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Making a Costume Drama out of a Crisis

Jenny Diski: ‘Downton Abbey’, 21 June 2012

Downton Abbey: Series One and Two 
Universal DVD, £39.99, November 2011Show More
Upstairs Downstairs: Complete Series One and Two 
BBC DVD, £17.99, April 2012Show More
Park Lane 
by Frances Osborne.
Virago, 336 pp., £14.99, June 2012, 978 1 84408 479 1
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Habits of the House 
by Fay Weldon.
Head of Zeus, 320 pp., £14.99, July 2012, 978 1 908800 04 6
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... when used by that other official (though, like Cooke, miscategorised) quintessential English gent, Alfred Hitchcock. Good evening. Beginning in 1974, for the benefit of American television viewers, Alistair Cooke introduced every episode of the five original series of Upstairs, Downstairs. It wasn’t offered as slush or soapy escapism, but as classy and ...

As If

Jonathan Romney: ‘Cahiers du cinéma’, 9 September 2010

A Short History of ‘Cahiers du cinéma’ 
by Emilie Bickerton.
Verso, 156 pp., £12.99, March 2010, 978 1 84467 232 5
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... seriously as classical tragedy. And by doing so, these critics proved it was so. They wrote as if Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks, Nicholas Ray et al were as sophisticated and as consistent in their styles, worldviews, personal ‘signatures’ as, say, William Faulkner – and thanks to Cahiers, few cinephiles would today think of disputing that. They ...


John Lanchester, 24 May 1990

Chicago Loop 
by Paul Theroux.
Hamish Hamilton, 183 pp., £12.99, April 1990, 0 241 12949 4
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Lies of Silence 
by Brian Moore.
Bloomsbury, 194 pp., £12.99, April 1990, 0 7475 0610 8
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Amongst Women 
by John McGahern.
Faber, 184 pp., £12.99, May 1990, 0 571 14284 2
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The Condition of Ice 
by Christopher Burns.
Secker, 170 pp., £12.95, April 1990, 0 436 19989 0
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... cat did not come. Where was it?’ Students of the oeuvre of Brian Moore’s one-time collaborator Alfred Hitchcock will hum doomy music to themselves when they read those words – and they’ll be right. The cat doesn’t come because the cat has been murdered by a team of IRA gunmen who, later that same evening, break into Dillon’s house, take him ...

Middle-Aged and Dishevelled

Rebecca Solnit: Endangered Species?, 23 March 2006

In the Company of Crows and Ravens 
by John Marzluff and Tony Angell.
Yale, 384 pp., £18.95, October 2005, 0 300 10076 0
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... to dry up. Ravens and crows are another story. Seventy-five miles up the coast from San Francisco, Alfred Hitchcock made The Birds, in which a Coalition of the Winged attacks human beings en masse, a fantasy in its depiction of unity between avian species as much as anything else. Some birds have proliferated to an amazing degree in the last decade or ...

Gotcha, Pat!

Terry Castle: Highsmith in My Head, 4 March 2021

Devils, Lusts and Strange Desires: The Life of Patricia Highsmith 
by Richard Bradford.
Bloomsbury, 258 pp., £20, January 2021, 978 1 4482 1790 8
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... is the poet laureate of Oops, I killed him. (And her.) What do I do now? In the 1950s and 1960s, Alfred Hitchcock was her only rival at capturing such vertiginous changes of state: the lightning-quick slippage from normal to horrific and back again. Back, that is, to a now nightmarish perversion of normal life from which you, the killer, realise ...

Drab Divans

Miranda Seymour: Julian Maclaren-Ross, 24 July 2003

Fear & Loathing in Fitzrovia: The Bizarre Life of Writer, Actor, Soho Dandy, Julian Maclaren-Ross 
by Paul Willetts.
Dewi Lewis, 403 pp., £14.99, March 2003, 1 899235 69 8
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... of his favourite topics for pub orations. Radio plays which earned him the title of ‘radio’s Alfred Hitchcock’ had such titles as The Newgate Calendar, The Confidential Agent, adapted from Greene’s novel, The Midnight Men and Until the Day She Dies. Willetts, perhaps from an excess of familiarity, is often unsympathetic to his subject. He sees ...

The Tarnished Age

Richard Mayne, 3 September 1981

David O. Selznick’s Hollywood 
by Ronald Haver.
Secker, 425 pp., £35, December 1980, 0 436 19128 8
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My Early life 
by Ronald Reagan and Richard Hubler.
Sidgwick, 316 pp., £7.95, April 1981, 0 283 98771 5
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Naming Names 
by Victor Navasky.
Viking, 482 pp., $15.95, October 1980, 0 670 50393 2
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... perfectionist, intent on shaping every detail himself. This upset ambitious directors. When Alfred Hitchcock made Rebecca, Spell-bound and The Paradine Case, he was told to stop ‘cutting in the camera’, and to shoot enough film for Selznick to control the editing. Not surprisingly, these were three of ...

‘Screw you, I’m going home’

Ian Hacking, 22 June 2000

Conquest of Abundance: A Tale of Abstraction Versus the Richness of Being 
by Paul Feyerabend, edited by Bert Terpstra.
Chicago, 285 pp., £19, February 2000, 0 226 24533 0
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... because of a trick used by the writer, the ‘reality’ you perceived turns out to be a chimera. (Alfred Hitchcock, Anthony Shaffer and Ira Levin are masters of this kind of switch.) Looking back, you can now say that things were not what they seemed to be and looking forward with the experience in mind you will regard any clear and definite arrangement ...

Reasons to be Miserable

James Meek: The Day My Pants Froze, 8 July 2004

The Siberian Curse: How Communist Planners Left Russia out in the Cold 
by Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy.
Brookings, 303 pp., £13.50, December 2003, 0 8157 3645 2
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... Press on west towards the coast and by mid-morning, not far from the lonely petrol station where Alfred Hitchcock filmed the most famous sequence in The Birds, you’ll be at Fort Ross. It sounds, and looks, American enough: a timber stockade close to the heaving Pacific. Ross. A Scottish name. It seems so, yet it is not. The fort was originally built ...


Marilyn Butler, 22 January 1981

Three-Quarter Face 
by Penelope Gilliatt.
Secker, 295 pp., £7.95, September 1980, 9780436179587
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Show People 
by Kenneth Tynan.
Weidenfeld, 317 pp., £8.95, October 1980, 0 297 77842 0
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When the lights go down 
by Pauline Kael.
Boyars, 592 pp., £8.95, August 1980, 0 7145 2726 2
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... of Modern Art, she recapitulates the early careers of individual directors such as John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock or Satyajit Ray. Her warm descriptive style, sympathetic, unanalytic, excels when it seeks to do nothing more than to report the experience of seeing a film. But Gilliatt seems dissatisfied with the effect, judging by her zeal to dress up ...

Horrid Mutilation! Read all about it!

Richard Davenport-Hines: Jack the Ripper and the London Press by Perry Curtis, 4 April 2002

Jack the Ripper and the London Press 
by Perry Curtis.
Yale, 354 pp., £25, February 2002, 0 300 08872 8
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... since Marie Belloc Lowndes’s Ripper novel, The Lodger (1913), was first adapted in 1926 by Alfred Hitchcock, with Ivor Novello playing a suspected serial killer known as the Avenger. It was through the print media of the 1880s that they had their greatest impact, however. Revolting details – surpassing even Walter Palmer’s exhumation – were ...

Tell us, Solly

Tim Radford: Solly Zuckerman, 20 September 2001

Solly Zuckerman: A Scientist out of the Ordinary 
by John Peyton.
Murray, 252 pp., £22.50, May 2001, 9780719562839
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... in London. During the Blitz, in between mapping the impact of bombs, he dined at the Savoy with Alfred Hitchcock. That friendship, too, continued for a lifetime. As a lecturer at Oxford, he had acquired a house in Museum Road ‘to display his pictures by Ben Nicholson and John Armstrong and his Barbara Hepworth carvings and drawings’. He made ...

Think like a neutron

Steven Shapin: Fermi’s Paradoxes, 24 May 2018

The Last Man Who Knew Everything: The Life and Times of Enrico Fermi, Father of the Nuclear Age 
by David N. Schwartz.
Basic, 448 pp., £26.99, December 2017, 978 0 465 07292 7
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... are ‘men who knew too much’ (Robert Hooke, Alan Turing, G.K. Chesterton and, predictably, Alfred Hitchcock) and those whose knowledge ‘changed everything’ (Shakespeare, Isaac Newton, James Clerk Maxwell). Everything-knowers are admired, though with qualifications: the ‘know-it-all’ is an intellectual bully or a bore, and one thing it’s ...

Eat butterflies with me?

Patricia Lockwood, 5 November 2020

Think, Write, Speak: Uncollected Essays, Reviews, Interviews and Letters to the Editor 
by Vladimir Nabokov, edited by Brian Boyd and Anastasia Tolstoy.
Penguin, 576 pp., £12.99, November, 978 0 14 139838 9
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... new collection of ephemera, Think, Write, Speak, Nabokov identifies that industrious interviewer, Alfred Appel, Jr, as ‘my pedant … Every writer should have such a pedant. He was a student of mine at Cornell and later he married a girl I’d taught at another time, and I understand that I was their first shared passion.’ Imagine it: erotic unification ...

You haven’t got your sister pregnant, have you?

Jacqueline Rose and Sam Frears: No Secrets in Albert Square, 23 June 2022

... domestic abuse follows logically from the ability of soap opera to get inside people’s homes. Alfred Hitchcock praised TV for putting ‘murder back into the home where it belongs’. It is behind closed doors that violence takes place: the majority of victims are known to their abusers, and assault on the streets by a stranger, though it makes the ...

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