Longtime readers might recall that I am one of the few living humans who not only remember the mid-1960s TV show The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. (a short-lived spinoff from The Man From U.N.C.L.E.), but who were – and are – fans of it. Why, the fashion sense of its heroine, supercool spy April Dancer (played by Stefanie Powers) even influences my own style today, what with my vintage white wet-look raincoat and all.
What I really liked about The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., though, was Powers’s co-star, Noel Harrison, as Mark Slate. He was cool and mod and handsome in a way only a young 1960s guy with a British accent could be.
So I was very sorry to learn today that Noel Harrison has died, at the age of 79. There go my dreams of a date with him in Swinging Sixties London, I guess.
But of course what people are thinking about today when it comes to Noel Harrison is not so much The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. as The Windmills of Your Mind, the thoroughly weird (there’s an interesting analysis of it here, from the BBC) but haunting theme song from the 1968 movie The Thomas Crown Affair (starring Steve McQueen, speaking of 1960s sex symbols) that Harrison sang.
The Windmills of Your Mind really is a period piece (you’ll see what I mean if you listen to it here). The BBC story I referenced above puts it well when it says that the song “occupies a singular place in the pop canon where psychedelia and easy listening meet.” Let’s have an excerpt, shall we?
Like a circle in a spiral
Like a wheel within a wheel
Never ending or beginning
On an ever-spinning reel
Like a snowball down a mountain
Or a carnival balloon
Like a carousel that’s turning
Running rings around the moon
Like a clock whose hands are sweeping
Past the minutes of its face
And the world is like an apple
Whirling silently in space
Like the circles that you find
In the windmills of your mind.
People, I don’t know what it means any more than you do. But tonight it’s on the playlist at the Manse here in Queensborough, a memory of the ’60s when I was a child here, when The Thomas Crown Affair was a sensation, and when Noel Harrison as Mark Slate on the Manse’s old black-and-white TV made my young heart beat a little bit faster. When all of us were much, much younger.