Len Deighton's The Ipcress File was published on 12th November 1962 (15 years to the day before I was born, for those taking notes) and adapted into a film starring Michael Caine. Ostensibly a spy film, it is a more grounded approach to the genre than the Bond films, which are really only nominally spy thrillers. The same year as Thunderball, it's surprising that John Barry would associate himself with another spy series (as it became, albeit one much shorter lived than Bond), but the very different, more straight laced and serious tone presumably persuaded him that he could approach the material in a different way.
According to the liner notes, Barry took his inspiration from the zither score of The Third Man by Anton Karas as his starting point, but instead chose the cimbalom. I don't actually know what a cimbalom looks like, but it has a twanging guitar type sound. The problem with reviewing The Ipcress File is that it really is a monothematic score. Every score track features the main theme in some way; from the fairly well known Main Title arrangement, to a very tasty jazz arrangement - complete with vibraphone counterpoint - in Jazz Along Alone and A Man Alone (2). There are also a couple of more dramatic outings, particularly the vaguely Bondian Meeting with Grantby and Fight and the terse Death of Carswell. Alone Blues is, as would be expected, a bluesy arrangement for laconic piano, drum kit, flute and solo trumpet and forms the most extended and laid back cue of the album.
Despite protestations to the contrary, I can't honestly number the theme as one of Barry's best, even if it is undoubtedly one of his most effective. It's heard enough times that it can't fail to be memorable and the variations are often quite striking, certainly a marvel of invention and a class outing in monothematics. All the even numbered tracks are dialogue clips from the film, so if you want to do karaoke Michael Caine, then it should provide literally minutes of entertainment. It becomes almost normal having the dialogue snippets after a while and none of the clips intrude on the music so can be programmed out if you're that bothered. For a fairly vintage recording, the sound is good and Barry's crisp orchestrations come through clearly. The retro type written liner notes might annoy some because of the small print, a case of form over function, but the content regarding the film and score is interesting and worth a read.