The Independent London Newspaper
23rd May 2019

ILLTYD HARRINGTON: Powers of intrigue and a yard sale in Downing Street

    Ivor Novello and Miss June in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lodger

    Ivor Novello and Miss June in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lodger

    Published: 5 May, 2015

    PETER Ackroyd in his latest “Brief Lives” takes on Alfred Hitchcock, the boy from Essex, who made watching murder a compulsive, horrifying, yet guilt-ridden affair. There is an emotional and supernatural note here, for both author and subject were raised Roman Catholics, nurtured in an aroma of death and papist logic, which defies or ignores challenge. 

    His career began close by. Anyone walking along the canal in Islington, passing a decaying carpet warehouse, is probably unaware that this was once a famous film studio where that seminal chiller The Lodger was made. 

    Hitchcock was a master distiller of the spirit of evil, fear and punishment, and lurking behind his spherical frame was a strong, unbending man who brooked no argument or compromise.

    Few would challenge his powers of intrigue. The worrying elements of danger, terror, pursuits, chases emerged in unpredictable settings: once there was the Albert Hall, another time Mount Rushmore.  

    Hitch snatched up the talents of others for the new talkies. This included many left-wing film-makers, who were then thick on the ground, such as the renegade aristocrat Ivor Montague, an ardent Communist. To many of those around him, film had a purpose beyond entertainment. He employed as a top rank writer Howard Fast, the Communist author of Spartacus. 

    I can find no authentic source about his own beliefs, but his great friend and ally was Sidney Bernstein, who built a chain of Granada Cinemas and, of course, founded Granada Television. Bernstein – when I knew him – was a champion and supporter of the left-wing weekly Tribune

    Alfred the churchgoer had several embarrassing sexual hang-ups, which his wife Alma tolerated rather than condoned. 

    There was also a cruel and rather sadistic side to this rather nervous man. During the shooting of The Birds, he persuaded his timid leading lady Tippi Hedren to enter a large bird cage and convinced her that the wilder birds would be prevented from coming in by a glass roof. He immediately ordered the staff to remove it. It was an amazingly realistic performance, but it almost drove Hedren to a nervous breakdown. 

    Incredibly, the studio bosses turned down the script for Psycho. So he bought 60 per cent of it and made a fortune. Who can forget an opaque knifeman hacking his way through the plastic shower sheet to lacerate Janet Leigh to death? The musical director Bernard Herrmann suggested screeching violins, and the effect was overwhelming. Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates was a splendid psychopath. Strong men fainted in cinemas. 

    FROM screaming terror to the election. Maybe not such a leap. A new essay by Richard Seymour pulls back the curtain on the current leadership of the Labour Party, a group which dislikes fundamental analysis. 

    Seymour challenges Labour to face facts and not get carried away by too much moderation while awaiting a narrow majority. Seymour offers no rhetoric, but his arguments should rattle the snake oil salesman and exhausted spin doctors who try to hide the unpleasant truth. How can the twin Eds say they are going to tackle the cost of living when they support austerity? It was news to me that the Tory vote has been hovering between 30 and 35 per cent ever since Black Wednesday in 1992. And yet the decaying spirits of Reagan and Thatcher are still shamelessly pronounced as the only solution. 

    The essay should be compulsory reading for the renewed Labour Party. There is a new democracy developing, which they must be aware of. 

    Back at Downing Street, the front door of Number 10 is open for the worst type of yard sale. This is political chicanery last seen in New York’s Tammany Hall, where the Democrats sold everything; or that wonderful incident in the 1966 general election when Peter O’Toole took a coach with a bar down Kilburn High Road, offering a Guinness to anyone who voted for the Labour candidate Ben Whitaker – who was duly elected.

    • Alfred Hitchcock by Peter Ackroyd is published by Chatto and Windus at £12.99.
    Bye Bye Labour by Richard Seymour, London Review of Books, Vol 37 number 8, April 23 2015 pp21-2.