Desert Island Discs (BBC Radio, 19/Oct/1959) - Alfred Hitchcock
In each episode, the guest has to pick 8 pieces of music, 1 book and 1 luxury item (which "must be inanimate and of no survival value").
Hitchcock chose the following recordings:
1) Symphony No.3 in G minor, by Albert Roussel
2) "A Sister to Assist 'Er", a music hall sketch performed by Fred Emney and Sydney Fairbrother
Hitchcock's friend Victor Saville produced the 1927 film version of A Sister to Assist 'Er.
3) "Cockaigne" Overture ("In London Town"), by Edward Elgar
4) "Siegfried's Horn Call" from the opera "Siegfried", by Richard Wagner
5) "The Fact Is" from "The Bing Boys on Broadway", by George Robey
6) "Variations on a Nursery Theme", by Ernő Dohnányi
8) "Funeral March of a Marionette", by Charles Gounod
The chosen book was Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management.
The luxury item was a continental railway timetable.
The following is the only surviving extract in the BBC Archive:
- I'm a very good listener. From an early age I was a devotee of symphonic music — the Albert Hall on Sunday, the Queens Hall, and so forth. You know, I'm a Londoner and I was quite a devotee of the theatre from a very early age, a "first nighter" I think, probably, at the age of 16 or 17, maybe earlier.
Were films an ambition from your school days or, like most of us, did you just happen to get into the job you like?
- I would say that, apart from being a devotee of the theatre and the concert, of course, films also had an important part in ones amusements. But my interest became a little more deep — beyond shall we say the "fan magazine" stage — I think my reading at that time, where films were concerned, was the trade magazine. So I really got deeply interested in pictures.
Were films your first job?
- No, no — my first job was a technical engineering job, actually. I had studied engineering and I was in the estimating department of a cable company and eventually then I gravitated to the advertising department where, having taken a course of art at the University of London, I was able express myself there. Through that, I went into the designing of what were, in those days of silent films, the art title. They were rather naïve affairs, when I look back on them. The title would say "John was leading a very fast life" and I would draw a candle with a flame at both ends underneath. From there, into script writing — writing scripts — and then art direction and eventually into direction.
What was the first picture you directed?
- The very first picture I directed was called The Pleasure Garden — it was a melodrama — and it was made in Munich, Germany, and I had to direct it in German.
Was that difficult? Was your German pretty good?
- I'd say it was enough to order a good meal, you know! But it was silent pictures, so that one wasn't involved in the finer points of dialogue.
Well then a few years latter you directed the very first British sound film...
- That's right — that was called Blackmail, yes.
You were to make quite a number of varied films before you settled down to specialise in suspense pictures. Which film was the turning point? Which one made you say "this is what I can and is what I want to do"?
- Well, I really think the film The Lady Vanishes pretty well set the pattern. I would say this — I think it's more since one's been in American that one's been, what is called, "typed". There, much more than in England, standardisation, as you well realise, is a very important part of the national life.
When you when went to work in Hollywood, did you find any major adjustment necessary? Your films had always been very British in background and character.
- No, not at all, because, you see, the first film I ever made in America was an English film — it was called Rebecca. And I have made many English films since... the second film I made as called Foreign Correspondent and that was all made in London and Holland. No, the thing that I began to learn was the fact that an audience is the same world over and not to make films for one audience, but to make them for a world audience.
You work as a freelance, don't you so that you have complete freedom from interference, to work just the way you want to from the first idea right up to the final film.
Which has been your favourite film, which has given you the most satisfaction?
- Well, I actually make many types of films — in other words, the adventure story or the psychological thriller. I think my favourite is called Shadow of a Doubt, because this film combined many elements — the element of suspense, the element of the local atmosphere of a small town, and quite an amount of character... and also the enjoyment of having worked with Thornton Wilder.
I remember it well. The pattern of the film industry is changing very fast — audiences, they say, are losing the cinema habit and there are fewer films. What do you think will be the future pattern?
- I think that audiences now have become selective and the assembly line has gone. I think each film stands on its own merits. I think one has to tackle it in terms of making a film that will attract audiences for its special virtues, not just "another movie". As you say, the habit has gone. The nearest I could compare it would be the publishing of a new book or a play. Now, if it's successful, it has a good run. If it isn't successful, then it's gone.
Yes, to cut out this present, rather ridiculous release system where every film, whether it's a masterpiece or a piece of tripe, always plays one week.
- Well, that's ridiculous. As you know, why shouldn't a film have its run, if there are people who are willing to pay to see it, other a period of weeks, just as the States play?
Yes, you've moved into the television field as well, haven't you?
- A little sideline, yes. Of course, that doesn't compare at all with the making of pictures, anyway.
You've told us about the last film you've been making. Are you planning another one?
- I'm planning a psychological film, it's called Psycho and it's in the nature of, shall we say, a rather gentle horror picture.
Splendid! And, as usual, are you going to be in it yourself, for just a brief appearance?
- Oh, I always make the brief appearance but now, of course, especially in America, ones visage is so familiar now that I have to get into the picture and out as quickly as possible, so as not to spoil the story.
You have the reputation in the studios for being a practical joker. Would you say that's justified?
- Not today. As a matter of fact, the practical jokes that I used to enjoy were always benevolent ones — they were never burning the seat of another person's pants. Not that kind of thing! As a matter of fact, I gave it up because they were rather too generous — they were expensive and costly, so I don't do it anymore.
Notes & References
- First broadcast on 19/Oct/1959 and repeated on 14/Nov/1959. See Project Genome: BBC Radio Times Archive and Project Genome: BBC Radio Times Archive.