Harry Palmer,
The 'Anti-Bond'
At Fifty

In 1962, Len Deighton’s first and perhaps most famous novel, The IPCRESS File, was published. Coming shortly after the first James Bond movie, it offered a very different take on the spy thriller. James Bond is privately educated, drives expensive cars, drinks martinis, has custom made cigarettes, gambles and golfs. In stark contrast,  Deighton’s hero is working class, lives in low-rent accommodation, frequents seedy hotels, shops at the local grocery store, wears glasses, is constantly battling bureaucracy, and is preoccupied with the need for a raise.


"Now my name isn't Harry, but in this business it's hard to remember whether it ever had been."  -- Len Deighton, The IPCRESS File

In "The IPCRESS File,” Deighton’s hero is unnamed; however, when it came to adapting the novel for the big screen, the character was christened by Michael Caine. To suit the character, he tried to come up with the dullest name he could think of.  "When I was at school," Caine remembers, "the dullest boy was called Palmer...” One of "Palmer's" defining characteristics was that he cooked - in fact he was was a gourmet chef. Caine again noted the producer’s reservations: “He can't cook a meal. I mean, he's already wearing glasses." The cooking angle was all Deighton; aside from writing thrillers, he also wrote cookbooks and had a cooking column in the Observer, London's weekly Sunday newspaper, which featured his recipes and illustrations.

"The Ipcress File" is very much a product of the cold war. "IPCRESS" is itself an acronym for a brainwashing technique called "Induction of Psycho-neuroses by Conditioned Reflex under strESS." While the brainwashing was based on the CIA’s MK-ULTRA mind control program, Deighton couples this with British double agents high up in British intelligence, echoing the the real-life exposure of British double agents Burgess and Maclean. While his preoccupations are cold war, Deighton’s characters are extremely well-drawn; his attention to detail (especially as regards food) and realistic dialogue give his novels a believability and credibility that many in the genre simply do not have. Fifty years on, "The IPCRESS File" still retains its power to intrigue and delight readers. If you have read it, check out the sequels,  “Horse Under Water,” “Funeral In Berlin” and “Billion Dollar Brain,” and also be sure to check out Michael Caine’s portrayal of Harry Palmer on the silver screen - you will not be disappointed.