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Daily Mail (29/Nov/2008) - The thrill of the chase; Now spy classic is 'sexed up' for TV

(c) Daily Mail (29/Nov/2008)

The thrill of the chase; Now spy classic is 'sexed up' for TV

He may now be 93 years old but the square-jawed British spy who saved the nation generations before 007 had a licence to kill is set to make a Christmas comeback.

Richard Hannay has been 're-imagined' for the James Bond and Jason Bourne generation in a new BBC adaptation of John Buchan's The 39 Steps.

Hannay fans are delighted at the prospect, if a little bemused. Buchan biographer Andrew Lownie said: 'It's ironic that the father of the modern spy story should now find himself modelled on Bond - when Ian Fleming's books appeared, everyone pointed to Buchan's influence.' And Ken Hillier, of the John Buchan Society, said: 'It's great to have Hannay back but it's rather like dressing him up as his grandsons.

'Without Hannay, there would not be 007 or Bourne - Hannay's enduring appeal has, it seems, brought him full circle.' BBC One has placed The 39 Steps, filmed in Stirlingshire and Fife, at the heart of its Christmas schedule.

Starring Rupert Penry-Jones, best known as MI5's Adam Carter in the TV espionage series Spooks, the 90-minute drama was crafted by the cream of television talent.

Scriptwriter Lizzie Mickery, who penned the political thriller The State Within and the murder drama Messiah, was told to 're-imagine' the story.

But the BBC insists the film remains true to the original pre-First World War setting. Producer Lynn Horseford said: 'We wanted to stay faithful to the period and spirit of the book but we told Lizzie to guide it towards an audience familiar with Bond and Bourne.

'Buchan crafted a thrilling adventure that stands the test of time. The jeopardy is real and I guarantee an edgeof-your-seat chase movie for the family.' The 39 Steps has been filmed three times for the cinema - in 1935, 1959 and 1978 - and Robert Powell, who played Hannay in the 1970s version, reprised the role in a 1980s television series.

Lovers of Buchan's novels said the new production exemplifies the enduring appeal of the thrillers which the Scottish writer, scholar, historian and politician described as his version of American 'dime novels'.

When The 39 Steps was first published in 1915, the story, set in the months before the outbreak of the First World War, was an instant success and the first of five ripping yarns featuring

Hannay. And nearly 50 years after Hannay's first appearance, James Bond creator Ian Fleming was quick to admit that Buchan's hero was his inspiration.

He said: 'It's simple - without him, there is no Bond.' Mr Lownie said he hoped the new version might lead to other novels being filmed: 'The 39 Steps is almost entirely driven by plot and is notable for its narrative pace, so it's difficult to see how that aspect might be improved.

'But it is a shame producers always return to it when Buchan wrote other memorable Hannay books, such as Greenmantle and Mr Standfast, which are equally filmic.'


Rupert Penry-Jones is the latest in a line of actors to breathe life into John Buchan's famous hero.

Robert Donat created the role in Alfred Hitchcock's 1935 adaptation of The 39 Steps. The film may have played fast and loose with the original story but many movie buffs regard Donat, pictured with Madeleine Carroll, as the definitive Hannay. Kenneth More came arguably closest to Buchan's vision of the adventurer, but the 1959 storyline would still not have ben recognised by the author.

Robert Powell was fresh from starring in Franco Zefirelli's Jesus of Nazareth when he donned Hannay's tweed suit in 1978, and reprised the role for a 1980s TV series.Simon Williams had left his role as James Bellamy in the classic ITV series Upstairs Downstairs far behind when he created Hannay for the stage in 2000, while Scottish actors David Rintoul and David Robb have played Buchan's hero on the radio.