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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". (It is never stated exactly what the initials stand for, although it is implied that the (P) stands for Provisional.) 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 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.

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 satified with it. The inspiration for the surname came from a boy called Palmer who Caine knew at school. Caine described Palmer as: "the most boring boy I'd ever met".[3]

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."[4]

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