Hitchcock was born in 1899 in East London. Raised Catholic and sent to St Ignatius College, a strict Jesuit school.
He was a tubby observer rather than a participant, albeit prone to orchestrating a good practical joke – such as, rumour has it, attaching firecrackers to one boy’s underwear.
His perception of himself was as “an uncommonly unattractive young man”, who immersed himself in theatre-going as well as technical journals on film.
After an apprenticeship in the sales department of an electronic engineers (Hitch could pitch), he entered the film industry as a title-card designer in 1920 at an American-owned studio in London.
He didn’t have much of a social life but he was ambitious, multi-tasking as an assistant director, art director and scriptwriter.
Zipping through his apprenticeship in three years, he made his first movie in Munich.
After a couple of “lost” German films, Hitch made what he called the “first true Hitchcock movie”, The Lodger, in 1926.
He was pioneering, in the right place at the right time to import techniques from Soviet cinema and German Expressionism into British films.
He made the first major British talkie, Blackmail, in 1929, a film indicative of the kind of fast-moving chase flicks that defined his ’30s output.
A few romances and adaptations aside, his films were zippy thrillers driven by “McGuffins”, his word for a plot device whose purpose was to keep the story rolling.
In the likes of The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) and The 39 Steps (1935), he focused on Average Joes caught up in unusual intrigue.
The careful deployment of sound and invariably precise direction were nailed well in advance of shooting; the films’ finales were often thrillingly vertiginous.
Hitch wasn’t distracted by romance.
“I’m very shy when it comes to women,” he told his collaborator, Alma, a fellow employee at the studio, who Hitch married when he felt he had earned her trust.
He learned the need to gain audience trust, too, which may have lead to his construction of a public personality.
“The name of the director,” he’d say, “should be associated in the public’s mind with a quality product.”
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