Music for the Manse tonight: The Windmills of Your Mind


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.

11 thoughts on “Music for the Manse tonight: The Windmills of Your Mind

  1. What I loved about Stefanie was her perfect flip. I used to spend hours trying to get my hair to flip up in just that way. As for Noel, he was the son of Rex Harrison so he came by his looks honestly, although I don’t know where he got his singing talent. Rex was a terrible singer.

    • But did you know that Noel was also an Olympic skier, Elinor? I certainly did not until I read it in the various obits today. As for Stefanie’s flip, the thing we never considered when we were young and trying to emulate that sort of thing was the professional hairdressers those TV and movie stars had. What chance does a girl on her own in rural Saskatchewan or Ontario have of copying that?

  2. some day, when you are old enough, and you are lying hopelessly awake in the middle of the night staring at the moon shining in your window, you will experience the ‘circles that you find in the windmills of your mind’. Enjoyed hearing the song again!

  3. Hi Katherine,
    Loved the way you included different versions of the Windmills of Your Mind.
    I enjoy your blogs.
    Keep up the good work.

  4. Wow! So many memories in one blog item!!
    The show “Girl from U.N.C.L.E.” – Stefanie Powers [I adored her! – from this show – through her entire career!] – Noel Harrison [swoon!] – His Dad Rex [swoon!] – Black & White TV [of course!] – “Windmills of My Mind” – haunting & whimsical… ‘Thanks for the Memories’ Katherine, and R.I.P. Noel….

    • I’m glad you enjoyed that little trip back through time, Ruthanne! Only sorry that it took the shuffling off this mortal cool of the man we both once swooned over (back in our much younger days) to evoke them!

  5. When I saw the notice of his death on the BBC web site, I found his comments about the song interesting: “He once said, of recording The Windmills Of Your Mind: ‘It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time. I went to the studio one afternoon and sang it and pretty much forgot about it.” Harrison continued: ‘I didn’t realise until later what a timeless, beautiful piece Michel LeGrand and the Bergmans had written. It turned out to be my most notable piece of work.’ ”

    Then I went on YouTube to find a version of him singing it on some TV show, “timeless and beautiful” didn’t exactly come to mind; in fact I found his delivery just a bit odd. But it was the 60s, after all 😉 maybe he wasn’t exactly all there.

    As for the flip hairdo, I fought with mine day and night and was never satisfied. So imagine my astonishment a couple of years ago when my sister said how envious she had always been of her sister (um, that would be me), with her beautiful smoothly styled hair. And all the while I was envying my little sis with her pixie-ish haircut and overall cuteness…just goes to show, eh?

    • It does indeed, Sandra – you can’t always get what you want (to evoke another ’60s sentiment), the grass is always greener, etc. etc. Of course your sister (if your relationship was anything like mine with my beloved sister when we were growing up) would never have thought to say something at the time about how much she admired your hairstyle…

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