by David Lang
The Canadian Press (Sept. 22, 1989)

Television's favorite UNCLE is turning 25. The Man From UNCLE had its premiere on NBC on Sept. 22, 1964, pitting superspies Napoleon Solo and his Soviet-born partner Illya Kuryakin against the evil organization Thrush and its plots against mankind. Robert Vaughn played Solo in the hour-long show, with David McCallum as Kuryakin and the late Leo Carroll as Mr. Waverly, head of the United Network Command for Law Enforcement. the show featured such gadgets as a cigarette package that was really a radio and a pistol that could be converted into a rifle, and guest stars ranging from veteran actors Vincent Price and Jpan Crawford to singers Nancy Sinatra and Sonny and Cher. It was the first TV series to cpitalize on the spy craze set off by the 1963 release of the original James Bond movie, Dr. No.

In fact, Bond creator Ian Fleming had a hand in the birth of the TV show. He suggested the name Napoleon Solo and drafted a background sketch of the character for Norman Felton, executive producer of the series.

But it was writer-producer Sam Rolfe who dreamed up UNCLE, Thrush and other elements of the show, such as hiding UNCLE headquarters behind a tailor shop.

Although he first appeared in the Solo role a quarter of a century ago, Vaughn, now 57, says it doesn't seem as if so many years have passed.

"Not at all, because it's constantly in rerun around the East Coast and also my children are looking all the tapes I have of all the shows", Vaughn said from his Connecticut home. "And the fact that we did the revival a few years back puts it all pretty much still in the present," he added, referring the the Return of the Man From UNCLE, a 1993 TV movie. McCallum, who turns 57 this month, said ardent UNCLE fans won't let him forget the series.

"People are constantly stopping me and being very kind on the street and saying how much they enjoyed it, as if it were yesterday," he said from his New York home.

Vaughn said the show was popular because it offered light, escapist entertainment - "A James Bond movie every night" - while McCallum said simply: "I think we must have entertained an awful lot of people."

They still do. The CBC ran first-season UNCLE episodes last year and the TNT cable network in the United States is currently airing the series, although Vaughn said he sees only sporadic royalties from the show.

The series was also chronicled in the Man From UNCLE book by Jon Heitland published in 1987. Fan clubs still exist, and some fans are even writing their own spy fiction. One is Winona Kent of Burnaby, B.C. whose fist published book, Skywatcher, is about a man who played a spy on television 20 years ago and goes to Vancouver to make a movie. "It's not about UNCLE, but it's UNCLE-ish," Kent said, explaining it uses some of her favorite elements of the show.

In 1964 UNCLE started slowly, but by the beginning of the second season it had jumped to 13th spot in the ratings. It was so popular that in 1966 The girl from UNCLE(staring Stephanie Powers) appered. But the two shows strayed too far into comedy, ratings plunged and Girl was cancelled after one year. Man struggled on another half-season before cancellation in January 1968 after 105 episodes. Since playing the dashing leading man in UNCLE, Vaughn has concentrated on doing villains, ranging from the bad guy in Superman III to his Emmy-winning performance as a top White House aide i the 1977 mini-series Washington: Behind Closed Doors. He also appeared in the series Emerald Point and the A-Team. Vaughn's most recent TV appearance had him saving people's hair - as the host of an hour-long commercial for a hair-restoring formula. McCallum also hasn't felt type-cast, but he betrays a little frustration with fans who remember only the '60s spy show.

"UNCLE was a wonderful time of my life but it was 25 years ago and you must get on with the rest of your life," he said, pointing out he has done lots of other screen work. That work includes the mini-series Colditz and Kidnapped, leads in The Invisible Man, and Sapphire and Steel TV series.