rallamajoop: (muncle)
[personal profile] rallamajoop
Back during my very first viewing of UNCLE's first season, I made an off-hand joke after watching (and, I must say, thoroughly enjoying) the infamous Bow Wow Affair about Illya "having to maintain his team's mandatory heterosexuality quota in Napoleon's absence". If you've read A Unified Theory of UNCLE (and if you haven't, you probably ought to do that before reading the notes below) you already have an inkling how far that idea snowballed.

Inspiration for the rest of the story came from various sources, split between other details that amused me about this show and numerous tidbits of real history. Actually, writing this fic became my excuse to read up on a whole wealth of interesting queer history and espionage-related subjects which I knew about only in passing going in. Since only a minority of all that was ever going to make it into the fic in any form, I'm taking this excuse to share a bit more about the real history I got to read up on, and plus plenty of links to more.

Some notes on history

It is, of course, 100% true that the US military spent much of the 50's and 60's researching chemical methods of non-lethal incapacitation. It's also 100% true that the US military once greenlit the infamous 'gay bomb' project, intended to sow discord among enemy troops by drenching them in female sex hormones – though that particular brainwave actually dates to the 90's rather than the 60's or before. Naturally, the press had a field day when the project was revealed to the public by a Freedom of Information request back in 2007, and much mocking and hilarity ensued. The 'gay bomb' project was even awarded the Ig Nobel Prize for Peace for that year.

The slightly-less-exciting reality is that the original proposal only raised the possibility of chemicals that "caused homosexual behaviour" as one example among a variety of potential "Harassing, Annoying, and 'Bad Guy' Identifying Chemicals" that the military might want to look into developing. Other suggestions included compounds would attract annoying insects or produce chronic halitosis (nope, didn't make that part up either), which probably does shed some light on how it ever got approved to begin with. Whether the military ever dedicated any real research dollars to to bringing that particular 'harassing agent' to life is much less clear, but the mere fact it got anywhere at all is still, you must admit, pretty damn funny.

Most of the real incapacitating agents examined by the military in the 50's-60's were more conventional psychoactive drugs, on the premise that no enemy would be at their best while doped up to the gills or tripping out of their skulls. Though the program appears to have been fundamentally well-intended, controversies and conspiracy theories surround it to this day. The testing of chemical weapons (even theoretically non-lethal ones) is always going to make people nervous, and for good reason, though it probably didn't help that a lot how this went down in practice involved dosing volunteer servicemen with LSD or synthetic marijuana and recording (in very serious scientific language) exactly how they behaved. The project never did produce an agent that would work reliably in the field, though the researchers involved were, at the very least, a lot more rigorous and ethical about it all than the CIA, who spent the same period testing some of the same substances by far less ethical means. For a fairly sympathetic insider's view of the military program, the most accessible source seems to be Dr James E. Ketchum – I'd recommend the articles Synthetic Pot as a Military Weapon? Meet the Man Who Ran the Secret Program and Hallucinogenic Weapons: The Other Chemical Warfare, or if you want more detail, his self-published book Chemical Warfare: Secrets Almost Forgotten.

If the idea of a military plot to weaponise homophobia feels almost as if it ought to hail from he Cold War era, that may be because in no other era did the existence of gay servicemen (and women) come under such scrutiny, or inspire so much fear. As outsiders to the mainstream social order and 'natural' spies, forced to construct largely falsified cover identities just to fit in, homosexuals were both vulnerable to blackmail and perceived as ready targets for conversion to alternate philosophies like communism. Some of the more amusingly ridiculous voices of the period went so far as to posit the existence of a sinister 'Homosexual International' conspiracy, which had infiltrated governments around the world. Though the resulting 'Lavender Scare' has been largely forgotten by history, it's been estimated the number of LGBT victims who lost their jobs in the witch hunts of the period far exceeds those thrown out for being 'reds'. In fact, the whole subject of "gay, communist spies" (imaginary or otherwise) turned out to be so complicated and have so many facets of fascinating history that I fell down quite the research rabbit hole last year, and wrote up a whole post about the topic, with a whole bibliography of links to more.

One of the wilder true-facts about the history of espionage that didn't fit into that post was the existence of the Baker Street Irregulars, whom Waverly mentions in passing in the story. Quite apart from the obvious Sherlock Holmes reference, the Irregulars were a genuine subset of the British Special Operations Executive during WWII, so named because their headquarters was at 64 Baker St, though perhaps also because some of the best-known people recruited were (or would go on to become) writers, actors and playwrights such as Roald Dahl, Noel Coward and Leslie Howard (Ian Fleming, meanwhile, was largely stuck with a desk job at naval intelligence, but used to regularly liaise with SOE, and made great use of it for inspiration). Their job, however, was not to spy on Axis powers, but to drum up support for America's entry to the war, report on prominent voices in opposition, and undermine those same voices by any means necessary. In practice, this meant writing propaganda and hobnobbing with a lot of American society folks and politicians, though also (in at least a few notable cases) sleeping with a lot of society women in order to divert suspicion about their real jobs, or get close to important targets. Not only was this all approved by their superiors, Roald Dahl (who reputedly slept around so widely that even Napoleon might have thought it a bit much) was reportedly once ordered almost point-blank to "lie back and think of England" when he protested about one particular paramour's exhausting sexual appetite. Remarkably, it seems Fleming really wasn't making it all up wholesale when he created the James Bond character.

Writing this fic was also my excuse to track down and read (most of) the original Kinsey Reports – nominally so I could have Illya and Napoleon quote a statistic or two at appropriate points in their dialogue, though as much out of general curiosity. For the unfamiliar, the Kinsey Reports, originally published in 1948 and 1953, represent probably the first real attempt to produce a rigourous and candid study of human sexual behaviour, based upon tens of thousands of interviews with American subjects of all classes, genders, ages and several religions (race was originally excluded simply for lack of data – tens of thousands more interviews would be needed to produce a representative sample). Nowadays, the reports are remembered primarily for their salacious revelations about homosexual behaviour, and particularly for first coining the Kinsey Scale. In fact, homosexual behaviour in fact makes up only one topic among many – a subject's 'total sexual outlet' also included marital, extra-marital (with peers or prostitutes), pre-marital, 'petting' (ie, anything up to third base), masturbatory, 'nocturnal emissions', and even bestial – and the data revealed a wide (and, for those times, often scandalous) range of behaviour on every front. There's some truly fascinating stuff buried in Kinsey's analyses, particularly regarding how people of different classes and backgrounds thought about the subject of sex, and sitting in my drafts folder is a whole post halfway-written about some of the most interesting bits, though heaven knows if I'm ever likely to finish it. Suffice to say that for their age and length, the reports are surprisingly readable, and there's a lot in there that I'm sure would still turn heads today. (Fun fact: Kinsey is apparently also responsible for giving the world the term 'missionary position', though only because he'd misunderstood the original context. Additional fun fact: Leo G. Carroll starred in a 1961 film called "1+1: Exploring The Kinsey Reports", in which he delivers a lecture on Kinsey's findings, inspiring his audience to come to various conclusions about their own sex lives, though all such conclusions apparently remain heterosexual in nature. It was still only 1961, after all.)

To finish on a lighter bit of true history, covering one incident of attempted homosexual persecution which backfired spectacularly on those at the helm, I would recommend a little reading on the Newport Sex Scandal of 1919. This, in brief, is the tale of how a couple of naval officers took violent offense to the vibrant and remarkably open gay community of Newport, and decided the best way to clean up the scene lay in basically pimping out a large crew of attractive young navy men in the name of gathering 'evidence' of what was really going on, little realising, 1) how enthusiastic some of those men might become about gathering that evidence, or 2) and far more crucially, just how bad this would look to the public when it all came out in court. And for once, in its way, justice was served.

Some notes on UNCLE canon

Most of the rest of the ideas in this fic – from the very notion of the 'quota' to the bit about Illya's wandering accent – consists of an almost complete list of all the gag-explanations I found myself coming up with for the various idiosyncrasies of the world of UNCLE during my first viewing of the series, plus a few that came up once I began digging around the fandom in more detail. The idea that Napoleon gets away with as much womanising as we see on screen only because his superiors have been actively encouraging him to do so hopefully needs no further explanation — most of the fic hinges on it — but a few of the other references may be a little more obscure.

The many Wandas of UNCLE in particular is something of a pet subject of mine. As much as I'd like to pretend my idea about it being an open-frequencies-all-purpose-code-name for UNCLE's communications staff explains everything, I'd have to admit it only works in practice if we assume Napoleon forgets to use the code name pretty regularly, but it's an attractive concept nonetheless. The part about the two Mark Smiths and the two April Dancers is, of course, a reference to how both roles were recast between the backdoor pilot The Moonglow Affair and the actual launch of the spin-off The Girl from UNCLE – though also a more subtle nod to the infamous way that due South went about replacing Ray Vecchio with Ray Kowalski, by declaring that the later had been called in to impersonate the former while Vecchio was involved in a high-risk undercover role elsewhere, despite the unavoidable fact the new 'Ray' looked nothing like the old one. It's been a long running in-joke in fandom ever since.

Lucy Vermont, Dr Spencer Newgate, Terry Unwin, Steven Adams and Janine Garrett are perhaps the only entirely original characters involved in the story. Agents Quint and Cantrell have the dubious distinction of having been appropriated from canon – not that canon ever gave us more than their names to go on. Cantrell we do actually meet, briefly, as the agent temporarily partnered with Illya while Napoleon was away on leave during the first scenes of The Foxes and Hounds Affair, though he's a complete blank of a character (and may or may not even have made it out of the episode alive). Agent Quint, meanwhile, was namedropped twice in the series, once in Foxes and Hounds and once more in Moonglow. Maybe we've seen him around in the background somewhere – he's apparently over 40 by the time of Moonglow – but that's all we know. Mostly, it saved me having to invent names of my own.

UNCLE's Propaganda and Public Relations section is one of those odd late additions to the original six sections from Sam Rolfe's first prospectus, which consequently aren't always included in lists, and weren't even named consistently – some variants have it as "Propaganda and Public Relations" whereas others as "Propaganda and Finance", while Section VIII varies between "Research and Development" and "Camouflage and Deception". I could hardly pass on the idea that this is all deliberate, and that UNCLE's real propaganda and counter-intelligence department (and presumably also their camouflage and deception section) are so shadowy that even most UNCLE staff aren't entirely sure who they are or what they do.

Other episodes referenced in this thing include The Deadly Games Affair, The Bow-Wow Affair, The King of Knaves Affair, The Gazebo in the Maze Affair, The Arabian Affair, The Tigers are Coming Affair, The Dippy Blonde Affair, The Birds and the Bees Affair, The Her Master's Voice Affair, The Moonglow Affair, and (very indirectly) The Nowhere Affair and The Deadly Smorgasbord Affair, and probably several others that have temporarily slipped my mind. Most of the rest of the gags and references in the fic I'd like to think were fairly self-explanatory, but since no-one ever seems to believe me when I point out the fact that Illya's PhD makes no sense until I elaborate, perhaps (at the risk of over-explaining the joke) I ought to take a moment to do that now.

I've seen various attempts to explain how someone of Illya's (presumed) age and career would have had time to fit all those years of post-grad work required into his resume, mostly involving his entering UNCLE later in life (conveniently forgetting the fact that the one and only hard date we ever get regarding Illya's education is that he graduated from UNCLE's Survival School in '56, at which point most fans seem to imagine him busily engaged in his thesis). Illya's scientific credentials are, in fact, so enshrined as a defining characteristic in popular fanon that you'll see many fics where he spends all his free time in UNCLE's laboratory, or where he was originally hired as a scientist who only later transferred to field duty, etc (neither of these ideas are remotely supported by anything I can find in the show, but I have seen real attempts to cast them as canon nonetheless).

Yet, quite literally the only time Illya's PhD is ever so much as obliquely referenced in canon is a single exchange in The Her Master's Voice Affair, where Waverly brings it up – get this – in the context of establishing Illya's credentials to act as a temporary tutor for a teenage girl. In fact, his best friend and partner of years can't even remember what subject his PhD was supposed to have been in. This is the whole exchange:

Dr. Matsu: Which means that while I'm gone [my daughter Miki will] have to have a tutor as well as a bodyguard.

Mr Waverly: If you'll leave that to us, Dr. Matsu. We have a man in this very room who fits both requirements perfectly. Black belt in judo, did postgraduate work at Sorbonne, Ph.D., Cambridge.

Napoleon: Dead languages, wasn't it?

Illya: Quantum mechanics.

Dr Matsu: I didn't know we were colleagues.

Illya: Well, of course, I'll have to brush up on my new maths.

Mr Waverly: Yes, do that, Mr. Kuryakin.

(This is also, of course, the form the joke takes in the fic, with Napoleon forever coming up with new random subject Illya's PhD might have been in — the more esoteric, the better — and Illya 'correcting' him. Both would consider it a loss if they ever used the same subject twice.)

This is officially the first and last time Illya's PhD will ever be mentioned on screen. We do see him discuss scientific concepts or mention having read scientific papers on various occasions, suggesting he likely has some sort of scientific background, but the subject of quantum mechanics remains conspicuously absent (which is hardly surprising – mathematical descriptions of the behaviour of subatomic particles aren't going to be the sort of thing a mission hinges on very often). In fact, of the two occasions when Illya has been called on to impersonate a professor of any variety of physics, we see him being extensively prepared for the first (The King of Knaves Affair), while the second (The Virtue Affair), being an act of pure improvisation, he flubs spectacularly. The question of why Illya would spend so many years getting a doctorate in such an esoteric subject, only to switch careers to espionage immediately on finishing, is obviously one none of the writers lost any sleep over. His PhD is functionally a throwaway detail – invented for a single use, then forgotten.

None of this is to say that my personal crack theory that Illya's PhD was simply a long-running office in-joke, born from an error in his transfer paperwork, has any stronger basis in canon than those "originally hired as a scientist"-theories. But I submit to you all that it's certainly no less inconsistent with what we know either. (And for everyone else, if your own take on Illya's earlier years can't easily accommodate a lengthy spell at Sorbonne and a PhD in Cambridge on top of that undergrad degree in a non-existent part of Ukraine, plus enough years naval service to receive commissioned rank, I really wouldn't worry about it too much.)

And on that note, I'm sure I've talked everyone's ears off long enough.


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March 2017

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