The Squee Heard Round the World

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Title: The Squee Heard Round the World
Creator: C. W. Walker
Date(s): posted in September 22, 2012, but written "several years earlier"
Medium: online
Fandom: Man from U.N.C.L.E.
External Links: The Squee Heard Round the World, Archived version
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The Squee Heard Round the World is an Man from U.N.C.L.E. essay by C. W. Walker.


It's so difficult to recreate what it was almost 50 years ago. There was no internet obviously, but also no DVDs no VCRs, no cable (except in rural areas) no cable networks, no IM, no cell phones. The portable radios were tinny transistor types. Music came on records. There were only three networks and in some parts of the US, less than that.

Most houses had one black and white set, usually controlled by the father of the house. If you wanted to watch a program, you had to negotiate with Dad.

One. Television. Set. Our lifeline to the rest of the world.

In the early morning and on Saturdays, there was children's programming. Prime Time (which began at 7:30 EST) was for "the family." Most of it was nice, bland, unexciting. We didn't mind going to bed at 10 pm.

And then in 1964, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. appeared. It wasn't children's programming ---- these were grown up men --- but young people all over the US and eventually in other countries as well, most notably the UK and Japan, embraced it. It wasn't originally meant for us, but it was *ours* in a way programs had never been previously. TV Guide noted that there had been "nothing" like MFU before: the magazine called it "the mystic cult of millions." When MFU was on, the tv audience ---made up mostly of young folks from 12 through college age --- was comparable to the Super Bowl today.

And it was a huge cult. Millions of baby boomers sat glued to their tv sets each week, some attempting to record the shows on little reel to reel tape recorders, others taking notes, because the show was on only once a week and only half would be repeated in summer reruns. And there was no way to save it or watch it again. We burned each moment into our memories.

And in between, we played UNCLE, and talked UNCLE, and wrote UNCLE. (Or, as cesperanza so aptly puts it: we *performed* UNCLE). And bought the toys, the guns, the books, the bubblegum cards, the lunchboxes, the games, the school book covers. And went to the UNCLE movies. And screamed and moaned over and imitated the stars and hung their photos on our closet doors. And this was true for both boys and girls.

It was the Squee Heard Round the World.

David McCallum and Robert Vaughn were mobbed everywhere they went. And I mean *mobbed* in ways that are incomprehensible today. Even the Beatles fan-boyed them and in 1965, it didn't get much bigger than the Beatles.

And why not? The stars were the height of Cool: handsome, charismatic ---*sexy* ---at a time when no one talked about sex. Our parents didn't. Our teachers didn't. Books that weren't meant for us were locked up in the Adult Section of the library, where you weren't allowed to venture if you were under college age. Playboy was available but sold from under the counter. We weren't allowed to even see Bond movies. The married couples on tv slept in separate beds.

No one had sex. Except the Swedes. And possibly the Italians.

There's been a lot of talk on LJ lately about fandom history. Media fandom's roots go way back into SF fandom, which began in the 1930s. Trek arose from SF fandom, specifically the LASF wing.

But if Trek was the Big Bang, 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.

Yeah, I know. There were other objects of desire over the years: Sherlock Holmes, Lovecraft, Elvis, 50s Wrestling, The Honeymooners, Dr. Who, etc.

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.