Have you ever heard of Len Deighton?
Because the legendary English author - raised in London during the Second World War - not only shaped the landscape of modern spy fiction, but also helped shape one of our most famous frames; the ‘Yvan Optical’. And he did so with the handsome help of Sir Michael Caine.
After witnessing the arrest of a Nazi spy during his teenage years, Len Deighton (whose father was a chauffeur and his mother a cook) decided to write spy stories. At the age of 30, whilst on holiday in the Dordogne, he put to paper the first draft of The IPCRESS File, a twisty tale of brainwashing, atomic bombs and military intelligence.
When published, the novel was commercially and critically successful — and landed Deighton a job with Harry Saltzman’s Eon Productions, adapting the second James Bond film, From Russia With Love. Deighton didn’t end up writing the 007 sequel, but he did manage to sell Saltzman the rights to his own spy novels. And, before long, a big screen version of The IPCRESS File was put into production — with Michael Caine cast as the lead character, Harry Palmer.
At this point, Michael Caine was already a star. After changing his name (born Maurice Micklewhite, the actor borrowed ‘Caine’ from Humphrey Bogart’s 1954 drama The Caine Mutiny), the Cockney icon turned himself into a leading man with his role in 1964’s Zulu — and, as such, he became heavily involved in The IPCRESS File adaptation. He suggested many products be used by the props department, from an ‘Insta-Brewer’ coffee pot to Palmer’s distinctive pair of our very own ‘Yvan’ spectacles.
These frames, created by Curry & Paxton in 1948, had a history that pre-dated The IPCRESS File. When the National Health Service (NHS) was established in the mid-1940s, we were contracted to supply London’s leading hospitals with spectacle frames. And our ‘Yvan’ design was prescribed so readily that it wasn’t only Michael Caine who discovered the glasses, but also Len Deighton himself.
The author wore the frames almost every day during the 1960s, and his ‘Harry Palmer’ novels Funeral in Berlin (1964) and Billion-Dollar Brain (1966) were also adapted - featuring Michael Caine wearing the same spectacles. Caine was so fond of the frames that he even slipped on a pair of tinted ‘Yvan’ sunglasses in The Italian Job, during the film’s tense Turin Airport sequence.
Our glasses became synonymous with Caine’s Harry Palmer character — but that’s exactly what the actor wanted. Afraid of being typecast, Caine had hoped to find an accessory so statement-making that they would personify his spycrafting performance. The Yvan frames delivered just that. And, as the actor suffered from short-sightedness, our spectacles also meant that he could perform as many punch-ups, gunfights and car chases as any given script called for.
Caine even wore his favourite frames off the film set. Many times during his early career, photographs of the actor were taken around London wearing these signature spectacles. And, years later, in 2006, a tortoiseshell pair belonging to the actor were auctioned off at Christie’s, selling for £6,600.
Today, thanks to Deighton, Caine and Curry & Paxton, striking chunky-framed glasses still pervades spy fiction. Films from Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman movies to the tongue-in-cheek Austin Powers franchise feature lead characters wearing thick-rimmed glasses (not coincidentally, Michael Caine himself appears in both series).
And the ‘Yvan’ design is as durable and enduring now as it was in the days of The IPCRESS File. Crafted from high-grade cellulose supplied by Italian acetate manufacturers Mazzucchelli, today’s frames feature five-barrel hinges and genuine pin fastenings for maximum strength and durability.
Available in either ‘Dark Tortoiseshell’, ‘Piano Black’ or ‘Caramel Tortoiseshell’, and with either optical lenses or a set of UV-shielding brown tinted lenses, the frames may be most closely associated with Michael Caine’s stealthy, secret agent antics, but for us — at Curry & Paxton — we’ll always credit author and everyman Len Deighton with popularising the signature, statement style.