Most people assume that James Bond was the sole inspiration for Mike Myers when he created the spoof Austin Powers franchise. Most people are wrong. Just as big an influence was Len Deighton’s character of Harry Palmer in The Ipcress File.

Palmer was another spy, created almost as an antidote to James Bond and his glamorous, globe-trotting, exotic adventures. An old-school, more naturalistic spy set in the grimy cities of the 60s and 70s. He featured in four novels – The IPCRESS File, Horse Under Water, Funeral In Berlin, Billion Dollar Brain, An Expensive Place To Die, Spy Story, and Twinkle, Twinkle Little Spy.


There were four movie adaptions created by half of the Bond producing duo, Harry Saltzman. These starred Michael Caine in the lead role and it is this bespectacled, slightly Cockney spy that is as much an inspiration for Austin Powers as James Bond. This led to Caine appearing as Austin Power’s father in Goldmember, clearly copying Palmer’s style.

The character has very little backstory in the books, except that he is an effective intelligence agent who has disdain for authority and is morbidly realistic about his line of work. He likes cooking and classical music.

In the movies, the character is expanded to show him as a British army sergeant forcibly drafted into the security services to work away a prison sentence for black-marketeering. After a stint in Army Intelligence, he then finds himself at the Foreign Office.

The novels and movies are highly entertaining. So it will be interesting to see how the television adaption will deliver. Filming started yesterday on the show in the UK and the talent is top class.

Peaky Blinders star and Gangs Of London breakout Joe Cole will play the lead role of Palmer. Tom Hollander, Ashley Thomas, David Dencik, Joshua James and Tom Vaughan-Lawlor will co-star. Oscar-nominated and BAFTA-winning writer John Hodge (Trainspotting) adapted the script. James Watkins (Black Mirror) is directing all six episodes.

ITV Studios are backing the project so it is presumed it will screen on ITV when released in the UK. No word yet on international distribution. The approach is said to have been inspired by recent espionage serials such as The Night Manager.

The novel sold 10 million copies worldwide and takes place between Berlin and London during the 1960s. Palmer is assigned to investigate the kidnappings and brainwashed reappearances of several of the UK’s top scientists. He races against time and against the criminal underworld, rival intelligence agencies, the CIA, and his own duplicitous superiors as he attempts to solve the mystery.

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