The Real Roots Behind 'U.N.C.L.E.'

This summer, an action movie based on on a spy TV show from the 1960s is set to take the box office by storm. No, I'm not talking about Mission Impossible, but that other action movie based on a '60s spy series: The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which is inspired by the TV series of the same name which ran from 1964 to 1968. The new film is directed by Guy Ritchie and stars Superman himself, Henry Cavill, as American agent, Napoleon Solo, and Armie Hammer as his Russian partner, Illya Kuryakin. The first thing from the film that's likely to jump out at you is that weird acronym from the title: U.N.C.L.E.. But just what is it, exactly, and is U.N.C.L.E. based on a real organization?

In short, no. U.N.C.L.E. is not a real life agency, although it does draw elements from several different influences. Like S.P.E.C.T.R.E. stands for Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion and S.H.I.E.L.D. means Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division, U.N.C.L.E. stands for United Network Command for Law and Enforcement. It's a secret organization made up of spies from various countries, including '60s enemies Russia and the United States. Their main antagonist is A.U.N.T. (Anti-U.N.C.L.E. Nuclear Threats)... OK, I made that up, but they do spend a lot of their time trying to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of bad guys. Anyway, there are several different inspirations that led to the creation of U.N.C.L.E., so here they A.R.E. (Sorry.)

The United Nations

The United Nations was a major influence on U.N.C.L.E., so much so that, according to legend, it was even part of the original pitch for the TV show the movie is based on. The U.N. is of course made up of several countries working together, which is what U.N.C.L.E. also represents, but that's not where the similarities end. U.N.C.L.E.'s headquarters in the show were in the East 40s in New York City, right next to the U.N. headquarters. The U.N. was seen in the show's title cards, and was visible from the windows of some U.N.C.L.E. offices. U.N.C.L.E. had five regional leaders, known as the Summit Five, while the U.N. has five nations with veto power that sit on the security council.

The similarities between the organizations were so striking that the show's studio, MGM, made the creators come up with an acronym for the then-nonsense name U.N.C.L.E. to avoid legal action from the U.N. (New York state law prohibited the use of the initials U.N. for commercial purposes). Suddenly, it became the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement. The fictional organization was even thanked for their cooperation at the end of each episode, leading viewers to believe it was a real agency. And where do you think fans went to get a glimpse of the spies in action? Why, the U.N. headquarters, of course! It's a miracle the show was never sued.


The CIA is the basis for most American spy fiction, and U.N.C.L.E. is no exception. In fact, in the new film, Solo himself is a CIA agent. During its heyday, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. employed lots of spy gadgets, and in an example of life imitating art, a number of them are on display at the CIA Museum in Virginia. Perhaps that's because they originated at the CIA to begin with? Sorry, that information is classified.


Interpol is probably the closest real life organization out there to U.N.C.L.E. Interpol stands for International Police Organization, so it's sort of an acronym, and it is an international policing force. Unlike U.N.C.L.E. though, Interpol isn't really an active force in the field, they instead pretty much just share information about criminals between nations. But according to conspiracy theorists, the two organizations are one in the same!

James Bond

What, you don't think James Bond is real? Well, you're right, but he was inspired by the true experiences of his creator, author Ian Fleming, who served in the British Naval Intelligence Division during World War II. Fleming also had a hand in developing The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and the show's original title was Ian Fleming's Solo. But the title had to be changed due to similarities to Bond and the fact that a character named Solo was appearing as a villain in the 007 movie Goldfinger. Oh well, at least Bond still has S.P.E.C.T.R.E.

U.N.C.L.E. may be fictional, but its real life inspirations are just as cool (and intimidating) as the group featured in Ritchie's new film.

Images: Warner Brothers Pictures, Giphy (4)