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Derby Day

From the mid-1930s onwards, Hitchcock mentioned to several journalists that he was planning a film about the annual Epsom Derby horse race.

The Times (17/Dec/1935) - A film about Derby Day


A film about Derby Day is to be directed by the Gaumont-British Corporation by Mr. Alfred Hitchcock. Though the race itself will be recorded, the story will be chiefly concerned with its possible effects on different people. The scenario is by the director.

Lancashire Evening Post (21/Dec/1935)

When Alfred Hitchcock has finished "The Secret Agent" (now in its seventh week) he will direct a subject devised around Derby Day, written by himself. The whole of the action will take place in the ninety minutes after the luncheon interval of the renowned race meeting, the story being the effects of the event on a variety of characters.

Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette (28/Dec/1935) - Screen Gossip

Director Alfred Hitchcock will fulfil one of his most cherished ambitions when, during 1936, he directs a film written by himself on a "Derby Day" subject for Gaumont-British.

"Hitch" has always wanted to build a picture round the great Epsom classic, which, he considers, constitutes each year the greatest convention of varying types of humanity in the world.

Speaking of the possibilities of such a film — and illustrating his remarks, as usual, by clever lightning sketches, executed on a scenery "flat," a table top, or anything else to his hand — he said:—

"Think of the opportunities of the subject. You have the Downs, covered by the great town of temporary structures which rise up in a night, fortune-tellers' stalls, tea-tents, restaurant marquees, cloak-rooms, offices, the vast crowd, in which princes and peasants mingle: the mass of buses ... even the Salvation Army meetings."

Sight and Sound (1937) - My Own Methods

British producers are often urged to make more films about characteristic phases of English life.

Why, they are asked, do we see so little of the English farmer or the English seaman? Or is there not plenty of good material in the great British industries-in mining or shipbuilding or steel? One difficulty here is that English audiences seem to take more interest in American life — I suppose because it has a novelty value. They are rather easily bored by everyday scenes in their own country. But I certainly should like to make a film of the Derby, only it might not be quite in the popular class. It would be hard to invent a Derby story that wasn't hackneyed, conventional. I would rather do it more as a documentary — a sort of pageant, an animated modern version of Frith's "Derby Day." I would show everything that goes on all round the course, but without a story.

Perhaps the average audience isn't ready for that, yet. Popular taste, all the same, does move; today you can put over scenes that would have been ruled out a few years ago. Particularly towards comedy, nowadays, there is a different attitude. You can get comedy out of your stars, and you used not to be allowed to do anything which might knock the glamour off them.

Glasgow Herald (28/May/1938)

One of his ambitions is to make a film epic about the Derby.

New York Times (19/Mar/1939) - Hitchcock considers 'Rebecca'

Apparently no Hitchcock interview is ever complete without Mr. Hitchcock's latest idea for a picture he would like to make some time. Today he has in mind a picture built around the English Derby — Derby Day.

"Can there be anything more exciting or dramatic than a million people all gathered together in one afternoon — all sorts of people, from top to bottom - just to witness the running of a race? I always liken it to the Judgment Day. Well, I should like to sift, say, a dozen characters from that crowd and, within the limits of an hour and a half on that fatal afternoon, tell their stories, climaxed by the finish of the race."

It sounds like a great idea - maybe too great, because, unfortunately, Mr. Hitchcock never seems to get around to doing those pictures he dreams about.

In his biography of Hitchcock, Patrick McGilligan stated:

Even at age seventy-eight, working on the last script of his career, the director liked to recall Derby Day at Epsom Downs, where, as a boy, he noticed the enterprising children who dug holes in the ground and put up little tents, charging people for “the right to relieve” themselves. In Cockney singsong, Hitchcock digressed from scriptwork to imitate the twelve-year-old girls advertising, “Accommodations, one penny, accommodations, one penny,” and the rougher sorts of boys who touted the same service for “A piddle and a poop, one penny.” (“Of course, when the food was bad,” Hitchcock told writer David Freeman, “they did quite well.”)[1]

See Also...


Notes & References

  1. Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light (2003) by Patrick McGilligan, chapter 1