The UNCLE Files 

The World of U.N.C.L.E.
TV WEEK May 21st, 1966 -TV WEEK
An agent visits a top-secret headquarters.

From our Hollywood office.U.N.C.L.E.'s HEADQUARTERS is reached on TV by entering a tailor shop, which is a "cover" for the organisation's labyrinthine spy control centre. There's no laundry decoy at M-G-M's Culver City, California, TV headquarters, but getting to the set of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. there is just as complicated. M-G-M has two huge backlots - mazes of open-air sets (which can provide any locale in the world) with papier mache scenery. Many of the sets have been there for more than 30 years - and they've yet to surrender to wear and tear."We, the men of U.N.C.L.E.," star Robert Vaughn told us with a pleasant grin, "are more than grateful to M-G-M for putting the world at our very doorstep. "I don't know what we would have done without them - and for that matter, without the new pictures they are continually producing."For many U.N.C.L.E. episodes use sets first made for M-G-M movies. A new U.N.C.L.E. episode, The Moon Glow Affair (sic), used Rod Taylor's lavish apartment built especially for the Taylor-Doris Day movie, The Glass Bottom Boat. The movie had hardly been completed when U.N.C.L.E. moved in.A week earlier, U.N.C.L.E. was a tenant of a beautiful old convent which served as main set in the new Debbie Reynolds movie, The Singing Nun. Even Elvis Presley has helped U.N.C.L.E., which used a huge house trailer and a number of cars from his Harum Scarum film. "Fans often write us to say how impressed they are with our settings," Boris Ingster, producer of the tongue-in-cheek spy series, said. "Some openly wonder how it is possible for a mere television series to build such lavish sets. Well, it's very simple, really. We borrow - from our movie brothers." The "borrowing" is rather clever. "Our writers continually snoop around the movie lot," Boris said. "They drop in on pictures in production and 'case' every sound stage."On one occasion a papier mache grotto which cost a pretty penny was written off as part of a cancelled movie's budget, but U.N.C.L.E. got it for free. The grotto played an important part in a recent episode. "It really isn't that difficult to fit an U.N.C.L.E. story into existing sets. "After all, the plot can apply equally well to New York or Paris, a desert island or an ocean liner."Once studio chiefs set down that the world of U.N.C.L.E. would be made on M-G-M sets. it made life relatively easy for all concerned with the series. "We know for sure that we never shoot anywhere else but here," Boris said. "No location filming, no travelling to Arizona or Utah, or what have you."Our schedules are simple. Everything is done at home. And while we use every conceivable setting, it's always something that really existed before the episode was put on paper. Nothing is built especially for U.N.C.L.E."Boris calls it "borrowing." Movie producers, often upset that an expensive set is seen on television before the movie it was built for, call it "stealing." But the practice has the full blessing of the studio front office. "We save thousands of dollars weekly," a studio executive said. "Who will argue with that?"Even with all this borrowing, a weekly episode of U.N.C.L.E. costs Arena Productions, M-G-M's television branch, a hefty $150,000.It takes six shooting days to film a single one-hour episode. The producers "wrap one up" one evening and start production of the next the following morning."Ours is what we call back-to-back shooting," U.N.C.L.E. executive Chuck Painter explained. "There is no time to waste on rehearsals or preparations of any other kind. We start filming on the first morning and we rehearse and immediately film sequence after sequence. Our daily quota is 14 pages of script."The series uses a dozen or more different directors, even though it has only one cameraman. The directors get one week to prepare. Many different writers are used, but the favorites are Dean Hargrove, Peter Fields and Robert Hill, all young men."They're a great bunch of day-dreamers," Boris said.Dozens of scripts also are received weekly from television fans, but they're not even opened. The sealed envelopes are returned to the sender with an explanation that scripts can only be considered if submitted through an authorised literary agent."This is to protect ourselves against authors who may claim in court that we have stolen their ideas," Boris Ingster said. "But the studio has bought some scripts from outsiders."Since the inception of U.N.C.L.E., 59 one-hour episodes already have been filmed. More are in the works. Is any change of format planned? "Not on your life," Boris said. "We're changing nothing. Why should we?"And, indeed, why should they? The series has made more money for M-G-M than all the other TV series that have come off the giant movie lot put together. But then, by now it's like a well broken-in automobile. It's getting the maximum mileage out of its budget and the system is now perfect.There are only two permanent sets, the U.N.C.L.E. headquarters on Stage No. 10, and THRUSH headquarters on Stage No. 18.U.N.C.L.E. is next door to Blair Hospital, of the Kildare series. Every so often, the doctors invade U.N.C.L.E. and vice-versa.The only regulars in the U.N.C.L.E. series are three men - Mr. Waverly (Leo G. Carroll), Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) and Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum). The various girl secretaries at U.N.C.L.E. headquarters may look to viewers as though they are regulars, but they are not. "We try never to use the same girl twice," Chuck Painter said. Their qualifications: to look pretty. The lines are few and unimportant. On the other hand, THRUSH agents have been repeated time and again, the reason being that villainous types are the busiest actors in Hollywood today. "We have to call them back, slap a moustache on them and again put them before the camera," Chuck said. "Occasionally we don't even try to camouflage the guys. Who'll remember, anyway? "At least one bit-player has the distinction of having been bumped off eight times in that many episodes of U.N.C.L.E." (Credit: Solovision.)

A DAY ON THE SET WITH UK PHOTOPLAY by Marcia Borie Gaining admission to the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer sound-stage where "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." is filmed is about as easy as being left along with the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London!  Currently one of the most popular television series on both sides of the Atlantic, the stars of "U.N.C.L.E." Robert Vaughn and David McCallum are the darlings of millions.  Every visitor to Metro eagerly requests a tour of the soundstages where David and Robert are busily filming.  At first, authorised studio guests were permitted to visit the U.N.C.L.E. men. Lately things have got out of hand.  Consequently, an armed guard is posted and only cast, crew and a few select guests and journalists are privileged to enter the "inner sanctum."  If you could spend a typical working day with Vaughn, McCallum, Leo G. Carroll and the rest of the cast and crew, it would begin very early in the morning.  You'd arrive at the East Gate and be greeted by M.G.M.'s most popular police officer, Mr. Kenneth Hollywood.  A studio guard for more than twenty years, Mr. Hollywood has his own claim to fame -- the most apropos name in all the film industry.  Since both David and Robert live in the same Hollywood Hills area, they each leave home around six-thirty a.m. in order to arrive on set by seven, or seven-fifteen the latest.  Because this year's "Man From U.N.C.L.E." shows are being filmed in colour, the make-up process takes a bit longer.  Both men, as well as Leo G. Carroll (he usually works two days a week) go from make-up to their respective portable dressing-rooms where they study their lines or just restuntil they are called before the cameras -- usually by the assistant director. The normal crew for a television show consists of about thirty-eight highly skilled men and women who handle every phase of the behind-the-scenes production.  However, because U.N.C.L.E. is such a technically complicated show, the crew often numbers sixty. It's a happy, smooth-working company -- kept alert not only by their keen interest in the show but also by a huge silver coffee urn which bubbles forth hot "java" continuously. Actually filming gets underway around nine a.m.  If they are doing indoor scenes, Robert and David can be found on one of the three permanent stages devoted exclusively to the show. Just as "Dr. Kildare," which is filmed on the same M.G.M. lot, has its Blair General Hospital set and operating rooms, so, too, places such as the U.N.C.L.E. headquarters, and Mr. Waverly's office are on stationary sets. No American TV series utilises more bizarre or exotic settings than does U.N.C.L.E.  Therefore one is apt to walk on set and find a huge vat full of oatmeal (in which Illya or Napoleon is about to thrust by a member of THRUSH) or else a medieval torture chamber, an underground cave -- you name it and if it's a far-out and unique you'll find it on the U.N.C.L.E. soundstage. If you happen to visit on a day when the company is out-doors, you will go to either Lot 2 or Lot 3 depending on the outdoor sequence.  Lot 2 houses among other things a complete arsenal of weapons and a collection of World War II planes.  Lot 3 has large lakes, rivers, park areas, stretches of lawn and dirt roads, hills, flat places, valleys.  Any country or rural terrain can be and has been duplicated on M.G.M. Lot 3...  Each show is prepared for a six-day filming schedule and therefore careful attention is paid to detail -- nothing is left to chance.  Both stars and behind-the-scenes people work quickly, quietly, efficiently, all pulling together like some marvellously well-trained team. After a busy morning's work, the company usually breaks for lunch around one.  Often both Robert Vaughn and David McCallum have press interviews.  On such days the stars greet their respective reporters in the special Executive Dining Area called the Walnut Room, located in the rear of the huge building housing the main studio commissary which seats three hundred people. Incidentally, as a visitor the U.N.C.L.E. company you'd most probably want to order something for lunch in keeping with the mood.  The M.G.M.  menu features many dishes named for the studio's top stars -- for instance, a most popular dish is the Richard Chamberlain Salad.  But on this day you'd probably find yourself ordering either a Robert Vaughn Sandwich (hot pastrami on pumpernickel bread), or a David McCallum Special (a sliced chicken and avocado sandwich)... Usually, if either has a luncheon appointment, they spend the hour relaxing in their respective dressing-rooms.  Both Bob and David have two sets of dressing-rooms: the portable type which follows them on to the specific stage where they are filming, plus permanent dressing-rooms (Bob has number 14, David number 8) located in a special building right above the rehearsal hall which Elvis Presley uses when he's at M.G.M. The company resumes filming promptly at 2 p.m. and continues on to at least 6 -- sometimes until 6:30.  On days when sequences requiring night time backgrounds are being filmed, the stars don't usually come in until 11 a.m. -- but then they work clear through until midnight. In between scenes, both David and Robert are the quiet types -- each prefers to spend any free time studying lines, reading, signing fan photos, or just relaxing.  On set, McCallum's portable dressing-room and Vaughn's always are adjoining.  The rooms are identical and only the personal touches of each man sets them apart -- of course, each has a brass name plate on his door.  David's reads: ILLYA; Robert's says: MR. VAUGHN.  The two stars, who are working closely together for the second year, are quite friendly on the set but rarely see each other away from the studio.  Bachelor Vaughn and happily married David McCallum lead quite varied lives away from the studio.  Especially David.  His wife, actress Jill Ireland, and their three sons, Paul, Jason and Valentine, are very much a close family unit...  Incidentally, while Robert always has had a large, framed portrait of his girl-friend Joyce Jameson in his dressing-room, David only recently "decorated" his room with a lovely candid photo of Jill and one of the boys which he took himself.  He's most reserved about his family and very seldom discusses them for publication.  This is only because his inherent British reserve makes it difficult for him to talk casually about his family -- the most important people in his life. Despite both Vaughn and McCallum being the quiet types, they are extremely warm and friendly with their co-workers.  Neither puts on any airs.  At the end of the day, Robert leaves the studio in his black Lincoln convertible, while David goes home in his shiny new Corvette. If you've been lucky enough to have visited them for the day, you also leave via M.G.M.'s East Gate -- happier for having spent some very special hours with U.N.C.L.E.

robert vaughn discusses u.n.c.l.e.

The  U.N.C.L.E. bumper sticker

This is the few bumper stickers that was issued by the studio during the production of the series. It appeared frequently on the cars of the cast and crew around Los Angeles. Executive producer, Norman Felton's bumper was completely covered with them. Below it's prominently seen on the cover of the second Montenegro soundtrack album. 

Interoffice memos

These interoffice memos written during the production of the U.N.C.L.E. TV series gives a rare insight into the trials and tribulations faced by the filmmakers.

Subject: Thrush

Before the internet, each studio had a research department that was fully staffed and filled with news article from around the world covering every subject imaginable. Of course that kind of information is just a click away now but during the production of U.N.C.L.E. official requests had to be written out for the staff to research specific requests made by the U.N.C.L.E. crew. Here is a sample of the requests made throughout the series which are very enlightening in regards to the series development. More to come.

research department

exterior of del floria's tailor shop

Introduce in the pilot this exterior was featured throughout the entire series. Mid way through the third season this block burned down and plans were made to chose another exterior on the lot for Del Floria's but they were abandoned when it was decided to rely on stock footage fro earlier shows to maintain it's original look.

u.n.c.l.e. new york hq

Based on a set originated on "The Outer Limits" to keep the costs down for the pilot this iconic version of U.N.C.L.E. HQ was permanently house on stage #10 and was seen throughout the first three seasons.

the circular house / suite

This impressive set was used through out second and third season for many different locations. Here it is seen as Strago's Island compound in "The Concrete Overcoat Affair".

the u.n.c.l.e. record section

Added during the fourth season, this served as Lisa Roger's, Mr. Waverly's personal secretary, office. It was accessed through a door leading to the main hall and was also connected directly to Mr. Waverly's office. Here it is seen in the "Deadly Quest Affair".

Mr. Waverly's command Console

Introduced in the third season it featured a row of sequential blinking neon tubes.

One of the most important elements of any production are the blueprints created in the art department for the craftsmen to follow in the creation of the sets. Under the guidance of  George W. Davis,  James W. Sullivan and Merrill Pye the draftsmen at the MGM art department, week after week, created some of the most outstanding sets on television at that time. Here is a selection of blueprints from the MGM art department that reveal the size and scope of these projects as well as little known behind the scenes details.

The original series was shot in Culver City at the world famous MGM studios which is now owned by Sony Pictures. Though the back lots have been replaced by condos, much of the original lot one U.N.C.L.E. locations still exist today. Above is the original MGM main gate as it looked during the 1960's. The office building in the middle of the photo is where the main production offices for U.N.C.L.E. were. Ironically the guard at this gate was named Ken Hollywood, a genial and kind gentleman.



Solo and Illya's adventures took them around the world....... without ever leaving the MGM backlot most of the time. Here is an amazing overview of the studio and it's backlots, which covers many of the sets used by U.N.C.L.E. .

Available at Amazon