"At the time I wrote The Ipcress File, the English were even less interested in food than they are now. Any man who was able to cook was regarded as weird." Len DeightonThe 'Harry Palmer' character Len Deighton created - and Michael Caine embodied - was something new when he appeared: the anti-Bond, the tough, uncompromising working class spy who inhabited the shadier streets, someone with whom the cinema-goer could in some way connect. He was also ahead of his time, representative of the changing social behaviour of men in the 'sixties. He could not only cook but - as the scene in which he bumps into Colonel Ross in a new-fangled supermarket, and argued over the tinned champignons, demonstrates - talk knowledgeably about food without appearing to sound 'queer'.
The instant success of this new spy archetype is due in large part to Michael Caine's uncanny understanding of how the modern spy would live and work in swinging London, and portraying that on film. Seducing office colleague Jean with a glass of wine and a home-cooked omelette was something new in the courtship playbook for the average chap. Here was the sixties' 'new man', seducing top notch 'crumpet' and tracking down the spies kidnapping UK scientists.
I recently unearthed a rare copy of Eat Soup magazine from 1996 containing an extensive interview with Michael Caine in which he talks about the overlapping themes of film and food. Eat Soup was the short-lived food supplement for lads' mag Loaded, when it was still a magazine and not the boob-obsessed parody which it's become. As well as the feature interview with Caine, Len Deighton was commissioned to write an article explaining how he used gourmet food and changing cultural fads to help fashion this iconic character. This appears as the post-script to what proves a fascinating Caine interview.
A copy of the full article is now up on the Deighton Dossier main website.