50th Anniversary of The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.

The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. celebrates its 50th anniversary today. A spin-off of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., the spy series ran 29 episodes on NBC during the 1966-1967 season. You can find my article about the series here.

Stefanie Powers starred as April Dancer, the titular girl from U.N.C.L.E. Noel Harrison played Mark Slate, her British partner. Leo G. Carroll pulled double duty appearing as U.N.C.L.E. chief Alexander Waverly on both The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. and The Man from U.N.C.L.E..

The debut episode aired on Tuesday, September 13th, 1966 and involved April and Mark tracking down the antidote to a nasty new THRUSH drug that causes people to move in slow motion. The only problem? The antidote has been hidden on fleas living on a dog. From the start, viewers knew they were in for silly rather than serious.

Screenshot from the opening credits to The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.

In the opening credits, April appears to be carrying a purse
(Copyright © 1966, 1967 Turner Entertainment Co.)

Despite having owned the entire series on DVD for several years, I’ve only watched about half the episodes. It’s not a bad show. I don’t dislike it. I’m actually a big fan–although perhaps more of the concept than the actual series. The episodes seem fairly repetitive. I suppose I can only watch April impersonate someone or get captured and need rescuing so many times. I’m not familiar enough with The Man from U.N.C.L.E. to know whether it too was very formulaic. I imagine it was but without all the damsel in distress stereotype, unless Ilya regularly needed Napoleon Solo to rescue him.

Fashion But No Action

I wasn’t around in 1966, so I can only view The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. through a more modern perspective in which it features the same sort of general sexism seen in most network TV during the 1960s. It’s been years since I’ve watched any episodes but I don’t recall April using her gun much (if at all). Was she ever allowed to punch anyone? She probably kick a few THRUSH goons the same way Batgirl was able to kick villains on Batman.

Was the show a failure because viewers felt it was sexist? Too campy? Not campy enough? I’ve read how fans of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. despise it because it coincided with the “campy” season of that show. I’m not sure whether The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. is truly to blame if The Man from U.N.C.L.E. producers and/or NBC wanted to go after the Batman audience.

Screenshot from the closing credits to The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.

I’ve always wondered what exactly April is supposed to be doing in this shot.
(Copyright © 1966, 1967 Turner Entertainment Co.)

The pilot episode to the series aired in February 1966 as an episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.. It featured a different cast. Mary Ann Mobley played April Dancer. Norman Fell’s Mark Slate was much older and less British. I’ve never seen it but supposedly it featured a slightly more serious and self-sufficient April Dancer.

Collectibles, Collectibles, Collectibles

For a show that only lasted one season, The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. produced a surprising amount of memorabilia and collectibles. There were novels, comic books, toys, a soundtrack album, and a short-lived digest magazine.

Only two of the tie-in novels were published in the United States. I reviewed the first (The Birds of a Feather Affair) back in October 2009. I also reviewed the first issue of the digest magazine in August 2013. I’ve yet to purchase any of the tie-in comics but still hope to one day.

If you’ve read any of the comics, are they more like the novels, which featured serious plots, or as silly as the TV show? Also, if you watched The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. during its original NBC run, please share your reactions and any thoughts you have about why the show failed. I’m particularly interested in hearing how girls and women responded to the show. Were girls eager to dress up as April Dancer? Were women disgusted at how she was portrayed?

Hit the comments with your memories of The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.


6 Comments

  • Karen Martin says:

    I was eight years old when The Girl From Uncle premiered so I wasn’t an expert on whether secret agents were behaving in a sexist manner. But I do recall wondering why the show wasn’t called The Woman From Uncle.

    The girls I knew were more interested in Mark Slate than April Dancer. He was good looking and had a wonderful English accent — she was the female spy who got to work with him. I don’t remember any specific episodes, just that I considered it fun to watch. Back when I was eight I may not have always understood whether scenes were meant to be taken seriously or tongue-in-cheek.

  • Hal says:

    Being up against DAKTARI, which unlike BATMAN even improved on its fast start during 1966-67 (7th overall out of 113 shows), didn’t help. Also, the MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. itself started to fade that fall, dropping to 46th in the ratings by season’s end.

  • Jon says:

    I only recall seeing part of 1 episode of this show once. Back when it showed classic tv shows, TV Land ran an early episode of this series, “The Mother Muffin Affair”, which I only remember because it had Boris Karloff playing Mother Muffin in drag, probably the only time in his long career when he put on a dress.

    • Jon says:

      I did get to see the MAN FROM UNCLE episode that introduced April Dancer & Mark Slate awhile back on Me-TV. I don’t remember much about it other than Mary Ann Mobley & Norman Fell played the parts pretty seriously, compared to how the characters were in GIRL FROM UNCLE.

    • Evan Stansbury says:

      This was a pretty good episode. I believe TV Guide ran an article on it that week promoting it. Another episode featuring Sonny and Cher (!) had a catchy tune with lyrics that went something like ‘Oy! … Oy! … Oy! My Bulgarian Baby Boy,’ (repeat ad Infinitum!)

  • Neville Ross says:

    This show does not deserve celebrating its anniversary, at all-it was a POS, and then some (the two novels that were released in North America are the only good things about it, and that’s really saying something, mostly because they were more serious than the show itself, although both were full of racial stereotypes [the Sikh guy in novel #1 and the deception of the Mau Mau in novel #2].) Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., to list one recent example, has better female characters (Daisy Johnston, Jemma Simmons, and Melinda May, each agents of the agency in question) and none of them act like April did on the show (and before you blast me, I’m familiar with 60’s TV, and the brave women that were on a few of the spy shows, all of whom blow April Dancer and The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. out of the water.)

    To prove my point about Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., here’s an article about one of its best recent episodes: Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. delivers a “trust no one” mystery and a near-flawless episode

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