Why the ‘unnamed’ spy cracked the spy thriller mould.
In the first of what I hope will be a series of short thought pieces to mark the 50th anniversary of The Ipcress File publication, I take a look at some of the reasons why the book made such a splash, and has never been out of print since.
Casino Royale opens with James Bond observing one of SMERSH’s paymasters, Le Chiffre in a glamorous European casino with the Cold War heating up. Straightaway, Ian Fleming has established the mode of operation of his spy lead and the world in which he operates.
In The Ipcress File, by contrast, the narrator – Len Deighton’s unnamed spy who will, in perpetuity, be known as ‘Harry Palmer’ – we meet first not in a discussion with his boss about his next mission abroad chasing down agents working for the Russians, but in a dialogue about his expenses.
What this signifies I think is that The Ipcress File is a marker post for what was in 1962 the next wave in spy/thriller fiction. If the pre-war years were the work of the trusty amateur spy (in real life and in fiction), by the War and postwar years agencies had had to become more professional, and so did the fictional spies. If Bond was the model, nerveless suave professional in the ‘fifties, what was ‘Harry Palmer’?