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Daily Mail (16/Apr/2013) - Jonathan Ross reveals the truth about the legendary Hollywood director Alfred Hitchcock




  • Although the article appears to be written by Ross, it is based on his commentary for the television programme


Jonathan Ross reveals the truth about the legendary Hollywood director Alfred Hitchcock

Hitchcock and me: Two East End boys made good. Hitchcock Fan Jonathan Ross talks about the legendary Hollywood director in a personal documentary.

Jonathan Ross's documentary 'Jonathan Ross on Hitchcock' will be screened on Sunday. The following extracts from the voiceover reveal Ross's fascination and admiration for the master director:

His movies were designed to be popular with a broad audience, but there was also a darkness to them, which I've always found fascinating

Like Alfred Hitchcock, I was born and raised in Leytonstone, east London.

And also like him, I worked in a greengrocer's when I was young (he was a greengrocer's son).

I first became aware of him when Psycho was shown on TV during my youth.

My parents told me it was too scary for a child of my age. But I thought I knew better, so when they were asleep I crept downstairs and watched it on my own – and while it scared the life out of me, I've been a fan ever since.

Hitch's career is almost unique in cinematic history in that it began in the silent era, and he consolidated his reputation in the early years of the 'talkies' here in Britain, before going on to create masterpieces during the golden age of Hollywood.

Even today his influence can be found everywhere.

His movies were designed to be popular with a broad audience, but there was also a darkness to them, which I've always found fascinating.

However, for all his Hollywood success, not many people realise that he spent the first 40 years of his life living, working and making films here in London.

Some 23 of the 53 features he directed were made before he went to America.

I set out to discover to what extent this Hollywood legend, this master of cinema, was made in Britain – and to see what his British movies tell us about the man and the Hollywood movie-maker.

I began my journey at our old Tube station, Leytonstone, which has commemorated its most famous son with a series of mosaics capturing scenes from films such as Vertigo and The Birds – as well as some of his early British films, such as The Skin Game, that laid the foundation of his career.

He was born above his father's shop in 1899, and whenever he talked about his time in the East End Hitch cited experiences from his youth – such as a grotesque aunt looking into his cot – which he thought helped shape his personality.

During his adolescence he found refuge in books, theatre and cinema. At 20 he got his first job at a London film studio, designing the inter-titles that appeared on screen in the silent movies – the same silent movies he would be directing five years later.

His first film as director was 1925's The Pleasure Garden – and even there you see the classic Hitchcock themes emerging: voyeurism and, of course, murder.

But he soon delivered a film that would almost become the blueprint for the classic Hitchcock movie – his third picture, The Lodger (1927), a Jack the Ripper-type story about a killer lurking in a sinister and foggy London.

The lodger of the title is played by Ivor Novello – a musical idol and heart-throb of the time. Hitch hints at his guilt throughout the film – but he turns out to be that classic Hitchcock character, a man wrongly accused.

Watching the film today, you can sense how innovative and bold it must have seemed then.

It's also the chance to see the first of Hitch's legendary cameos – even if it was just the back of his head. At the age of just 28 he was firmly in the driving seat as a director, and it's as if he used the British film industry as his own personal film school.

One of the things I love about his early Britflicks is the playfulness and inventiveness he brings to them, and the way he used techniques that were very much in their infancy back then.

The silent films he made during the Twenties allowed him to refine and develop the technique that he would eventually take to Hollywood. They also reveal a man with a wicked and eccentric wit. In Hitchcock's hands, the camera gained a new life.

He exposed his audience to the full potential of the new medium and unleashed the camera to manipulate the audience's emotions.

He also had a real love for London and understood that it was so iconic a backdrop that people the world over wanted to see it on the screen.

The future of movies lay in sound, and even though his next film, Blackmail (1929) – the tale of a blonde in peril – was going to be a silent movie, he was more than up to the challenge of turning it into Britain's first 'talkie'.

One of my favourite film sequences is from 1934's The Man Who Knew Too Much.

A couple learns that a murder will take place at the precise moment that the cymbals clash during a concert at the Royal Albert Hall – which results in one of the tensest climactic moments in cinema history.

However, The 39 Steps, made in 1935, is probably the most enduring of films that Hitchcock made in Britain. Based on the novel by John Buchan, it features many familiar Hitchcockian elements – a murder, a wrongly accused man on the run, a chase sequence and, of course, a blonde.

In 1939, Hitchcock moved to America. His first Hollywood movie, Rebecca, was an instant smash and won the Oscar for best film.

He went on to make a string of classics, including Rear Window, Psycho and To Catch A Thief. The Hitchcock brand became one of the most powerful in Hollywood and the world.

And although most of his subsequent films were made in America with U.S. money, I still think of him very much as a British director.

He would use British actors (Cary Grant and Laurence Olivier), and mak films based on stories by British writers such as Daphne du Maurier and Winston Graham.

Furthermore, he drew on his British film-making years for inspiration – and the famous chase sequence in North By Northwest was very much rooted in what he'd done this side of the Pond.

For all his gratitude to America for helping to make him an international brand, Britain was never far from his mind, and recognition in this country still mattered to him – hence his delight at being knighted in 1980, even if it was just before his death.

Some people have sought to portray Hitchcock in a rather unflattering light.

But their views are only based upon working with him for a short period of time. I don't think they saw the whole man.

Hitchcock travelled a long way from Leytonstone, propelled by talents that Britain couldn't ultimately contain, and, by leaving these shores, he became a legend.

And while he might be buried in America, I'm convinced that Britain made him what he was – and shaped his talent to scare the world.