Harry Palmer Files – 006 – The David Bailey Michael Caine portrait

Every Sunday, we’ll be looking at the Harry Palmer series of novels (in which the character doesn’t actually have a name), their author — Len Deighton, the films based on them, the star of those films — Michael Caine, and the television movies that followed, and giving my thoughts on all I encounter. I’ll inevitably be drawing heavily on the collection of Kees Stam, author of The Harry Palmer Movie Site, and Rob Mallows, creator of the Deighton Dossier, and other odds and ends that I’ve turned up over the years.

In the banner above…you know, the one that’s been on top of every HPF post so far…you may have noticed what is perhaps the coolest photograph ever taken. It’s a portrait of Caine taken by photographer David Bailey (inspiration for a movie that’s the epitome of 60s cool, Blow Up), in 1965, during the promotional period for The IPCRESS File. It’s one of my favorite portraits ever taken, and for the reasons that Salon journalist Charles Taylor elaborates upon in a 2000 profile of Caine:

The iconic image of Michael Caine is probably best summed up by a 1965 David Bailey photograph recently reprinted in his book “Birth of the Cool.” In it, Caine wears the black horn-rimmed glasses he donned to play secret agent Harry Palmer in three films that began with “The IPCRESS File.” An unlit Gauloise dangles from his mouth, and his black suit, tie and white button-down shirt are slim and immaculate. But there’s something unstable about the photograph, an unnerving aliveness that, 35 years later, still makes its meaning impossible to pin down, cut loose from its era as much as Bailey’s chic portraits of other icons of ’60s Brit cool — Jean Shrimpton, Mick Jagger, even the Kray Brothers — are contained by their times. The portrait is bordered by the edges of the black frame, but Caine’s eyes make you feel as if you’re the one who has been nailed to the wall. Steady, cool to the point of frigidity, they look as if they’re glowing from within their partially shadowed sockets; the long eyelashes that frame them might be tiny laser beams. Caine’s impassive expression and ray-gun orbs don’t offer the certainty of either kindness or cruelty but something far more unsettling: the sensation of being coolly appraised, of having each action or utterance totted up and held to your credit or debit.

From London’s National Portrait Gallery, here’s the original:

Michael Caine by David Bailey

A photograph that evokes that much cool is practically begging for homages. And there are plenty around:

And here are some artistic interpretations:

In November of 2004, to coincide with the release of the remake of Alfie, Arena Magazine commissioned Bailey to recreate his earlier Caine photo with actor Jude Law for the cover. The cover subsequently won a best cover of the year award from Campaign.

This post first appeared on the Mister 8 website, August 2nd, 2009.

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In their own (code) words: 6

Welcome back to another edition of ‘in their own (code) words’ wherein we look at the words of the world’s spymasters. I’m looking at Allen Dulles’ rather stolid The Craft of Intelligence, written in 1963. Dulles (1893-1969) had a long and storied career in intelligence, including a role as the first civilian director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Today I’ve chosen to look at the question of why someone would choose to be an agent (not an intelligence officer — note the distinction that Dulles draws). Allen Dulles lets us know in today’s quite political (and sort of one-sided…he doesn’t go into much detail about why a Westerner might betray their country) excerpt:

The intelligence officer engaged in covert intelligence collection described above is a career staff member of the intelligence service, an American citizen, on duty in a particular place, at home or abroad, acting on the instructions of his headquarters. He is a manager, a handler, a recruiter, also an on-the-spot evaluator of the product of his operatives. The man whom he locates, hires, trains and directs to collect information and whose work he judges is the agent. The agent, who may be of any nationality, may produce the information himself or he may have access to contacts and sources “in place” who supply him with information. His relationship with the intelligence service generally lasts as long as both parties find it satisfactory and rewarding.

If the staff intelligence officer succeeds in locating someone who is attractive to the intelligence service because of his knowledge or access to information, he must first ascertain on what basis the potential agent might be willing to work with him, or by what means he could be induced to do the job. If the agent offers his services, the intelligence officer does not have this problem, but he must still ascertain what brought the agent to him in order to understand him and handle him properly; he might, after all, have been sent by the opposition as a penetration.

As motives, ideological and patriotic convictions stand at the top of the list. The ideological volunteer, if he is sincere, is a man whose loyalty you need rarely question, as you must always question the loyalties of people who work chiefly for money or out of a desire for adventure and intrigue.

Actually, ideology is not the most accurate word for what we are describing, but we use it for want of a better one. Few people go through the analytical process of proving to themselves abstractly that one system of government is better than another. Few work out an intellectual justification or rationalization for treason as did Klaus Fuchs, who claimed that he could take an oath of allegiance to the British Crown and still pass British secrets to the Soviet Union because “I used my Marxian philosophy to establish in my mind two separate compartments.” It is more likely that views and judgements will be based on feelings and on quite practical considerations. Officials in Communist bureaucracies who are not utterly blind to the workings of the state that employs them cannot fail to see that cynicism and power-grabbing prevail in high places and that teh people are daily being duped with Marxist slogans and distortions of the truth. Communism is a system which deals harshly with all but its fanatical adherents and those who have found a way to profit from it. Every Communist country is full of people who have suffered at the hands of the state or are close to someone who has. Many such people, with only a slight nudge, may be willing to engage in espionage against a regime which they do not respect, against which they have grievances or about which they are disillusioned.

The man engaged in espionage on behalf of his own country is committing a patriotic act. The man who gives away or sells his own country’s secrets is committing treason. Today we frequently encounter another situation, in which it is usually unjust to speak of treason. The internal political conditions of the Communist nations, as was once the case in the Fascist nations, have caused thousands to flee their homelands, either to save their own lives or because of their vigorous disapproval of the government in power. If an escapee aids his hosts in the country of adoption against the country he has fled, he can hardly be said to be committing treason as that term is generally used.

The ideological agent today usually does not consider himself treasonable in the sense that he is betraying his countrymen. He is motivated primarily by a desire to see the downfall of a hated regime. Since the United States is not imperialistic and makes the distinction of opposing Communist regimes rather than peoples of those countries, there can be a basic agreement in the aims of the ideological agent and the intelligence services of free states.

The more idealistic agent of this type will not engage in espionage lightly. He may at the outset prefer to join some kind of underground movement, if there is one, or perhaps to engage in the political activities of exiles which aim directly at unseating the tyranny which dominates his country.

This post first appeared on the Mister 8 Website, December 2009.

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The Harry Palmer Files – 005 – The Ipcress File New York Times Review

Every Sunday, we’ll be looking at the Harry Palmer series of novels (in which the character doesn’t actually have a name), their author — Len Deighton, the films based on them, the star of those films — Michael Caine, and the television movies that followed, and giving my thoughts on all I encounter. I’ll inevitably be drawing heavily on the collection of Kees Stam, author of The Harry Palmer Movie Site, and Rob Mallows, creator of the Deighton Dossier, and other odds and ends that I’ve turned up over the years.

Published: August 3, 1965

It doesn’t take a detective to figure out Harry Saltzman’s game and to calculate what’s brewing in his British spy film, The IPCRESS File.

Having picked up a tidy packet as coproducer of the James Bond films and having found what appears to be a booming market for pictures about daredevil sleuths (vide Jean-Paul Belmondo’s as well as Sean Connery’s), he is obviously trying to start another with a good-looking chap named Michael Caine in this double-o-sevenish picture, which came to the Coronet yesterday.

And in one respect he has succeeded. He has built up the proper atmosphere in which a daredevil-challenging mystery might conceivably occur and a dauntless and daring detective might acceptably take wing.

His Techniscope setting of London, in which this espionage thriller takes place, is full of rich and mellow colors and highly official goings-on behind dark-paneled doors in old, gray buildings and in cozy bachelor digs and gentlemen’s clubs.

An air of mystery and menace to the very balance of scientific power seems to surround the pressing problem Civil Intelligence has to solve regarding the curious kidnapping and brainwashing—or braindraining, as they call it—of a slew of distinguished scientists. And the chaps who have to solve it seem eminently qualified.

There’s Dalby, chief of Civil Intelligence, a bristly-mustached, guardsman type, quivering with efficiency and sarcasm as played by Nigel Green. There’s Ross, chief of Military Intelligence, who has curiously passed the buck, and, in Guy Doleman’s slippery portrayal, seems not quite worthy of trust.

There’s Carswell, the canny Scot analyst who assembles the IPCRESS file and is strangely bumped off shortly after. Gordon Jackson performs well in the role.

And, finally, there’s Harry Palmer, the key sleuth, played by Mr. Caine, not to mention several lesser secret agents, including one strange, incongruous girl.

Yes, there’s everything here to charge the large screen with the toniest spy-film atmosphere, and the director, Sidney J. Furie, has added to it with his flashy camera style.

Fast, fluid, candid shooting; startling close-ups of telephones, traffic lights, train wheels; eyes and faces seen through slits in doors make for sheer physical excitement and a feeling of things happening. The IPCRESS File is as classy a spy film as you could ask to see.

But somehow Len Deighton’s story of this running down of a gang of scientist body-snatchers gets confusingly out of hand as it tumbles and swirls in the direction of a gadgeted sweatbox in which the hero’s mental reflexes are relentlessly conditioned under stress.

Suspense and even attention are allowed to lag by the script, which Bill Canaway and James Doran have written. There are too many yawning holes in it.

And for all Mr. Caine’s casual manner—for all his scholarly and amiable air—he just doesn’t ooze the magnetism that would make him an irresistible sleuth. He is simply too much of an esthete. He loves Mozart, cooking, and books as much as he loves—well, temptation of the sort introduced by Sue Lloyd.

There may be a place in the affections of some filmgoers for a genteel cop—for one who can cook up a stew as well as a turmoil. But this one will never take the place of Bond.

This review first appeared on the Mister 8 website on August 2009.

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In their own (code) words: 5

Welcome back to another edition of ‘in their own (code) words’ wherein we look at the words of the world’s spymasters. I’m looking at Allen Dulles’ rather stolid The Craft of Intelligence, written in 1963. Dulles (1893-1969) had a long and storied career in intelligence, including a role as the first civilian director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Today’s excerpt deals with the tracking of illegal radio operators. It’s interesting to recognize how much the technology available to assets and officers has changed, and to wonder how much things like cellphones have affected the game.

Counterintelligence, like most branches of intelligence work, has many technical resources, and one among them has been responsible in the past for uncovering more concealed intelligence networks than any other single measure. This is the interception and locating of illegal radio transmitters, known as “direction-finding,” or D/Fing for short. It employs sensitive electronic which, when mounted on mobile receivers, in a car or truck, can track down the location of a radio signal by indicating whether the signal is getting stronger or weaker as a mobile receiver weaves around a city listening to what has already been identified as an illegal transmitter.

Every legal radio transmitter, commercial or amateur, in most countries today is licensed and registered. In this country the call signal and the exact location of the transmitter are on record with the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC monitors the air waves at all times as a law-enforcement procedure. This leads to the uncovering of enthusiastic “ham” radio operators who haven’t bothered to get a license. It also leads to the discovery of illegal agent transmitters. The latter are usually identifiable because their messages are enciphered and they do not use any call signal on record.

Monitoring of a suspicious signal may also reveal that the operator has some kind of fixed schedule for going on the air, and this almost unfailingly points to the fact that he is transmitting to a foreign headquarters by prearrangement. At this point the D/Fing process begins. The main difficulty of tracking is that the illegal operator stays on the air, for obvious reasons, only for very short periods. As the mobile D/F experts try to trace his signal across a large city on air waves crowded with other signals, he suddenly finishes, goes off the air, and there is nothing the D/Fers can do until he comes on again some days or weeks later. If the Soviets are behind the operation, the transmission schedule, while fixed, may follow a pattern that is not easy to spot. Also, the transmitting frequency may change from time to time. The only solution is for the D/F headquarters to listen for the suspicious signal all the time and keep after it. But here, too, the technicians have invented new improvements to foil and outwit each other. The latest is a high-speed method of transmission. The operator does not sit at his telegraph key sending as fast as he can. He prerecords his message on tape, then plays the tape over the air at breakneck speed, too fast for any ear to disentangle. His receiving station at home records the transmission and can replay it at a tempo which is intelligible. If the illegal operator is on the air for only twenty or thirty seconds, the D/Fers are not going to get very far in their attempt to pinpoint the physical location of the transmitter.

This post first appeared on the Mister 8 Website, December 2009.

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The Harry Palmer Files – 004 – New York Times IPCRESS File ads

Every Sunday, we’ll be looking at the Harry Palmer series of novels (in which the character doesn’t actually have a name), their author — Len Deighton, the films based on them, the star of those films — Michael Caine, and the television movies that followed, and giving my thoughts on all I encounter. I’ll inevitably be drawing heavily on the collection of Kees Stam, author of The Harry Palmer Movie Site, and Rob Mallows, creator of the Deighton Dossier, and other odds and ends that I’ve turned up over the years.

Here’s a collection of advertisements for The IPCRESS File found in the theater listings of the New York Times in 1965-1966:

New York Times large IPCRESS ad

New York Times medium IPCRESS ad

New York Times pistol IPCRESS ad

New York Times small IPCRESS ad

New York Times tall IPCRESS ad

New York Times wide release IPCRESS ad

This post first appeared on the Mister 8 website, August 29th, 2009

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In their own (code) words: 4

Welcome back to another edition of ‘in their own (code) words’ wherein we look at the words of the world’s spymasters. I’m looking at Allen Dulles’ rather stolid The Craft of Intelligence, written in 1963. Dulles (1893-1969) had a long and storied career in intelligence, including a role as the first civilian director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

The topic this week is electronic audio surveillance and a general overview on taps and hidden microphones, and how they’re planted (as you’ll see, sometimes quite literally!).

A technical aid to espionage of another kind is the concealed microphone and transmitter which keeps up a flow of live information from inside a target or a nearby listening post; this is known to the public as “telephone tapping” or “bugging” or “miking.” “Audio surveillance,” as it is called in intelligence work, requires excellent miniaturized electronic equipment, clever methods of concealment and a human agent to penetrate the premises and do the concealing.

Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge in early June of 1960 displayed before the United Nations in New York the Great Seal of the United States which had been hanging in the office of the American Ambassador in Moscow. In it the Soviets had concealed a tiny instrument which, when activated, transmitted to a Soviet listening post everything that was said in the Ambassador’s office. Actually, the installation of this device was no great feat for the Soviets since every foreign embassy in Moscow has to call on the services of local electricians, telephone men, plumbers, charwomen and the like. The Soviets have no difficulties in seeing to it that their own citizens cooperate with their intelligence service, or they may send intelligence officers, disguised as technicians, to do the job.

In early May, 1964, our State Department publicly disclosed that as a result of a thorough demolishing of the internal walls, ceilings and floors of “sensitive” rooms in our embassy in Moscow, forty concealed microphones were brought to light. Previous intensive electronic testing for such hidden devices had not located any of these microphones.

In Soviet Russa and in the major cities of the satellite countries certain hotel rooms are designated for foreign travelers because they have been previously bugged on a permanent basis. Microphones do not have to be installed in a rush when an “interesting” foreigner arrives on the scene. The microphones are already there, and it is only the foreigner who has to be installed. All the hotels are state-owned and have permanent police agents on their staffs whose responsibility is to see that the proper foreigners are put in the “right” rooms.

…Outside its own country an intelligence service must consider the possible repercussions and embarrassments that may result from the discovery that an official installation has been illegally entered and its equipment tampered with. As in all espionage operations, the trick is to find the man who can do the job and who has the talent and the motive, whether patriotic or pecuniary. There was one instance when the Soviets managed to place microphones in the flowerpots that decorated the offices of a Western embassy in a neutral country. The janitor of the building, who had a weakness for alcohol, was glad to comply for a little pocket money. He never knew who the people were who borrowed the pots from him every now and then or what they did with them.

This post first appeared on the Mister 8 website (11th December 2009)

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Harry Palmer Files – 003 – The IPCRESS File: Prologue and Chapter 1

Every Sunday, we’ll be looking at the Harry Palmer series of novels (in which the character doesn’t actually have a name), their author — Len Deighton, the films based on them, the star of those films — Michael Caine, and the television movies that followed, and giving my thoughts on all I encounter. I’ll inevitably be drawing heavily on the collection of Kees Stam, author of The Harry Palmer Movie Site, and Rob Mallows, creator of the Deighton Dossier, and other odds and ends that I’ve turned up over the years.

Today I intend to start reading Len Deighton’s The IPCRESS File, and you should too! If you don’t have a copy, you should order one. And to hold you over while that one arrives, I’ve included the prologue and first chapter of the book below.


Copy to: no. 1. Copies 2
Action: W.O.O.C.(P).
Origin: Cabinet.
Authority: PH6.
Please prepare summary of Dossier M/1993 /GH 222223
for Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Defence.

THEY came through on the hot [permanently open] line at about half past two in the afternoon. The Minister didn’t quite understand a couple of points in the summary. Perhaps I could see the Minister.


The Minister’s flat overlooked Trafalgar Square and was furnished like Oliver Messel did it for Oscar Wilde. He sat in the Sheraton, I sat in the Hepplewhite and we peeped at each other through the aspidistra plant.

‘Just tell me the whole story in your own words, old chap. Smoke?’

I was wondering whose words I might otherwise have used as he skimmed the aspidistra with his slim gold cigarette case. I beat him to the draw with a crumpled packet of Gauloises; I didn’t know where to begin.

‘I don’t know where to begin,’ I said. ‘The first document in the dossier…’

The Minister waved me down. ‘Never mind the dossier, my dear chap, just tell me your personal version. Begin with your first meeting with this fellow…’ he looked down to his small morocco bound notebook, ‘Jay. Tell me about him.’

‘Jay. His code-name is changed to Box Four,’ I said.

‘That’s very confusing,’ said the Minister, and wrote it down in his book.

‘It’s a confusing story,’ I told him. ‘I’m in a very confusing business.’

The Minister said, ‘Quite,’ a couple of times, and I let a quarter inch of ash away towards the blue Kashan rug.

‘I was in Lederers about 12.55 on a Tuesday morning the first time I saw Jay,’ I continued.

‘Lederers?’ said the Minister. ‘What’s that?’

‘It’s going to be very difficult for me if I have to answer questions as I go along,’ I said. ‘If it’s all the same to you, Minister, I’d prefer you to make a note of the questions, and ask me afterwards.’

‘My dear chap, not another word, I promise.’

And throughout the entire explanation he never again interrupted.


[Aquarius (Jan. 20-Feb. 19) A difficult day. You will face varied problems. Meet friends and make visits. It may help you to be better organized.]

I DON’T care what you say, 18,000 pounds (sterling) is a lot of money. The British Government had instructed me to pay it to the man at the corner table who was now using knife and fork to commit ritual murder on a cream pastry.

Jay the Government called this man. He had small piggy eyes, a large moustache and handmade shoes which I knew were size ten. He walked with a slight limp and habitually stroked his eyebrow with his index finger. I knew him as well as I knew anyone, for I had seen film of him in a small, very private cinema in Charlotte Street, every day for a month.

Exactly one month previous I had never even heard of Jay. My three weeks’ termination of engagement leave had sped to a close. I had spent it doing little or nothing unless you are prepared to consider sorting through my collection of military history books a job fit for a fully grown male. Not many of my friends were so prepared.

I woke up saying to myself ‘today’s the day’ but I didn’t feel much like getting out of bed just the same. I could hear the rain even before I drew the curtains back. December in London -the soot-covered tree outside was whipping itself into a frenzy. I closed the curtains quickly, danced across the icy-cold lino, scooped up the morning’s post and sat down heavily to wait while the kettle boiled. I struggled into the dark worsted and my only establishment tie – that’s the red and blue silk with the square design – but had to wait forty minutes for a cab. They hate to come south of the Thames you see.

It always had made me feel a little self-conscious saying, ‘War Office’ to cab drivers; at one time I had asked for the pub in Whitehall, or said ‘I’ll tell you when to stop,’ just to avoid having to say it. When I got out the cab had brought me to the Whitehall Place door and I had to walk round the block to the Horseguards Avenue entrance. A Champ vehicle was parked there, a red-necked driver was saying ‘Clout it one’ to an oily corporal in dungarees. The same old army, I thought. The long lavatory-like passages were dark and dirty, and small white cards with precise military writing labelled each green-painted door: GS 3, Major this, Colonel that, Gentlemen, and odd anonymous tea rooms from which bubbly old ladies in spectacles appeared when not practising alchemy within. Room 134 was just like any other; the standard four green filing cabinets, two green metal cupboards, two desks fixed together face to face by the window, a half full one pound bag of Tate and Lyle sugar on the window-sill.

Ross, the man I had come to see, looked up from the writing that had held his undivided attention since three seconds after I had entered the room. Ross said, ‘Well now,’ and coughed nervously. Ross and I had come to an arrangement of some years’ standing – we had decided to hate each other. Being English, this vitriolic relationship manifested itself in oriental politeness.

‘Take a seat. Well now, smoke?’ I had told him ‘No thanks’ for two years at least twice a week. The cheap inlay cigarette box (from Singapore’s change alley market) with the butterflies of wood grain, was wafted across my face.

Ross was a regular officer; that is to say he didn’t drink gin after 7.30 p.m. or hit ladies without first removing his hat. He had a long thin nose, a moustache like flock wallpaper, sparse, carefully combed hair, and complexion of a Hovis loaf.

The black phone rang. ‘Yes? Oh, it’s you, darling,’ Ross pronouncing each word with exactly the same amount of toneless indifference. To be frank, I was going to.’

For nearly three years I had worked in Military Intelligence. If you listened to certain people you’d learn that Ross was Military Intelligence. He was a quiet Intellect happy to work within the strict departmental limitations imposed upon him. Ross didn’t mind; hitting platform five at Waterloo with rosebud in the buttonhole and umbrella at the high port was Rossis beginning to a day of rubber stamp and carbon paper action. At last I was to be freed. Out of the Army, out of Military Intelligence, away from Ross: working as a civilian with civilians in one of the smallest and most important of the Intelligence Units – W.O.O.C.(P).

‘Well, I’ll phone you if I have to stay Thursday night.’

I heard the voice at the other end say, ‘Are you all right for socks?’

Three typed sheets of carbon copies so bad I couldn’t read them (let alone read them upside down) were kept steady and to hand by the office tea money. Ross finished his call and began to talk to me, and I twitched facial muscles to look like a man paying attention.

He located his black briar pipe after heaping the contents of his rough tweed jacket upon his desk top. He found his tobacco in one of the cupboards. ‘Well now,’ he said. He struck the match I gave him upon his leather elbow patch.

‘So you’ll be with the provisional people.’ He said it with quiet distaste; the Army didn’t like anything provisional, let alone people, and they certainly didn’t like the w.o.o.c.(p), and I suppose they didn’t much like me. Ross obviously thought my posting a very fine tentative solution until I could be got out of his life altogether. I won’t tell you all Ross said because most of it was pretty dreary and some of it is still secret and buried somewhere in one of those precisely but innocuously labelled files of his. A lot of the time he was having ignition trouble with his pipe and that meant he was going to start the story all through again.

Most of the people at the War House, especially those on the intelligence fringes as I was, had heard of w.o.o.c.(p) and a man called Dalby. His responsibility was direct to the Cabinet. Envied, criticized and opposed by other intelligence units Dalby was almost as powerful as anyone gets in this business. People posted to him ceased to be in the Army for all practical purposes and they were removed from almost all War Office records. In the few rare cases of men going back to normal duty from W.O.O.C.(p) they were enlisted all over afresh and given a new serial number from the batch that is reserved for Civil Servants seconded to military duties. Pay was made by an entirely different scale, and I wondered just how long I would have to make the remnants of this month’s pay last before the new scale began.

After a search for his small metal-rimmed army spectacles, Ross went through the discharge rigmarole with loving attention to detail. We began by destroying the secret compensation contract that Ross and I had signed in this very room almost three years ago and ended by his checking that I had no mess charges unpaid. It had been a pleasure to work with me, Provisional was clever to get me, he was sorry to lose me and Mr. Dalby was lucky to have me and would I leave this package in Room 225 on the way out – the messenger seemed to have missed him this morning.

Dalby’s place is in one of those sleazy long streets in the district that would be Soho, if Soho had the strength to cross Oxford Street. There is a new likely-looking office conversion wherein the unwinking blue neon glows even at summer midday, but this isn’t Dalby’s place. Dalby’s department is next door. His is dirtier than average with a genteel profusion of well-worn brass work, telling of the existence of ‘The Ex-Officers’ Employment Bureau. Est. 1917?; ‘Acme Films Cutting Rooms’; ‘B. Isaacs. Tailor – Theatricals a Speciality’; ‘Dalby Inquiry Bureau – staffed by ex-Scotland Yard detectives.’ A piece of headed note-paper bore the same banner and the biro’d message, ‘Inquiries third floor, please ring.’ Each morning at 9.30 I rang, and avoiding the larger cracks in the lino, began the ascent. Each floor had its own character – ageing paint varying from dark brown to dark green. The third floor was dark white. I passed the scaly old dragon that guarded the entrance to Dalby’s cavern.

I’ll always associate Charlotte Street with the music of the colliery brass bands that I remember from my childhood. The duty drivers and cipher clerks had a little fraternity that sat around in the despatch office on the second floor. They had a very loud gramophone and they were all brass band fanatics;

that’s a pretty esoteric failing in London. Up through the warped and broken floorboards came the gleaming polished music. Fairey Aviation had won the Open Championship again that year and the sound of the test piece reached through to every room in the building. It made Dalby feel he was overlooking Horse Guards Parade; it made me feel I was back in Burnley.

I said, ‘Hello, Alice,’ and she nodded, and busied herself with a Nescafe tin and a ruinous cup of warm water. I went through to the back office, saw Chico – he’d got a step beyond Alice, his Nescafe was almost dissolved. Chico always looked glad to see me, it made my day; it was his training, I suppose. He’d been to one of those very good schools where you meet kids with influential uncles. I imagine that’s how he got into the Horse Guards and now into w.o.o.c.(p) too, it must have been like being at school again. His profusion of long lank yellow hair hung heavily across his head like a Shrove Tuesday mishap. He stood 5 ft. 11 in. in his Argyll socks, and had an irritating physical stance, in which his thumbs rested high behind his red braces while he rocked on his hand-lasted Oxfords. He had the advantage of both a good brain and a family rich enough to save him using it.

I walked right through the Dalby Inquiry Bureau and down the back stairs. For this whole house belonged to w.o.o.c.(p) even though each business on each floor had its own ‘front’ for our convenience. By 9.40 a.m. each morning I was in the small ramshackle projection room of Acme Films.

The sickly sweet smell of film cement and warm celluloid was so strong that I think they must have sprayed it around. I threw my English B-picture raincoat across a pile of film tins, clean side up, and sank into one of the tip-up cinema seats. As always, it was seat number twenty-two, the one with the loose bolt, and always by that time I didn’t feel much like moving.

The Rheostat made that horrid squeaking noise. The room lights dimmed tiredly and the little projector clattered into action. A screaming white rectangle flung animated abstract shapes of scratch marks at my eyes, then darkened to a businesslike grey flannel suit colour.

In crude stick-on letters the film title said JAY. LEEDS. WARREN THREE. (Warren Three was the authority upon which it was filmed.) The picture began. Jay was walking along a crowded pavement. His moustache was gigantic, but cultivated with a care that he gave to everything he did. He limped, but it certainly didn’t impair his progress through the crowd. The camera wobbled and then tracked swiftly away. The van in which the movie camera had been hidden had been forced to move faster than Jay by the speed of the traffic. The screen flashed white and the next short, titled length began. Some of the films showed Jay with a companion, code-named HOUSE-MARTIN. He was a six feet tall handsome man in a good quality camel-hair overcoat. His hair was waved, shiny and a little too perfectly grey at the temples. He wore a handful of gold rings, a gold watch strap and a smile full of jacket crowns. It was an indigestible smile – he was never able to swallow it.

Chico operated the projector with tongue-jutting determination. Once in a while he would slip into the programme one of those crisp Charing Cross Road movies that feature girls in the skin. It was Dalby’s idea to keep his ‘students’ awake during these viewings.

‘Know your enemies,’ was Dalby’s theory. He felt if all his staff knew the low-life of the espionage business visually they would stand a better chance of predicting their thought. ‘Because he had a picture of Rommel over his bed Montgomery won Alamein.’ I don’t necessarily believe this – but this was what Dalby kept saying. (Personally I ascribe a lot of value to those extra 600 tanks.) Dalby was an elegant languid public school Englishman of a type that can usually reconcile his duty with comfort and luxury. He was a little taller than I am: probably 6 ft. i in. or 6 ft. 2 in. He had long fine fair hair, and every now and then would grow a little wispy blond moustache. At present he didn’t have it. He had a clear complexion that sunburnt easily and very small puncture-type scar tissue high on the left cheek to prove he had been to a German University in ’38. It had been useful experience, and in 1941 enabled him to gain a D.S.O. and bar. A rare event in any Intelligence group but especially in the one he was with. No citations of course.

He was unpublic school enough to wear a small signet ring on his right hand, and whenever he pulled at his face, which was often, he dragged the edge of the ring against the skin. This produced a little red weal due to excessive acidity in the skin. It was fascinating.

He peeped at me over the toes of his suede shoes which rested in the centre of a deskful of important papers, arranged in precise heaps. Spartan furniture (Ministry of Works contemporary) punctured the cheap lino and a smell of tobacco ash was in the air.

‘You are loving it here of course,’ Dalby asked.

‘I have a clean mind and pure heart. I get eight hours’ sleep every night. I am a loyal, diligent employee and will attempt every day to be worthy of the trust my paternal employer puts in me.’

‘I’ll make the jokes,’ said Dalby.

‘Go ahead,’ I said. ‘I can use a laugh – my eyes have been operating twenty-four frames per second for the last month.’

Dalby tightened a shoe-lace. ‘Think you can handle a tricky little special assignment?’

‘If it doesn’t demand a classical education I might be able to grope around it.’

Dalby said, ‘Surprise me, do it without complaint or sarcasm.’

‘It wouldn’t be the same,’ I said.

Dalby swung his feet to the floor and became deliberate and serious, ‘I’ve been across to the Senior Intelligence Conference this morning. Home Office are worried sick about these disappearances of their top biochemists. Committees, subcommittees – you should see them over there, talk about Mothers Day at the Turkish Bath.’

‘Has there been another then?’ I asked.

‘This morning,’ said Dalby, ‘one left home at 7.45 a.m. never reached the lab.’

‘Defection?’ I asked.

Dalby pulled a face and spoke to Alice over the desk intercom, ‘Alice, open a file and give me a code-name for this morning’s “wandering willie”.’ Dalby made his wishes known by peremptory unequivocal orders; all his staff preferred them to the complex polite chat of most Departments as especially did I as a refugee from the War Office. Alice’s voice came over the intercom like Donald Duck with a head cold. To whatever she said Dalby replied, ‘The hell with what the letter from Home Office said. Do as I say.’

There was a moment or so of silence then Alice used her displeased voice to say a long file number and the code-name RAVEN. All people under long-term surveillance had bird-names.

‘That’s a good girl,’ said Dalby in his most charming voice and even over the squawk-box I could hear the lift in Alice’s voice as she said, ‘Very good, sir.’

Dalby switched off the box and turned back to me. ‘They have put a security blackout on this Raven disappearance but I told them that William Hickey will be carrying a photo of his dog by the midday editions. Look at these.’ Dalby laid five passport photos across his oiled teak desk. Raven was a man in his late forties, thick black hair, bushy eyebrows, bony nose -there were a hundred like him in St. James’s at any minute of the day. Dalby said, ‘It makes eight top rank Disappearances in…’ he looked at his desk diary,’… six and a half weeks.’

‘Surely Home Office aren’t asking us to help them,’ I said.

‘They certainly are not,’ said Dalby. ‘But if we found Raven I think the Home Secretary would virtually disband his confused little intelligence department. Then we could add their files to ours. Think of that.’

‘Find him?’ I said. ‘How would we start?’

‘How would you start?’ asked Dalby.

‘Haven’t the faintest,’ I said. ‘Go to laboratory, wife doesn’t know what’s got into him lately, discover dark almond-eyed woman. Bank manager wonders where he’s been getting all that money. Fist fight through darkened lab. Glass tubes that would blow the world to shreds. Mad scientist backs to freedom holding phial – flying tackle by me. Up grams Rule Britannia.’

Dalby gave me a look calculated to have me feeling like an employee, he got to his feet and walked across to the big map of Europe that he had had pinned across the wall for the last week. I walked across to him, ‘You think that Jay is master minding it,’ I said. Dalby looked at the map and still staring at it said, ‘Sure of it, absolutely sure of it.’

The map was covered with clear acetate and five small frontier areas from Finland to the Caspian were marked in black greasy pencil. Two places in Syria carried small red flags.

Dalby said, ‘Every important illegal movement across these bits of frontier that I have marked are with Jay’s O.K.

‘Important movement. I don’t mean he stands around checking that the eggs have little lions on.’ Dalby tapped the border. ‘Somewhere before they get him as far as this we must…’ Dalby’s voice trailed away lost in thought.

‘Hi-jack him?’ I prompted softly. Dalby’s mind had raced on. ‘It’s January. If only we could do this in January,’ he said. January was the month that the Government estimates were prepared. I began to see what he meant. Dalby suddenly became aware of me again and turned on a big flash of boyish charm.

‘You see,’ said Dalby. ‘It’s not just a case of the defection of one biochemist…’

‘Defection? I thought that Jay’s speciality was a high quality line in snatch jobs.’

‘Hi-jack! Snatch jobs! all that gangland talk. You read too many newspapers that’s your trouble. You mean they walk him through the customs and immigration with two heavy-jowled men behind him with their right hands in their overcoat pockets? No. No. No,’ he said the three ‘noes’ softly, paused and added two more. ‘… this isn’t a mere emigration of one little chemist,’ (Dalby made him sound like an assistant from Boots) ‘who has probably been selling them stuff for years. In fact given the choice I’m not sure I wouldn’t let him go. It’s those — people at the Home Office. They should know about these things before they occur: not start crying in their beer afterwards.’ He picked two cigarettes out of his case, threw one to me and balanced the other between his fingers. ‘They are all right running the Special Branch, H.M. prisons and Cruelty to Animal Inspectors but as soon as they get into ourbusiness they have trouble touching bottom,’[The Denning report published September, 1963 revealed that the Home Secretary is in control of British Counter Intelligence.] Dalby continued to do balancing tricks with the cigarette to which he had been talking. Then he looked up and began to talk to me. ‘Do you honestly believe that given all the Home Office Security files we couldn’t do a thousand times better than they have ever done.’

‘I think we could,’ I said. He was so pleased with my answer that he stopped toying with the cigarette and lit it in a burst of energy. He inhaled the smoke then tried to snort it down his nostrils. He choked. His face went red. ‘Shall I get you a glass of water?’ I asked, and his face went redder. I must have ruined the drama of the moment. Dalby recovered his breath and went on.

‘You can see now that this is something more than an ordinary case, it’s a test case.’

‘I sense impending Jesuitical pleas.’

‘Exactly,’ said Dalby with a malevolent smile. He loved to be cast as the villain, especially if it could be done with schoolboy-scholarship. ‘You remember the Jesuit motto.’ He was always surprised to find that I had read any sort of book.

‘When the end is lawful the means are also lawful,’ I answered.

He beamed and pinched the bridge of his nose between finger and thumb. I had made him very happy.

‘If it pleases you that much.’ I said, ‘I’m sorry I can’t muster it in dog-Latin.’

‘It’s all right, all right,’ said Dalby. He traversed his cigarette then changed the range and elevation until it had me in its sights. He spoke slowly, carefully articulating each syllable. ‘Go and buy this Raven for me.’

‘From Jay.’

‘From anyone who has him – I’m broadminded.’

‘How much can I spend, Daddy?’

He moved his chair an inch nearer the desk with a loud crash, ‘Look here, every point of entry has the stopper jammed tightly upon it.’ He gave a little bitter laugh. ‘It makes you laugh, doesn’t it. I remember when we asked H.O. to close the airports for one hour last July. The list of excuses they gave us. But when someone slips through their little butter-fingers and they are going to be asked some awkward questions, anything goes. Anyway, Jay is a bright lad; he’ll know what’s going on; he’ll have this Raven on ice for a week and then move him when all goes quiet. If meanwhile we make him anything like a decent offer…’ Dalby’s voice trailed off as he slipped his mind into over-drive, ‘… say 18,000 quid. We pick him up from anywhere Jay says – no questions asked.’

’18,000,’ I said.

‘You can go up to twenty-three if you are sure they are on the level. But on our terms. Payment after delivery. Into a Swiss Bank. Strictly no cash and I don’t want Raven dead. Or even damaged.’

‘O.K.’ I said. I suddenly felt very small and young and called upon to do something that I wasn’t sure I could manage. If this was the run of the mill job at W.O.O.C.-(P) they deserved their high pay and expense accounts. ‘Shall I start by locating Jay?’ It seemed a foolish thing to say but I felt in dire need of an instruction book.

Dalby flapped a palm. I sat down again. ‘Done,’ he said. He flipped a switch on his squawk-box. Alice’s voice, electronically distorted, spoke from the room downstairs. ‘Yes, sir,’ she said.

‘What’s Jay doing?’

There was a couple of clicks and Alice’s voice came back to the office again. ‘At 12.10 he was in Lederers coffee-house.’

‘Thanks, Alice,’ said Dalby.

‘Cease surveillance, sir?’

‘Not yet, Alice. I’ll tell you when.’ To me he said, ‘There you are then. Off you go.’

I doused my cigarette and stood up. Two other last things,’ said Dalby. ‘I am authorizing you for 1,200 a year expenses. And,’ he paused, ‘don’t contact me if anything goes wrong, because I won’t know what the hell you are talking about.’

This post first appeared on the Mister 8 website, July 6th 2009.

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In their own (code) words: 3

Welcome back to another edition of ‘in their own (code) words’ wherein we look at the words of the world’s spymasters. I’m looking at Allen Dulles’ rather stolid The Craft of Intelligence, written in 1963. Dulles (1893-1969) had a long and storied career in intelligence, including a role as the first civilian director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

This week, we’re looking at one of the side effects of the espionage game — paranoia. Once you know that not only should you not believe everything, but that you shouldn’t believe most things, and the things that you do believe might be deliberately constructed to look like things that you shouldn’t believe, meaning that you should believe them… well, what can you really believe in at that point?

A short bit from Dulles this week:

When one deliberately misleads, sometimes friend as well as foe is misled. And later the deceiver may not be believed when he wishes to be. This is the situation of the Soviets today after Cuba.

Often the very fear of deception has blinded an opponent to the real value of information which accidents or intelligence operations have placed in his hands.

As Sir Walter Scott wrote:

Oh, what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practice to deceive!

If you suspect an enemy of constant trickery, then almost anything that happens can be taken as one of his tricks. A collateral effect of deception, once a single piece of deception has succeeded in its purpose, is to upset and confuse the opponent’s judgement and evaluation of other intelligence he may receive. He will be suspicious and distrustful. He will not want to be caught off guard.

This post originally appeared on the Mister 8 website (December 4th, 2009).

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1966 NBC Promo Posters




These posters were part of a lot sold in May, 2011 at Heritage Auctions. The UNCLE poster is by an artist named Allison (from the signature), and went for $84. The I Spy poster is by Gustav Rehberger, and went for $179. The Get Smart is by Mad Magazine veteran Jack Davis and went for $120. Originally, these were sold by NBC for just a few bucks, apparently. The best source I’ve seen on the posters is at the I Spy forum, where Tatia writes:

“The eleven promotional posters produced to be given to NBC’s major affiliates as decorations for parties celebrating their 1966 season premieres were Bonanza, Daniel Boone, Flipper, Get Smart, Hey Landlord, I Spy, The Monkees, Star Trek, T.H.E. Cat, The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. NBC did offer the Bonanza, Get Smart and I Spy for sale for a very limited time afterwards.”

This post first appeared on the Mister 8 website in December 2011.

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Harry Palmer Files – 002 – The IPCRESS File Board Game

Every Sunday, we’ll be looking at the Harry Palmer series of novels (in which the character doesn’t actually have a name), their author — Len Deighton, the films based on them, the star of those films — Michael Caine, and the television movies that followed, and giving my thoughts on all I encounter. I’ll inevitably be drawing heavily on the collection of Kees Stam, author of The Harry Palmer Movie Site, and Rob Mallows, creator of the Deighton Dossier, and other odds and ends that I’ve turned up over the years.

I first saw this item in a photograph advertising the Geppi’s Entertainment Museum of Baltimore and have been curious about it since. This week, I found one online in an ebay auction. I’ve contacted the seller, Joe, and he has kindly consented to let us use pictures of the board and game pieces here for our Harry Palmer discussion.

Joe describes the game as follows:

“The IPCRESS File,” a board game issued in 1966 by Milton Bradley. Game No. 4643. A suspense / espionage game modeled after the popular 1965 British espionage film starring Michael Caine as “Harry Palmer, the cool British agent,” and Len Deighton’s 1962 novel, “The IPCRESS File.”

* For 2 to 4 players
* For ages 10 to adult
* Object: Get the “Double Agent” before he gets you
* Average play time 25 minutes

The game is 100 percent complete. It includes board, 24 cards, four agent pieces, four stands (one for each agent piece), two red-and-gold dice and original box.

IPCRESS File game box

IPCRESS File game board

IPCRESS File game pieces

Another view of IPCRESS File game box

This post originally appeared on the Mister 8 website, July 3rd, 2009.

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