The IPCRESS File

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For the 1965 film, see The Ipcress File (film).
First edition (publ. Hodder & Stoughton)

The IPCRESS File is Len Deighton's first spy novel, published in 1962. It was made into a film in 1965 produced by Harry Saltzman, directed by Sidney J. Furie and starring Michael Caine. The novel, which involves Cold War brainwashing, includes scenes in Lebanon and on an atoll for a United States atomic weapon test, as well as information about Joe One, the Soviet Union's first atomic bomb, although these elements did not appear in the film version.

Plot[edit]

The novel is framed as the unnamed protagonist delivering his personal report on "the IPCRESS affair" directly to the Minister of Defence, thus making the novel itself the 'IPCRESS File' of the title. The events begin soon after his transfer from military intelligence to WOOC(P), a small civilian intelligence agency reporting directly to the British Cabinet under a man named Dalby. An intelligence broker code-named "Jay" is suspected to be behind a series of kidnappings of highly placed and influential British VIPs with the intention of selling them to the Soviets, and the protagonist is assigned to meet with Jay in order to secure the release of "Raven", a high-ranking scientist and his latest target. After meeting Jay at a sleazy Soho strip club to negotiate Raven's release, the protagonist is abandoned; investigating his surroundings, he discovers Raven's unconscious body in a back room and attempts to rescue him, but is unsuccessful.

WOOC(P) receives intelligence that Raven is to be transferred to the Soviets in Beirut, and a rescue mission is organised with Dalby and the protagonist participating. The protagonist is assigned as a lookout while Dalby kills Raven's captors and rescues him. The protagonist is forced to kill the occupants of a car which suddenly arrives on the scene in order to maintain the cover of the operation, believing them to be operatives working for Jay; they instead turn out to be members of ONI. The operation is otherwise a success and Raven is recovered, but the investigation into Jay continues. Dalby disappears, apparently going undercover, leaving the protagonist temporarily in charge of WOOC(P). At this point the protagonist's former superior from military intelligence, Colonel Ross, approaches the protagonist offering to sell him confidential information related to the affair. The protagonist rejects the offer in disgust, but begins to second-guess himself.

Carswell, a statistician from another department assigned to the matter, begins noting a range of bizarre and seemingly irrelevant links between many of the kidnap victims. A break suddenly appears when Housemartin, one of Jay's high-ranking operatives, is arrested in Shoreditch for impersonating a police officer, but by the time the protagonist and Murray, another operative assigned to the case, arrive at the police station only to discover he has been murdered in his cell. Information from the arrest enables WOOC(P) and the police to storm one of Jay's safe-houses, but it has been abandoned. In order to help with the administration of the department, the protagonist is assigned an assistant, Jean, a beautiful young woman he begins to develop romantic feelings towards.Dalby re-emerges, and reveals intelligence suggesting that Jay's operations will interfere with an American neutron bomb test in the Pacific.

Dalby, Jean and the protagonist are sent to the test site as British observers, and while there the protagonist learns from an old friend, Barney, that the Americans suspect him of being a double-agent due to the deaths of the CIA operatives in Beirut. Jean reveals to the protagonist that Dalby has left been visiting an abandoned Japanese bunker on the island. Soon after, Barney is killed in apparently suspicious circumstances, and while following Dalby to the scene the protagonist is present when the bomb test site is sabotaged, setting back the bomb test and killing a military police officer. The protagonist is arrested by the Americans and interrogated, before apparently being transferred to Hungary on suspicion of being a Soviet agent. There, he is drugged and subject to days of psychological and physical torture, and nearly cracks before eventually managing to escape—only to discover that he is in fact back in London. The protagonist takes refuge with Charlie Cavendish, the father of a friend killed towards the end of the Second World War, and attempts to reestablish contact with WOOC(P) without being arrested for treason. Charlie is killed by Jay's operatives, forcing the protagonist on the run; he approaches Dalby at his home, but discovers Dalby meeting with Murray, Jay and another of Jay's operatives—confirming the protagonist's suspicions that Dalby is in fact the traitor.

The protagonist is discovered by Murray, who reveals himself to be an undercover operative from military intelligence also investigating Dalby. The protagonist escapes, but is soon captured by Jay's operatives and taken to meet Jay—he has, however, allowed military intelligence to follow them, and Jay and Dalby are arrested by Colonel Ross. The protagonist reveals to Jean that Jay and Dalby were using a process called "Induction of Psycho-neuroses by Conditioned Reflex with Stress" (IPCRESS) to brainwash the VIPs into loyalty to the Soviet Union, which they had also unsuccessfully attempted to subject the protagonist to. The seemingly irrelevant links that Carswell had discovered were in fact indicators of the personality traits that Jay had used to determine which VIPs would easily succumb to the process. Dalby was the one who had sabotaged the American bomb test, as part of Jay and Dalby's efforts to frame the protagonist. Colonel Ross reveals that his attempt to sell information to the protagonist had been a test of his loyalty, which the protagonist had passed by rejecting it. The novel ends with the protagonist concluding his report to the Minister, revealing that Jay has turned and began working for the British, while Dalby has been executed and his death covered up as a car accident.

Background[edit]

In 1992 Deighton said that the inspiration to write the novel came from his real-life neighbour Anna Wolkoff, a White Russian émigré who collaborated with a cipher clerk from the American embassy to spy for Germany in World War II. Deighton's mother cooked for Wolkoff's dinner parties and he said that he "vividly" remembered when British MI5 agents came to arrest her: "The experience was a major factor in my decision to write a spy story at my first attempt at fiction."[1] The plot involves mind control, the acronym IPCRESS of the title standing for "Induction of Psycho-neuroses by Conditioned Reflex under Stress". The brainwashing is similar to a shock technique called psychic driving pioneered by Donald Ewen Cameron in the 1950s, originally on unwitting mental hospital patients, which was utilised and funded by the Central Intelligence Agency's secret MKULTRA program in Canada.

Novel[edit]

Deighton's protagonist is nameless; this is maintained through all the sequels (although later in the series called "Charles").[2] 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". (It is never stated exactly what the initials stand for, although his previous boss refers to it as Provisional.) We also learn in passing that he is from Burnley, Lancashire, and that he was born in 1922 or 1923.[3]

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 front cover, by Deighton's friend Raymond Hawkey, has been described as "the template for the covers of all subsequent airport novels".[4]

Film[edit]

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.

The character's name was chosen by Caine, who was having lunch with Harry Saltzman. Saltzman invited Caine over to his table for coffee. They were trying to think of a name for the protagonist, and agreed that a boring name would best suit the protagonist's persona. Caine suggested the name Harry and then immediately apologised to Saltzman. Luckily Saltzman saw the funny side and pointed out that his real first name was actually Herschel, not Harry, so Saltzman was satisfied with it. The inspiration for the surname came from a boy called Palmer whom Caine knew at school. Caine described Palmer as: "the most boring boy I'd ever met".[5]

The given name "Harry" actually occurs in a short sequence in the book where the nameless hero is greeted by someone saying "Hello, Harry." This causes him to think, "Now my name isn't Harry, but in this business it's hard to remember whether it ever had been."[6]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Campbell, Christy (21 June 1992). "Spies With Class: Two of our best-loved, but vastly different, fictional spies, James Bond and Harry Palmer, have reached pensionable age". The Sunday Telegraph. London. p. 101. 
  2. ^ Deighton, Len. Yesterdays Spy. Harcourt Brace Janovich, 1975. p. 45, 47.
  3. ^ Deighton, Len (1982). The IPCRESS File. Ballantine. p. 25. ISBN 0-345-30453-5. For example; take the time my picture appeared in The Burnley Daily Gazette in July 1939, when I won the fifth form mathematics prize. 
  4. ^ Dyckhoff, Tom (2001-09-15). "They've got it covered". Guardian web edition. London. Retrieved 2007-12-06. 
  5. ^ David Schwartz (May 28, 2010). "Citizen Caine". Moving Image Source. Museum of the Moving Image. Retrieved November 24, 2010. 
  6. ^ Deighton, Len (1982). The IPCRESS File. Ballantine. p. 31. ISBN 0-345-30453-5. 

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