November 5, 2018


Alfred Hitchcock's "The 39 Steps": A Coded Message? (K. V. Turley, 11/02/18, Imaginative Conservative)

In October 1932, Sir Oswald Mosley founded the British Union of Fascists (BUF). By 1934, BUF's membership had risen to 50,000. Rallies were impressive affairs. From its neo-Gothic fortress, Black Shirt House, on the King's Road in Chelsea, London, Black Shirted followers would travel to the arenas at nearby Earl's Court or Olympia where Mosley's oratory would electrify. The enemy, he pronounced, was clear for all to see: the Jews, the Reds, the whole corrupt capitalist system and its front: liberal democracy. For many, it seemed, at last, Great Britain's very own 'Strong Man' had emerged. The Hour of the Fascist had finally come. It seemed as if power was within the Black Shirts' grasp. The roars of appreciation from within and outside the arenas could be heard all over London, and indeed beyond. The national newspaper, The Daily Mail, ran an editorial entitled: 'Hurrah for the Black Shirts!' Gazing out over London from the top of Black Shirt House, Mosley must have wondered not 'If' but 'When'.

In the same city, to the north of fashionable Chelsea, was another London, Shepherds Bush. In its backstreets there existed an industrial facility: Lime Grove Studios. Built in 1915, its artisans did not make cars or armaments but films. And it was there that, in 1934, a young Alfred Hitchcock started to work on John Buchan's 1915 novel, The Thirty-Nine Steps. The plot of the novel had been changed, but its essentials were retained if stripped of the Edwardian paranoia around Empire loss. Now the story was brought up to date, and spoke instead of fears around national survival. As the thunderous applause still echoed across London from Earls Court for the Black Shirted Color Party as it carried forth into the night the Fascist flag of the BUF, just a few miles to the north, the cameras began to roll upon a thriller that spoke of fascism, of foreign agents and their fellow travellers.

The 39 Steps is one of five films that Hitchcock made in England about espionage in the mid-to-late 1930s. These films capture the growing threat felt in Britain from foreign powers. In their scenarios the nation's security was nowhere more threatened than by spies hiding in plain sight. In The 39 Steps this premise is never more clearly on display, startlingly so. [...]

Importantly, as film production commenced, the shooting script was altered. The 39 Steps 'secret' was no longer what it had been in the source material. As Hitchcock cries 'Action!' and Richard Hannay, played by Robert Donat, is pursued across the Highlands and eventually back to London, let us return to Broadstairs where truth is stranger than fiction.

On Broadstairs' North Foreland Estate there stands a 20-room mansion, called Naldera. The inspirational '39'--there were in fact 78--steps to the sea are there. For many years it had been the home of the wealthy politician, Lord Curzon. A frequent visitor to the house was his son-in-law, Sir Oswald Mosley. Mosley had married Curzon's daughter, Cynthia, in 1920.

By 1934, however, there was someone else living at Naldera. There was a man who, like the foreign agents in The 39 Steps, had impeccable manners and an immaculate English accent, and even, on occasion, was known to wear a monocle. His name was Dr. Arthur Tester. He claimed to be English. He was in fact a Nazi spy.

Posted by at November 5, 2018 3:51 AM