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Sunday, 2 March 2014

Cult TV and Autoerotic Asphyxiation

I bought this lot of three Man from U.N.C.L.E books on eBay last week (I’ll explain why later). It was a very popular TV series in the 1960s – I’m fairly sure it was the first show I ever watched, back when I was 8 or 9, that wasn’t aimed specifically at children. The plots were over my head, but the U.N.C.L.E agents had some really cool guns and gadgets (which I also had, in toy form).

These tie-in novels were all written by different authors. The Doomsday Affair, by Harry Whittington, is by far the best. It’s about a plot deep within the U.S. government to drop an H-bomb on Washington D.C. as a ruse to start a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. That’s really quite a Fortean idea – or at least, it’s the sort of thing Conspiracy Theorists are always going on about.

The other two novels have Fortean elements, too. The Copenhagen Affair by John Oram is about man-made flying saucers being constructed in an underground Nazi factory in Denmark. That sounds promising, but the novel is appallingly badly plotted. The Vampire Affair by David McDaniel is somewhat better, and contains a number of science-fictional in-jokes – including a cameo appearance by Forrest J Ackerman (the man who invented the term “sci-fi”, and never showed any remorse for doing so).

The Vampire Affair was the reason I bought the books in the first place – because I wanted to sample David McDaniel’s writing. I first came across his name when I was researching my recent post about The Geek by Alice Louise Ramirez. In her Amazon review, she mentions that McDaniel was one of the weed-smoking hippies who helped her come up with the concept for The Geek in the first place. She doesn’t refer to him by name, but she mentions a Man from U.N.C.L.E author who “died after slipping in the bathtub”.

After a bit of research, I realized the person she was talking about was David McDaniel. Not because David McDaniel died after slipping in the bathtub, but because that’s how his family said he died at the time. Actually he was found hanging in his bedroom, in circumstances suggestive of autoerotic asphyxiation.

You can understand why his family didn’t want this to become public knowledge. Any death is a tragedy, but it’s even more of a tragedy if people roll on the floor laughing when they hear about it.

“There are worse ways to go, but I can't think of a more undignified way than autoerotic asphyxiation.” That quote comes from “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose”, the fourth episode of the third season of The X-Files, first aired in 1995. The words are spoken by the title character, Clyde Bruckman, to UFO-obsessed FBI agent Fox Mulder. In the story, Bruckman is supposed to be able to foresee people’s deaths, so this may be his way of telling Mulder that’s how he’s going to die. Or maybe he’s just trying to freak him out.

It’s true there are more dignified ways to die than autoerotic asphyxiation. Being felled by the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique, for example – which is how David Carradine’s character dies at the end of [spoiler deleted]. In real life, however... well, some people think Carradine was murdered – but if so, the perpetrators made it look just like autoerotic asphyxiation.

For people in my age group, David Carradine’s most famous role was as Kwai Chang Caine in the TV series Kung Fu. That was just as much of a cult phenomenon in the 1970s as The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was in the 1960s or The X-Files in the 1990s.

9 comments:

Kid said...

Talking of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., I had a little cardboard suitcase (although there was a better one also) containing a gun, silencer, sight and shoulder support when I was a kid. Long gone, alas, but I still have one of the bullets.

In case you're interested, Andrew, facsimiles of the ID card available through the Radio Times back in the '60s can still be obtained today. Let me know if you want the details.

Andrew May said...

Thanks Kid - My memory of toys isn't as good as yours, but I do remember having a gun exactly as you describe in an attache case. I may have had a few other U.N.C.L.E. gadgets too. I definitely had an ID card - I've no idea where I got it from, but the Radio Times seems as likely as any. I remember coming across it in a clear-out a few years ago, and I definitely put it in a "safe place". I had a good look for it last week, because I thought I could add it to this post. But I couldn't find it - it's a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack! I know I didn't throw it away though, so it's bound to turn up when I'm not looking for it. So I won't be needing a facsimile, but thanks for the offer!

Ross said...

OMG, I had a Man From U.N.C.L.E. gun and case when I was a kid, too. I left the gun in a hot car one day, and it partially melted, leaving the barrel bent somewhat to one side (much like a penis). Ah, memories, memories.

Ross said...

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was definitely a very cool show, but my favorite show as a kid in the 1960s was The Wild, Wild West. TWWW is sometimes regarded as "steampunk" today. Lots of nifty gadgets and weird scenarios in an old West setting.

Ross said...

Speaking of autoeroticism, let me remind you that the lead character in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was named Napolean Solo. Great name for a masturbator. Just saying.

Andrew May said...

Thanks for the comments, Ross. I've heard of The Wild, Wild West but never watched it, and I don't remember being aware of the show as a child - that probably means it wasn't screened in the part of the UK where I lived.

As an adult, "Napoleon Solo" strikes me as a silly name for a hero (sounds more like a villain)... although as a child you take everything in your stride. I was surprised to learn from Wikipedia that the name Napoleon Solo was created by Ian Fleming.

Ross said...

Another 1960s show I loved as a child (and still love) was The Invaders. Are you familiar with it? It had a big impact on me; it was what first stimulated my interest in UFOs.

Andrew May said...

I don't think I was aware of the Invaders in the 60s, but I did see some episodes when it was repeated in the 1990s. There was a similar British series around the same time called UFO. At the time, I thought it was very silly, but I saw some reruns a few years ago, and it was really pretty good in a groovy psychedelic sort of way.

Ross said...

That British series, UFO, aired here in the States in the early1970s. I watched it often, but wasn't crazy about it. Yours is the first mention of it I've heard since then. Maybe I can find it on YouTube.