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1st edition (Hodder & Stoughton)

The IPCRESS File was the first spy novel by Len Deighton, published in 1962.

It was made into a film in 1965 produced by Harry Saltzman and directed by Sidney J. Furie, starring Michael Caine as the protagonist.

The plot involves mind control, the acronym IPCRESS of the title standing for "Induction of Psycho-neuroses by Conditioned Reflex under strESS". The novel also includes scenes in Lebanon and on an atoll for a US atomic bomb test, as well as information about Joe One, although these elements were not in the film version.


Deighton's protagonist is nameless, this is maintained through all the sequels. Early in the novel we learn that he worked for Military Intelligence for three years before joining his present agency - WOOC(P) - as a civilian employee. WOOC(P) is described as "one of the smallest and most important of the Intelligence Units". We also learn in passing that he is from Burnley, Lancashire, and that he was born in 1922 or 1923.[1]

WOOC(P) is a small department and the nameless hero has a great deal of autonomy. He is also quite paranoid, keeping an "escape package" containing money, a false passport and other documents circulating in the mail. Once a week he picks up the package from an accommodation address, a seedy London shop, and re-mails it to that address in a fresh envelope. He is also a gourmet who enjoys good food. Cooking features frequently in both the film and the novel; Deighton himself was an accomplished cook.

In common with several of his other early novels, the chapter headings have a "feature". In The IPCRESS File these take the form of each chapter being headed with a quote from a horoscope, which relates to the action in the chapter, though vaguely, as in most horoscopes.

The iconic front cover, by Deighton's friend Raymond Hawkey, has been described as "the template for the covers of all subsequent airport novels".[2]


A film adaptation starring Michael Caine was released in 1965 and produced by the James Bond co-producer Harry Saltzman, assisted by several prominent members of the Bond production family. The film medium made it difficult to maintain the anonymity of Deighton's hero, who acquired the name Harry Palmer. This may or may not have been inspired by a short sequence in the book where the nameless hero is greeted by someone saying "Hello, Harry." which causes him to think, "Now my name isn't Harry, but in this business it's hard to remember whether it ever had been."[3]

The character's name was chosen by Caine who was spotted in a restaurant by Harry Saltzman, who invited Caine over to his table for coffee. After being impressed with Caine's performance in Zulu, Saltzman offered him the lead role, which they discussed in more detail over lunch the next day. They agreed that a boring name would best suit the protagonist's persona, Caine, at first, suggests the name Harry and then immediately apologises to Saltzman. Luckily he saw the funny side and pointed out that his real first name is actually Herschel, not Harry, so Saltzman is satified with it. The inspiration for the surname came from a boy Caine knew at school called Palmer who he described as, "the most boring boy I'd ever met".[citation needed]


  1. ^ Deighton, Len (1982). The IPCRESS File. Ballantine. pp. 25. ISBN 0345304535. "For example; take the time my picture appeared in The Burnley Daily Gazette in July 1939, when I won the fifth form mathematics prize"
  2. ^ Dyckhoff, Tom. "They've got it covered". Guardian web edition.,6000,552107,00.html. Retrieved 2007-12-06. 
  3. ^ Deighton, Len (1982). The IPCRESS File. Ballantine. pp. 31. ISBN 0345304535. 


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