location of Portland Place is a backdrop for a key scene in the 1935
Hitchcock film "The 39 Steps":
showing Broadcasting House
The original John
Buchan novel (first publication possibly in 1915) sets John Hannay's
London flat in the first floor of a new block behind Langham Place.
This is where Scudder or 'Captain Theophilus Digby, of the 40th Gurhkas'
is murdered 'sprawled on his back. There was a long knife through his
heart which skewered him to the floor'.
Hitchcock and his
screenwriters cleverly switch the character to make it female 'Miss
Smith/Annabella) played by Lucie Mannheim. In my view the Hitchcock
film of 1935 was more exciting in the sense that the use of femme fatales
and switching Buchan's secondary male characters for women added a zest.
Furthermore the Forth Bridge scene is filmic and not part of the original
Hitchcock's film made
a year after 'Death At Broadcasting House' was eminently more successful
because it was based on an excellent and best selling novel and also
because of the widely acknowledged talent and qualities of its director.
The original novel and the first film therefore has considerably more
cultural and literary resonance and significance.
9 of The Thirty Nine Steps
of the film
entire book available online
of the book
Thirty Nine Steps educational resource
source for the original text
source for original text and a link to a chatroom or newsgroup
The performances of
Robert Donat as Hannay, Madeleine Carroll as Pamela and the young Peggy
Ashcroft as Margaret have been consistently praised by the critics.
1935 Hitchcock film is available on DVD
THIRTY-NINE STEPS (1935) A Film Review by Ted Prigge
of Pictures from the film
on The 39 Steps Hitchcock film by George Perry
handcuffed Carroll and Donat on the set to get them used to doing their
scenes together. Buchan's novel is very much an artefact of its time
and has become a source for studying the negative representation of
Jews and other 'foreigners' as well as being a symbol of Imperialist
culture. Buchan's attempt to reproduce the dialect of Scottish people
is also rather farcical to modern eyes and ears.
original 39 steps and the writer John Buchan - later Governor-General
of The 39 Steps
Evaluation of the novel
critical issues in literary studies
real steps which were the inspiration for the book
Orson Welles and the
CBS Mercury Theatre on the Air also did a radio adaptation of The 39
Steps on the 1st of August 1938. This edition went out on a Monday night
between 9 and 10 p.m. and the first season of plays was called 'First
Person Singular'. There was also a production and broadcast in 1937
- a Lux Radio Theatre adaptation performed by Robert Montgomery and
book version available read by Frederick Davidson
book was also made into another film in 1959 starring Kenneth Moore
with spectacular Scottish locations
of the 1959 film
for 1959 film
third film version was made with Robert Powell in 1978
Hannay character ran for a total of 5 novels many of which provided
the impetus for the BBC to develop the character over long serials on
the radio and incorporating the separate books into Hannay story sequences.
The Three Hostages is regarded by many critics as one of the strangest
and best of the stories with high adventure, and more profound and culturally
Three Hostages book cover
appear that the first BBC production of John Buchan's The 39 Steps was
23/7/1939 and adapted by Winifred Carey. This would have had cultural
poignancy being weeks before the outbreak of the Second World War as
the book is all about nefarious German espionage activity weeks before
the outbreak of the First World War. And the Richard Hannay mythology
was very much the cultural reference point for British/Imperial intelligence
and counter-espionage values before Ian Fleming's James Bond and Mrs
Moneypenny arrived post Second World War. Buchan died in 1940. Same
adaptation was produced by the BBC on 9th November 1948. Winifred Carey's
adaptation of the novel was reproduced in 5 episodes in a series of
'The Adventures of Richard Hannay' on 15th January 1950.
the novel was clearly very popular throughout the 50s with another adaptation
produced in February 1953. David S Boliver was responsible for an adapatation
produced and broadcast by the BBC on 30/09/1953 and J.C Gosforth on
19/06/1958. After the Second World War these were all Home Service transmissions.
It was hardly Third Programme material, Winifred Carey's Adventures
were produced presumably by pre-recorded production processes for BBC
Radio 4 on 13/08/1972.
Buchan's representation of non Anglo-Saxon white people in his novels
contains alarming and rather repugnant constructions of racist stereotypes.
The Richard Hannay character and adventures of the Edwardian, First
World War and between the wars period coincided with the entrenchment
of anti-Semitic propaganda and he does not exercise much restraint in
the depiction of derogative anti-Jewish comments and attitudes in his
description of a black jazz band in a Fitzrovia club of the 1920s is
very offensive to an audience of today:
five shillings apiece for a liqueur, found a table and took notice of
the show. It seemed to me a wholly rotten and funereal business. A nigger
band, looking like monkeys in uniform, pounded some kind of barbarous
jingle, and sad-faced marionettes moved to it. There was no gaiety or
devil in that dancing, only a kind of bored perfection. Thin young men
with rabbit heads and hair brushed straight back from their brows, who
I suppose were professional dancing partners, held close to their breasts
women of every shape and age, but all alike in having dead eyes and
masks for faces, and the macabre procession moved like automata to the
niggers' rhythm. I daresay it was all very wonderful, but I was not
built by Providence to appreciate it.
can't stand much more of this," I told Archie'
85, Buchan, J (1995) The Three Hostages, Ware, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth
David Daydeen and Nana Wilson-Tagoe critique Buchan's 1910 novel 'Prester
John' in 'A Reader's Guide to West Indian and Black British Literature
(1988) London: Hansib Publications. On pages 111 to 116 a clear case
is made out that the book 'depicts Africans in a negative light. The
theme of adventure only works by presenting Africans as unfamiliar,
mysterious creatures who share little with the whites.' Although they
acknowledge that Buchan has attempted to undermine imperialism but his
strong and positive depiction of the character Laputa depends on europeanisation
and an absence of 'squat and preposterous Negro lineaments.' The African
remains 'relegated to the status of the "savage other".'
Thirty Nine Steps' it is Scudder's description of Jews being behind
a force of malevolent international finance which throws up echoes of
the anti-Semitic and faked 'Protocols of Zion':
he said, had no conscience and no fatherland. Besides, the Jew was behind
it, and the Jew hated Russia worse than hell. 'Do you wonder?' he cried.
'For three hundred years they have been persecuted, and this is the
return match for the pogroms. The Jew is everywhere, but you have to
go far down the backstairs to find him.
any big Teutonic business concern. If you have dealings with it the
first man you meet is Prince von und Zu Something, an elegant young
man who talks Eton-and-Harrow English. But he cuts no ice. If your business
is big, you get behind him and find a prognathous Westphalian with a
retreating brow and the manners of a hog. He is the German businessman
that gives your English papers the shakes. But if you're on the biggest
kind of job and are bound to get to the real boss, ten to one you are
brought up against a little white-faced Jew in a bath-chair with an
eye like a rattlesnake.
Sir, he is the man who is ruling the world just now, and he has his
knife in the Empire of the Tzar, because his aunt was outraged and his
father flogged in some one-horse location on the Volga.'
not help saying that his Jew-anarchists seemed to have got left behind
and no,' he said. 'They won up to a point, but they struck a bigger
thing than money, a thing that couldn't be bought, the old elemental
fighting instincts of man. If you're going to be killed you invent some
kind of flag and country to fight for, and if you survive you get to
love the thing.
foolish devils of soldiers have found something they care for, and that
has upset the pretty plan laid in Berlin and Vienna. But my friends
haven't played their last card by a long sight. They've gotten the ace
up their sleeves, and unless I can keep alive for a month they are going
to play it and win.' "
1- The Man Who Died. From the Internet version of The Thirty Nine Steps
in the novel Hannay observes that Scudder does not like Jews but this
virulent and demeaning expression of racism is contextualised as 'an
the artistic temperament, and wanted a story to be better than God meant
it to be. He had a lot of odd biases, too. Jews, for example, made him
see red. Jews and the high finance'.