Bookshelf: The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. #1 – The Birds of a Feather Affair

The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. #1 – “The Birds of a Feather Affair”
By Michael Avallone
First Published September 1966
Published by Signet Books
128 Pages

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a big fan of The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. (you can read my article about the series here and my review of the show’s soundtrack from Varase Sarabande here) so its about time I got around to reviewing one of the five tie-in novels connected to the series.

Only two novels were published in the United States with three others only seeing print in the United Kingdom (plus one duplicate).

Here’s a nifty chart:

United States

#1 The Birds of a Feather Affair by Michael Avallone
#2 The Blazing Affair by Michael Avallone

United Kingdom

#1 The Global Globules Affair by Simon Latter
#2 The Birds of a Feather Affair by Michael Avallone
#3 The Golden Boats of Taradata Affair by Simon Latter
#4 The Cornish Pixie Affair by Peter Leslie

I’ve only read the first novel published in the United States but hope to eventually read all the others. Unfortunately, the three novels only published in the United Kingdom can be pricey. The Birds of a Feather Affair is easily one of my favorite tie-in novels of all time and not just because it’s a bit racy. The story is engaging and more serious than most episodes of the show itself. I actually have two copies of The Birds of a Feather Affair, one of which is in pretty sad shape. Someone traced the U.N.C.L.E. logo in pencil over and over again. And it is creased quite nicely. Notice that Stefanie Powers’ name is spelled incorrectly as Stephanie Powers on the cover.

In my review of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. #3 – The Copenhagen Affair I mentioned the story was somewhat more violent than the television show. With The Birds of a Feather Affair it’s not just the violence that has been altered. Poor April Dancer spends some twenty pages in her underwear after being captured by THRUSH agents and stripped of any weaponry or possible piece of U.N.C.L.E. technology (including a specially designed under wire). And for some reason, on a handful of occasions April takes the time to notice how attractive one of her THRUSH adversaries is:

The redhead moved ahead. Tall, vibrant and athletic. Her figure was enviable. April shook her head, watching the sensuous twitch of buttocks beneath the beige skirt. The legs were superb, too. Miss Van Atta was a body built for bed.

Still, although more risque than the television series, The Birds of a Feather Affair isn’t all that adult. Sure, April alludes to Mark Slate’s way with the ladies in a roundabout fashion and she wears a few skimpy dresses, but that’s about it. Like the show, though, the novel is fairly sexist. April is a woman first and an U.N.C.L.E. agent second, having only one speciality that male agents like Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuyankin don’t have: “If a female enemy agent walked into the powder room, April Dancer could follow her.” She does handle a gun like a pro, though, and saves plenty of lives.

Scan of the front cover to The Birds of a Feather Affair by Michael Avallone
Front cover to The Birds of a Feather Affair by Michael Avallone
Copyright 1966 by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc.

The novel opens with April awkwardly perched on the ledge of a building in high heels, wrapping up a mission. She is then asked to swing by Mark’s apartment. She doesn’t find him but instead encounters a lovely red head and a deadly snake. She kills the snake and suspects the woman but unfortunately she is soon knocked out and captured by the woman and a pair of her associates. All THRUSH. She awakens, sans clothes, next to Mark. They’ve been abducted by THRUSH to be used as bargaining chips for a scientist named Alek Zorki held by U.N.C.L.E.

Mark and April are able to blow a hole in the wall of their prison cell using explosive scrapped off their toenails (U.N.C.L.E. thinks of everything) but during the ensuing confusion Mark is captured again while April is left to die when the hallway she is in explodes. She finds a woman named Joanna Paula Jones stuffed in a locker, pulls her out and then prepares them both by filling the hallway with water. It successfully absorbs much of the explosion but the two are thrown out of the building.

Scan of the back cover to The Birds of a Feather Affair by Michael Avallone
Back cover to The Birds of a Feather Affair by Michael Avallone
Copyright 1966 by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc.

April makes her way back to U.N.C.L.E. headquarters, helps free Mark from the clutches of the sadistic Miss Van Atta, returns to headquarters, meets up with Joanna again and then helps hunt down Zorki and a traitorous U.N.C.L.E. agent as they attempt to escape via a helicopter on the roof. Both are killed and April takes Joanna back to her apartment for the night. Unfortunately, they run into the female THRUSH agent (who masqueraded as a man) who oversaw the attempt to get Zorki back. She kills Joanna and then escapes, leaving April inconsolable (she sits down and has “a good, long woman’s cry” before berating herself for being female).

As someone who likes The Girl from U.N.C.L.E., The Birds of a Feather Affair was a fun read and the blatant sexism was easily ignored as a product of its time. And though April may be a woman, she’s still a stellar and deadly agent.

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7 Replies to “Bookshelf: The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. #1 – The Birds of a Feather Affair”

  1. Apparently “THE GIRL FROM U.N.C.L.E.” had a bigger “fan base” in Europe than stateside, as four paperback novels were published there (three by English writers). The series lasted just one season (29 episodes) on NBC’s 1966-’67 schedule [Tuesdays, 7:30-8:30pm(et), opposite CBS’ “DAKTARI” and ABC’s “COMBAT!”], in an attempt to capitalize on the “parent” series. It played overseas in repeats for years- more than most American stations scheduled.

    Yes, April Dancer comes across as more “responsible” in her job than most of her TV counterparts {“HONEY WEST”, for one}, but, as you’ve mentioned, ‘RGJ’, she’s still “treated as a woman” in certain instances [the male readers were “expected” to visualize those scenes where she’s in her “underwear”, or stark naked]. The passage where April “sizes up” her T.H.R.U.S.H. counterpart might also be interpreted as a hint of soft-core “lesbianism”…something that could NEVER occur on television. And when April grieves over the loss of her new-found friend Joanna, that could also be a sign that April herself might be attracted, if the right one came along, to those of her own sex {either she’s “bereating herself for being female” due to her BEING a secret agent that causes her to lose more darn potential friends that way- OR….cursing herself for being attracted to those with warm friendship and “hot bodies”}. So, in that perspective, the novel is definitely more “adult” than a typical TV episode.

  2. On the other hand, at least in the novel April was able to use a gun. Like Batgirl and any female red shirts on Star Trek, April was seemingly never allowed to actually shoot anyone or even punch someone. It was always high kicks or else Mark was the one doing the shooting.

  3. True. NBC and MGM Television didn’t want April Dancer to be “too independent” on TV, unlike a certain widow involved with a natty gentleman wearing a bowler and carrying an umbrella on British TV, which was between seasons in the U.S. on ABC at the time “THE GIRL FROM U.N.C.L.E” premiered. The response to the other show was one of the reasons why April Dancer never saw a second season. Who could take HER seriously when…..?

  4. The original pilot for GfU, “The Moonglow Affair,” was written by regular scribe Dean Hargrove, and featured Mary Ann Mobley, the former Miss America, as a feminine but not at all ditzy April Dancer; and Norman Fell (later on “The Ropers”) as Mark Slate, a dour, experienced agent pushing 40. It would have made for a much better dynamic between the two leads, a father/daughter kind of vibe, than the brother/sister flavor we got from Powers and Noel Harrison. Alas, the network wanted to be “hip” . . .

  5. I’m really discovering your great locations late, but still want to thank you for all this. I “mailed” a note just now but am under the impression that it did not get out. So this second try explains why you might get two.
    I’ve been combing our University (WA) area second hand shops for UNCLE PBs and related materials and found your novel easily enough . May be on the trail of the other (US) edition too.
    Easier access now than ever to the SpyFi and Bondy small screeners and have majorly enjoyed WILD WEST, AVENGERS, SEARCH, and even as a Burkes Law fan, A MOS BURKE SECRET AGENT despite latters high fatality rate.
    At first I wished that the UNCLE shows were less jokey and more edge of seat like their peers, but after reading the UNCLE GIRL novel and finding the nasty slaying of Aprils little groupie, I’ve repented. Nothing like that on the TV shows (may need to X reference the UNCLE MAN tale “Off Broadway Affair” where a beautiful young woman makes a panic call to UNCLE HQ before credits roll… Her fate is off camera and she’s never mentioned again. Its never revealed if she’s an agent or not. . .)
    Appreciate the examination of the sexuality in the text. I missed it the first time but I’m a big boy now

    An AMOS BURKE I found on You Tube provided another “start” —- I know the show is fatality prone but my guard was down. The villain is Albert Paulsen here. Halfway into the show he apparently kills Amos’ perky lil’ agent trainee. There’s no acknowledgement of her fate later. I get a bit grumpy about those things.

  6. I first read this book as a teenager when I already had a crush on April Dancer (Stefanie Powers) from the T.V. show. From what I remember, most of the boys in my class had a crush on April and most of the girls wanted to be her (not Emma Peel, interestingly).
    I have recently re-read the book and it is certainly more graphic than the T.V. show, with April actually killing a man by page 13.
    April then runs into a female THRUSH agent called Arnolda Van Atta who injects a knock-out serum into April Dancer’s hand, causing The Girl from U.N.C.L.E to faint. April is kidnapped and wakes up some time later, a prisoner. She soon realises that while she has been unconscious, Van Atta has stripped April Dancer down to her black silk frilly panties and bra, on the premise that April’s clothes might contain gadgets. April is left in her bra and panties for several pages before realising that the THRUSH agents have left her for dead as a bomb has been left in the building. She then meets Joanna Paula Jones from Naval Intelligence and then April has the inspired idea of flooding their prison to deaden the explosion, which it does. However, the two girls become separated and as April is carried along by the water, she hits her head on a hard object and April Dancer is knocked unconscious again!
    April regains consciousness sometime later and wearing some ill-fitting clothes she got from a THRUSH agent she killed, makes her way back to H.Q.
    From then on the bodies pile up, both good guys and bad, although I don’t think there was a real reason to kill Joanna Paula Jones near the end of the book. Finally, the major villain, Egret slips through April’s hands and escapes.
    We actually find out a lot about April in the book, that we didn’t on the T.V. Series. She was born in Old Orchard, a coastal town in Maine, her parents had been well-off but were now both dead, her father Frederick Dancer, who was a colonel in the army had been killed in the early days of the Vietnam war and her mother had passed just two months later, leaving April an orphan( presumably in her late teens). She was also well read and a lover of art. She also admired and was slightly jealous of Arnolda Van Atta’s figure while her emotions got the better of her as she wept openly over the death of Joanna Paula Jones, something she had not done since the death of her father. Also mentioned was she saw Mark as an older brother, while we find Mark liked fast cars and even faster women and April and Mark had never even discussed sex, let alone indulged.
    Not when I first read this, but now I wonder if there were feelings between Van Atta and April as April admired her figure and Van Atta was rather keen to strip an unconscious April Dancer down to her frilly panties and bra.
    Finally, the book finds its place in history, not only with mention of the Vietnam war but also that Mark never taught April the full lyrics to ‘I wanna hold your hand’ by the Beatles and Joanna Paula Jones found Mark ‘groovy’.

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