The original series was remarkable for pairing an American Napoleon Solo and a Russian Illya Kuryakin as two spies who work together for an international espionage organisation at the height of the Cold War. Mr. Waverly is the head of the U.N.C.L.E. organisation and was played by the veteran English actor Leo G. Carroll.
The pilot for the show featured a 'Mr. Allison' as the head of U.N.C.L.E., a character described as a pedantic man in his 50s. Will Kuluva was originally cast in the role, however he was replaced by Carroll after the pilot episode when an NBC executive reportedly suggested that the person with the name beginning with 'K' be omitted. It later emerged that he had meant the Russian spy Illya Kuryakin played by David McCallum. The show's producers thought he meant Kuluva. Although his scenes in the pilot episode 'The Vulcan Affair' were re-shot with Carroll in the role, Kuluva did appear as Mr. Allison in To Trap a Spy, a feature-length production based on the pilot which was released to cinemas in 1964.
In eventually casting Carroll in the role, the programme makers took a considerable departure from this original concept since the actor was in his 70s at the time. However, the casting was also apt since Carroll had featured in many of Alfred Hitchcock's films and Hitchcock's work was a touchstone for the show's originators. Indeed, he had played the 'Professor', the head of the espionage agency in North by Northwest, the film which inspired Norman Felton to bring the spy genre to the small screen.
Along with Solo and Kuryakin, Alexander Waverly was the only character to appear on the show on a weekly basis. He is one of five regional heads in charge of the multi-national organisation, though his position appears to be that of primus inter pares. In one episode he presides over an annual meeting of the regional heads ('The Summit Five Affair').
In contrast to the ambiguity surrounding the backgrounds of Solo and Kuryakin, we are given some insight into Waverly's family situation. He mentions a grandson called Melvin in 'The Bat Cave Affair'. His cousin Lester Baldwin (also played by Carroll) appears in 'The Bow Wow Affair'. His brother-in-law is Professor Hemingway of Y.I.T., who he sometimes uses as a consultant ('The Mad, MAD Tea Party Affair'). In 'The Cap and Gown Affair' it emerges that Waverly is an alumnus of Blair University. His niece Maude Waverly, played by Yvonne Craig, appears in the U.N.C.L.E. film One Spy too Many although she does not feature in 'The Alexander the Greater Affair' the two-part television episode on which the film is based.
Mr. Waverly was also a regular in the short-lived, spin-off series The Girl from U.N.C.L.E., making Carroll one of the first actors to play the same role in two television shows.
Waverly is the stereotypical Englishman, formal, reserved, dressing in tweeds and smoking a large pipe. He addresses everyone by their courtesy titles and surnames. He is the head of Section One in U.N.C.L.E. headquarters in New York. He appears to have been something of a ladies man in his youth ('The Bow Wow Affair).
In the first two seasons Waverly is depicted as an unsentimental, tough, pragmatic leader. By the third season, however, he is presented as a more human, though still pragmatic, character. In the third season two-part episode 'The Concrete Overcoat Affair,' Solo objects to the fact that his partner Kuryakin has been sent on a suicide mission. Although he chastises the agent for questioning his authority, Waverly allows him to go to Kuryakin's aid. As Solo leaves, Waverly can be heard muttering, "Alexander Waverly, sentimental grandmother of the year."
Although primarily working out of headquarters, on rare occasions Waverly joins in missions in the field. He goes undercover in the 'The Pieces of Fate Affair' and during the show's fourth season, he is captured along with three of his agents. He masterminds their escape with the aid of a blade hidden in a flower in his buttonhole ('The Deep Six Affair').
In 1968 Carroll made his final appearance in the role one week after the show's cancellation when he appeared on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, the series that replaced U.N.C.L.E. His final lines on screen are "Mr. Kuryakin, come quick. I think I've found THRUSH headquarters at last." Carroll died in 1972 and his character did not appear in the 1983 reunion movie The Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E.:The Fifteen Years Later Affair where it is implied that Mr. Waverly had died relatively recently. The character appeared in the 1983 independent film The Time Lord from U.N.C.L.E., this time played by Chris Brainherd.
- To Trap a Spy (1965/I) at the Internet Movie Database
- Maude Waverly (Character) from One Spy Too Many (1966) at the Internet Movie Database
- "Hugh Grant Joins 'Man from U.N.C.L.E.'". hollywoodreporter.com. 8 August 2013. Retrieved 15 August 2013.