Sunday, 12 October 2014

Selling secrets .... the invention of The Ipcress File

Eggs were harmed in the making of this film
I recently picked up on eBay an interesting piece of ephemera: a publicity pack from the Rank Films organisation about The Ipcress File.

This is an authentic package of material targeting promoters, cinema owners and journalist, containing information about the film and its stars and ideas for creating public awareness. It's evident from the file that part of the success of The Ipcress File as a film is - along with the story, of course - the success with which it was marketed as a new type of spy film.

In reading through the pack, you can get an idea of the angles that producer Harry Saltzman and his marketing team were looking to push in the advance publicity around the film. In the background information - the first page - there are choice phrases used to describe the film, which give an idea of how they were marketing it at a time when the Bond films were already becoming successful:

  • "THE IPCRESS FILE - a tense thriller of espionage and counter-espionage"
  • "a happy-go-luck British ex-army officer who is pitchforked into espionage"
  • "a tangled web of treachery as fantastic and exciting as can only be found in the complicated and highly professional game of world espionage"
The pack includes background information on the two "stars" picked out - Michael Caine, obviously, but also Sue Lloyd, who plays Jean Courtenay. Tellingly, she is given greater prominence in this pack than either of the other two main characters, Major Ross (Guy Doleman) and Major Dalby (Nigel Green). Clearly, in the sixties, sex appeal was a strong component of any successful film, and a number of the promotional ideas suggested in this pack centre around this. For example:
'Conjure up the fascination of a tie-in with a lovely perfume bearing the intriguing name of 'Contraband', plus copy that reads MADAME LIVE DANGEROUSLY - CHOOSE CONTRABAND ... AND GET YOUR MAN. Add a sizzling full colour picture of glamorous Sue Lloyd and you have the ingredients of a first rate promotion with the distributors of this exotic perfume.'
It's fascinating to read how in the 'sixties, just as now, the marketing men were identifying the themes and angles which would grab the public's attention and steer them towards the film. Promoters are given ideas for a whole range of competitions to raise awareness of the film:

  • A quiz in which readers are asked to link the film star with the film they first starred in
  • An 'interrogation survey' to test how much readers actually know about real-life and fictional spies, such as Edith Cavell, Richard Hannay and Greville Wynne
  • 'Operation  "Enemy Agent"' - local newspapers are invited to challenge readers to find "The Man with The Ipcress File", requiring a man from the newspaper to walk around the vicinity of the cinema carrying a file clearly marked with the film's name. Members of the public were asked to challenge him and say"YOU ARE THE MAN WITH THE IPCRESS FILE AND I CLAIM MY REWARD". Really!
  • Cinemas were encouraged to have a display front of house written in Morse Code, to get people wondering about the film
There are plenty more whizzy and strange ideas in this pack. For every would-be promoter the studio's publicity department really made an effort to get what we would nowadays call "brand awareness" in advance of the film's release. Judging by its popularity when premiered in 1965, they were pretty successful.

In the rest of the post you'll find picture of this 'Top Secret' file, as well as a short contribution from Len himself about the brain-washing element that is central to the film's story.

At the same time as getting hold of this publicity pack, I have also been in touch with Len regarding a question that another reader of the blog raised about The Ipcress File - namely, how did Len decide to introduce into the book the idea of mind control and experimentation, which is the main premise on which the film stands. In response, Len has provided a few thoughts about this aspect of the film:
'My interest in various methods of persuasion started with my interest in advertising, when I was a teenager. I was by no means alone. By 1949 (when I came out of the RAF and started my art school studies at St Martins in London), New York advertising people were very interested in sub-conscious influence, and together with two like-minded ex-RAF friends I put together everything I could find on the subject. But there was not much interest in it in London advertising circles. 
I read William Sargant's book 'Battle for the Mind' and it had a powerful effect on me. Here was the same subject but no longer confined to advertising. The war in Korea - and the two dozen American POWs who refused repatriation - also made the subject headline news. What had been Madison Avenue meets Pavlov's dog was now being defined as some dark Oriental spell.

(I was, and remain, fundamentally opposed to brain-washing in any shape or form. I oppose it for advertising and for intrusive government and for any military purpose).
 
I didn't consult any experts but there were psychiatrists among my social circle and later I became close friends with Stafford-Clark.

From what I read, it seemed that it was easier to brain wash people of strong or extreme opinions than those who were uncommitted. My own feeling was that a sense of humor was the most potent weapon and safe guard. Ridicule can sometimes prove better than debate. 
 
I started writing The Ipcress File when on holiday in France and went back to my half completed typescript the following year. So I calculate that many of these ideas were in written form by 1958. 
From what I understand, Harry Saltzman, the producer of The Ipcress File - was very taken with my brain washing sequence and insisted that it was made into a vital part of the film, as it was in the book.'
Interesting perspectives from Len for readers. We appreciate his input.

You can see below some photos I've taken of The Ipcress File "top secret" document, which has clearly been designed to appear like a dossier of secrets:











5 comments:

  1. “In reading through the pack, you can get an idea of the angles that producer Harry Saltzman and his marketing team were looking to push in the advance publicity around the film. In the background information - the first page - there are choice phrases used to describe the film, which give an idea of how they were marketing it at a time when the Bond films were already becoming successful”
    “For every would-be promoter the studio's publicity department really made an effort to get what we would nowadays call "brand awareness" in advance of the film's release. Judging by its popularity when premiered in 1965, they were pretty successful”
    If my memory serves me right, Salzman and co did not do a good job of promoting the film. The book was already a best seller. The “brand awareness “ was provided by Deighton’s name as the best seller author, and also in a indirect but strong way by the successful Bond films then, as the list of 3 names advertised were all from those sucessful Bond films: the (Bond film joint) producer-Salzman, The (Bond film) music director-Barry and the( Bond film) editor-Hunt. A simple question like “what is The Ipcress File” would have been better. That was the time when films made from popular books were invariably attracted a large discerning cinema audience who had read those books. After the end of the film screening, some of us as part of the audience used to quickly review the film( vis-à-vis the book )over a cup of coffee in the foyer of the theatre. It was the case with Bond films and with this film too until about the middle of 1960s. There were no other entertainment technology-related distractions then , and hence reading books those days was a main leisure activity.

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  2. Should be: "the main leisure activity"

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  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    1. Apologies, have explained below. Simon.

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  4. Note: Sorry, I had to delete the comment posted as there were a few typos. I hope I have corrected them

    Back into my memory lane again. Saltzmann, who chose to bring “The Ipcress File” into the big screen, did so based on the raving reviews of the novel. Although, Saltzmann could not advertise anything based on the non-Bond hero like character played by Michael Caine, who was relatively unknown then, although he had appeared in TV, and had good reviews of the character Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead in Zulu which led to his casting in this film ( http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/features/the-untold-story-of-the-film-zulu-starring-michael-caine-50-years-on-9069558.html), he should have put Deighton , as the best selling author of the novel down at the core of the advertisements then. He singularly failed there, as Deighton by then was very well known. In recent years, John Grisham’s name( ignoring his recent gaffe) appears in the core of advertisements for films based on his novels which promotes the film concerned well.

    The situation became very different in the next film “ Funeral in Berlin”, as Michael Caine became well known by then , and Deighton’s forte of narrative, imagery and story line settings which were exemplified in that novel, augmented by his unparalleled knowledge of West and East Berlin, which were very well appreciated by the readers of his novel, did not necessitate any additional effort by Saltzmann and co.
    Simon

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