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.

5 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” . . .

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