How The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Changed My Life.

Bestselling author Linwood Barclay reveals the inspiration behind his decision to become an author – a certain show named The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

More than once I’ve been asked, which book, by which author, inspired you to be a writer? Great Expectations by Charles Dickens? The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle? No, wait, it had to be To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, right?

It wasn’t a book at all. It was a television show. And it was called The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

It was a spy show, and James Bond’s Ian Fleming was in on the early stages of its creation. It was a lighter version of 007. Every week, agents Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin of the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement thwarted THRUSH’s latest plan for world domination.

The show debuted on NBC in 1964 when I was nine, and I was instantly hooked. I bought the fan magazines, the toy guns, the board games, the paperback novels. (My mother confiscated one she deemed inappropriate; there was mention of a ‘naked woman.’) But all that wasn’t enough to satisfy my obsession. I needed more than an episode a week, and the only way to solve that problem was to create more adventures myself.

I wrote what today we call fan fiction. I asked my father to teach me how to type so I could crank out the stories more quickly, and crank them out I did. Around the age of eleven, I was writing U.N.C.L.E. novellas that were forty to fifty typed pages. I wrote seven or eight of them, plus, when I was in sixth grade, an actual TV script, which my parents mailed to the studio. (The producers sent back a wonderful rejection letter, plus personally signed photos of the stars, which I still have.)

That show imprinted itself on me. It kickstarted my imagination, which is why it still means so much to me and explains my excitement about the new movie, directed by Guy Ritchie.

It may not be the best flick of the year, but it’s the one I’ve most looked forward to (even more than the new Star Wars, which gives you an idea of my level of devotion). I loved it. It’s an origin story, designed to lead into a second movie, so I hope the box office is strong for that to happen. Critics have said it doesn’t have enough of the show’s familiar tropes – the Jerry Goldsmith theme, those triangular badges they had to wear at U.N.C.L.E. headquarters, the secret entry through Del Floria’s tailor shop – but that’s okay with me.

Ritchie’s movie has triggered a flood of memories. It’s taken me back to the time when I came to a youthful realization.

I wanted to write.


Linwood Barclay is the international bestselling author of critically acclaimed novels, including No Safe House, A Tap on the Window, and the number one bestseller No Time for Goodbye. His latest novel, Broken Promise, set in the claustrophobic small town of Promise Falls, is published on 10 September. For more information, visit Linwood’s website, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook.