it was canon.[1]

There were other links to Star Trek. James Doohan was in "The Shark Affair" (October 13, 1964). William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy appeared together in "The Project Strigas Affair" (Nov. 24, 1964). Numerous Star Trek guest stars appeared in other episodes. Some episodes were directed by Trek directors Marc Daniels, Jud Taylor, and Vincent McEveety.

However, because MFU did not go into continuous reruns the way Star Trek did, the fandom ebbed and flowed depending on the syndication. There was a big resurgence in the early 1990s when TNT began broadcasting it again, and fans could once again get clean VCR copies to pass around to interested parties. In 2007 the series was released on DVD, and while this did not spark a fandom renaissance, the accessibility allows for a low but steady influx of new fans, as well as older fans revisiting their childhood crushes. As of 2014, the show is on ME TV channels.

The zine fandom successfully transitioned online in the 1990s with mailing lists. As an older fandom, much of MFU online fandom started on lists. In the late 90s, there were two primary mailing lists, Channel D for general interest, and Channel L for adult and slash conversation, both co-run by Jan Davies, Marion McChesney, and Laurel Richards. These were still active as of 2009, as well as a few others. [2] and moved to Yahoo Groups in 1998. As of 2011 it was still active, with several hundred posts a month.[3]

In Those Children: Case Studies from the Inner-city School (1970) by Donald Clark, Arlene Goldsmith and Clementine Pugh, school children with "mental problems" were described. Among them were two teenagers who wrote and acted out stories based on the show, but from the perspective of THRUSH. When they killed off a favorite character (based on the brother of one of the girls), they wore black mourning armbands to school and authorities became "concerned about their fantasy life". This is one of the earliest descriptions of fandom in professional literature.

Early Fanfic: Gen

cover of Eyes Only, artist is Romanse

Anecdotal stories give MFU the nod for first publishing fanfiction, though no copies of those early stories have been found. Nancy Kippax said in Reminisce With Me that The Man From UNCLE had been around in the U.S. and the U.K. as long as Star Trek, but without significant fan fiction. According to her, the first stand-alone Man From UNCLE zine (a novel) was published in 1975. It was called the The Blue Curtain Affair and was written by Pat Munson, the then head of UNCLE HQ, a fan club. Munson also published some of the very first MUNCLE short fiction in the UNCLE HQ newsletter. Another early gen MUNCLE zine was The M.U.N.C.L.E. Book which was published in 1977. Muncle fanfiction also appeared in multi-fandom zines such as "The Princess Royal Affair" which appeared in Warped Space #40 in 1979. However, the majority of MUNCLE fanzines were not published until 1983.

Some early fanfic trends: what was Illya's role? Was he a Soviet defector, something that reflected the political climate of the time? Fanfic during the late 1970s and early 1980s also had a very noticeable lack of Napoleon Solo: sometimes he was completely absent, and if portrayed, was often as Illya's subordinate and often as a bit of a buffoon. These two fanons were perhaps due to the fact the show was not being rerun anywhere, and that fans' exposure to the characters was through the pro books. The latter trend of Illya-centric fiction may also be due to the fact that he was cast as the "Russian Beatle." One fan writes: "I suppose I can’t do an essay on Napoleon Solo without making at least brief mention of the fact that for a time in MFU’s fanfiction history, U.N.C.L.E. Chief of Enforcement became a sort of nonentity. About ten years ago, I did a survey of MFU fandom for an academic paper and discovered that, while Solo was a favorite of male fans, almost three-quarters of the female fans preferred Illya. In fact, for the first decade that followed the series’ cancellation, they preferred Illya so much that in most of the stories written during that period, Solo is either a supporting player or he doesn’t appear at all. [4]

Another fanfic trend occurred in the late 1980s. It was at that time the fic began to change in tone. Napoleon and Illya are portrayed more often as equals, Illya as clearly Soviet, the fics themselves became grittier and more realistic regarding the world of spies and political espionage. Two factors for this change in tone was the popularity of the televisions shows The Equalizer, The Sandbaggers, and in John le Carré novels.

Early Fanfic: Slash

The first Man from U.N.C.L.E. zine advertised in a major publication that announced it would accept slash was by Karen F in 1983. From Datazine #28's "In the Planning Stages": "The Fanzine Affair: Napoleon Solo and Kuryakin return! This is a fanzine in the making and accepting stories, artwork, non-fiction, and poetry... All themes accepted -- the title says it all." While this zine never made it off the ground, the precedent was out in the open.

The first fanzine to actually publish MUNCLE slash was possibly Mobile Ghettos in 1985. "E.D. Productions were the first people to actually publish UNCLE slash material. There is quite an underground of N/I, some of it much better that was actually published, but this could be true to the fact that E.D. Productions simply didn't know how to get in touch with the proper sources." [5]

Some fans feel that fannish debates and discussion of the time was less concerned with slash, and more focused on whether or not Illya was a Soviet defector or not, a topic made all the more relevant by current events of the time.

Early Fanfic: Circuit Stories and Preservation

Like Pros fandom, there was an underground circuit of fan fiction, copied and exchanged from person to person. Some of that fanfiction involved slash which was not universally accepted with media fandom for many years: "Slash was very much underground for many years. Even when it moved from circuit stories to zines, you couldn't find them all that easily. They were distributed more or less "under the table", and you had to know whom to ask. That was changing even before the Internet became a major locus for fandom, but echoes of the "underground" status persisted for a long time, simply because there were a lot of fans who had been there and remembered it." [6]

Unlike the Pros fandom which has expended considerable effort to preserve and archive their circuit stories, little is known about the MUNCLE circuit, even among dedicated fans.[7]

A few Man from U.N.C.L.E. zines have been kept in print all these years; others are available used at conventions. SithDragon (sithdrgn on lj) tried to set up a MFU traveling zine library, and collected zines from fans, but nothing apparently came of it.[8]

Early Fanfic: Relationship with TPTB

When MUNCLE fandom finally did begin publishing their stand alone zines in the early 1980s, they enjoyed a very positive relationship with Norm Felton, one of TPTB on the series: "When I was publishing "U is for UNCLE" Norm Felton had copies of every issue and wouldn send back letters to me about them, wanting to discuss this or that plot action. Sigh, the good old days....... He used to give me pointers and he also had a very sly sense of humor. It made Napoleon make more sense to me." [9]

That easy relationship changed when, it 2005, Lionheart Distribution received two C&D notices from Warner Brothers for selling MUNCLE fanzines, among other Warner TV shows. [10]

Slash and Gen Fandoms

Like many of the early TV fandoms, slash and gen fandoms have co-existed - but not always peacefully. To many, slash is seen as the "dark side" because they believe it distorts the characters.[11]

The slash "aha moment' varies among fans - some fans saw it immediately, others felt it did not happen until after the first season.[12]

Even when fans were open to idea of slash, the actual introduction to the genre did not always go well:

"Still, [slash] was an interesting idea and I was curious, so I went to the Mediawest reading room and read an MFU slash zine. The story I read had Solo raping Illya with an U.N.C.L.E. Special. This was, indeed, the dark side. Some other stories I found were similar. It was not an appealing introduction."[13]
Still, the overall perception of slash within MUNCLE fandom has been one of relative acceptance, interspersed with periods of agitation:
"As someone who writes gen, I have seen intolerance travel in both directions. While slash is evil, gen can be stupid and clueless. Some folks won't read slash; some won't read gen. To my mind, they're both missing out.

But you're right: MFU has historically been a tolerant fandom in this area, and those of us who've lived through decades [decades!!!] together, have worked hard to keep it that way. We've sat on panels at MediaWest together, shared rooms as well as ideas, and read and beta'd each other's stories.

But it keeps coming back and sometimes I feel like I'm living through Groundhog Day. It's like someone shows up dragging a cannon long after the war is over. When they lob a lone cannonball, it's best to ignore it so it just plunks down, unnoticed and undramatic,like in an old Warner Brothers cartoon. Just a blip on the radar...

To my mind, all the genres can exist side by side [especially in MFU where there's only one OTP! No 'ship wars!] just like schools of thought can exist in a discipline or aesthetics in art. Sure, we can discuss and argue, but in the end, we all live in the same small town and have for almost half a century. We all have to exist together and it makes it so much more pleasant when we can still get together over drinks."[14]

Fic Trends

Slash MFU is a very OTP fandom, with Napoleon/Illya the dominant pairing. Gen case-story MFU is more common than Het MFU, which is usually BOTW, or occasionally crossed over with The Girl from Uncle.

There is also a small trend of futurefic fusions of MFU with with NCIS and/or Hustle. The premise is usually that Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard from NCIS is actually, secretly an older Illya Kuryakin (both characters are played by David McCallum), and/or that Albert Stroller from Hustle is actually an older Napoleon Solo (both characters are played by Robert Vaughn).

Conventions

The only Muncle fan run convention held in the US

There have been few fan run Muncle conventions - most Muncle fans attended larger multi-media conventions such as MediaWest and Zebracon.

A small fan run convention does take place in the UK every year. The Arundel Affair was first held in 1997 with the latest gathering taking place in 2010.

In 2006 fans planned to hold a small US convention in Octover in Washington DC called The Thirty-Eight Years Later Affair. It is unclear if the event took place however a website was set up, initial programming was developed and a hotel was reserved.

Notable Fanworks

Vids

Zines

cover of Perestroika, artist is Suzan Lovett

Fanfic

Fanart

[needs some examples!]

Archives

MUNCLE fanfiction was slow to embrace online posting. In 1998, when U.N.C.L.E. File 40 was launched, there were three known stories posted online, mainly at private websites. U.N.C.L.E. File 40 helped change that by bringing zine writers and online readers together and eventually, over time, more online fic began to be added. The Channel-F mailing list was created in 2000 to capture some of this online fan fiction as it was being posted.

Man From U.N.C.L.E. sections can be found in these multi-fandom archives:

Yahoo Groups

  • Channel D (discussion, etc.) (founded 1995)
  • Channel-L (slash)(mostly inactive) (founded after Dec 1998)
  • Channel-W (gen and slash writers, one of the earliest yahoo mailing lists) (founded after Dec 1998)
  • MFUfic (slash and gen fic)
  • Channel M (McCallum/Illya) (founded after Dec 1998)
  • Channel V (Vaughn/Napoleon) (founded after Dec 1998)
  • Channel J (artists) (founded after Dec 1998)
  • MFU slash
  • Channel F (fiction)

Livejournal Communities

MFU also has an active presence on livejournal. The slash community muncle was founded by Sithdragn in Sept 2002 and welcomes all fans and any fanning about the show, whether slash-focused or not. [15] It also hosts the annual Down the Chimney Affair holiday gift exchange, starting in 2004 based on other fandoms' exchanges [16], and becoming an anonymous exchange in 2005 in the spirit of a spy fandom.[17] 2005 also marked the exclusion of het in the exchange due to the difficulty of finding matching recipients; since then the exchange has been limited to gen & slash. [18] The 8th DTC Exchange happened in Dec 2011 with 22 participants.[19]

Other communities include mfuwss, the MFU Writers Survival School, founded in 2005 to support MFU authors; like muncle, it has a slash/gen bent.[20] network_command, founded in Jan 2008, is explicitly open to all genres and ratings, with no preferences stated. Both artwork and stories are accepted.[21] mfu_canteen was spun off of mfuwss in May 2009[22]; founded by spikesgirl58, it is devoted to all variety of MFU-focused discussions, from the serious to the ridiculous. Daily questions from the mods, as well as contributions from other members, keeps the comm lively (if not always on topic!); themes include Slash Thursdays and Sunday recipe exchanges.

mfu-yumdaily, "A Daily Dose of U.N.C.L.E." was created as a site to share pictures. A wide variety of pictures is posted each day, some with a high drool factor. [23] The newest community, mfu-delflorias,"your single-stop shop for all your rec needs," is designed so that readers can share recommendations of their favorite stories, videos and art. [24]

mfuficfind "I Know I Read It Somewhere..." was started by Periwinkle as a resource for fans who were trying to locate an author or a story. [25]

The groups are summarized four times a week in mfu_weekly, "A Man From U.N.C.L.E. round-up" which consolidates posts from all the other groups into one site. [26]

Fansites

Other Spy Shows of Fannish Interest

For whatever reasons, spy shows seem less likely to spawn a fandom than cop shows (or spawn smaller fandoms). Perhaps this is due to the increased plotting issues with spy stories; perhaps because spy shows tend to rely on the BOTW even more than cop shows; or perhaps there are simply many many more cop shows than spy shows.

External Sources/Further Reading

References

  1. The Squee Heard Round the World dated September 22nd, 2012; reference link.
  2. "By far the oldest U.N.C.L.E. electronic mailing list around, Channel D made its debut in 1995 with 10 or so subscribers without the benefit of any listserv software to automate the process! By March 1999, it has grown to 150+ subscribers." -- Accessed 2 June 2011
  3. The Channel_D group on Yahoo has 907 members and averaged 325 posts a month in 2010. (Accessed 2 June 2011)
  4. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. --- Napoleon Solo: More Than Meets the Eye, posted June 7, 2006, accessed September 10, 2013; reference link.
  5. from Datazine #37
  6. comment in Slash as the Dark Side of Fan Fiction dated August 20th, 2009; reference link.
  7. At least one big MFU Collection with a pink cover consisting of 400 pages of unpublished gen and slash stories was discussed as late as 2002. No titles or dates were given but the publisher was Nowayjose Press. The zine was listed as being available at the time of "publication" for $22.50. Morgan Dawn's personal notes accessed September 7. 2013.
  8. Status of Lending Library dated June 9th, 2008; reference link.
  9. Why is it okay to charge money for fan art and not fan fic? dated September 26th, 2012; reference link.
  10. Lyrebird ("Unfortunately, [some MUNCLE fanzines] aren't being distributed any more because Warner Bros has sent out Cease and Desist letters to LionHeart Distribution (April 2005)")
  11. Slash as the Dark Side of Fan Fiction dated August 20th, 2009; reference link. See also Why I Write Gen dated May 21st, 2005; reference link: "Frankly, I found it all very tiresome because I don't think artists should have to defend or even explain their work, just as I think audiences have no right to demand a certain kind of work."</ref?
  12. Slashers - what was 'the moment' for you dated July 12th, 2009]; reference link.
  13. comment in Slash as the Dark Side of Fan Fiction dated August 20th, 2009; reference link.
  14. comment in I Can't what? dated Feb. 14th, 2010; reference link.
  15. "We are a slash community, but we chat about anything MFU. If that sounds acceptable, please join us, regardless of your fiction preferences." -- from the profile (Accessed 2 June 2011)
  16. "Secret santas abound in several fandoms. I thought I'd see if there was interest in holding a [info]muncle secret santa." It's that most wonderful time of the year, Sithdragn, posted 21 Oct 2011 (Accessed 2 June 2011)
  17. "This year there will be a new twist in revealing authors and artists -- we're being even more secretive. It's a spy thing, y'know." Sithdragn, Down the Chimney Affair 2, posted 28 Aug 2005 (Accessed 2 June 2011)
  18. "Only gen and slash entries this year. It's nothing to do with an anti-het agenda, but last year's entries were too difficult to match up with the extremely limited het audience in this community." Sithdragn, Down the Chimney Affair 2, posted 28 Aug 2005 (Accessed 2 June 2011)
  19. Down the Chimney Affair 8 - The Big Reveal, posted 1 Jan 2012 (Accessed 11 January 2012)
  20. "One more thing: We like to think of ourselves as a slash but gen-friendly community, which means anything goes, really. We’re not exactly into het fic, though. So if that’s what floats your boat, please don’t post your story here but just ask for beta help and we’ll find you someone." from the mfuwss profile (Accessed 2 June 2011)
  21. "We welcome stories and artwork of all types, in all genres and of all ratings, and we particularly encourage experimental work. However, we recognise that readers often have certain preferences, so please state clearly in your header whether your story or artwork contains a pairing (or pairings); and if it is sexually explicit, please say so, so that the easily squicked (like moi) don't have a heart attack!" profile, posted by azdak (last accessed 2 June 2011)
  22. "After taking up way too much of mfuwss's community, it was thought that it would be nice to have a place just for silliness and discussions that aren't necessarily in line with other groups here." The Back to the Work Week silly question, spikesgirl58, posted 1 June 2009 (Accessed 2 June 2011)
  23. "It really is all about the pictures here, and the squee, of course! (and some drool) Post your pictures of Illya, Napoleon, David, Robert, anything Man from Uncle related or related to the fine actors who played our favourite spies." Quoted from the profile (Accessed 6 June 2011)
  24. "It was suggested that perhaps we needed a community just for recs. It would be a place to come to for reviews, to write them yourself, and to talk about the stories, vids and art that you love. From the profile (Accessed 6 June 2011)
  25. "This site is primarily dedicated to helping people look for 'Man From UNCLE' stories that they read in the past and want to read again but can't find the link. Or, for people who heard about a good MFU story and want to locate it. You can also ask for help finding movies, videos, episodes, or whatever else you can think of." profile by Periwinkle(Accessed 12 June 2011)
  26. "This group is meant to be a place where you can find a listing of recent postings in the other LJ Man From UNCLE communities. We try to include whatever we are aware of." from the profile, written by Periwinkle. profile (Accessed 6 June 2011)
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