Sir John Buchan’s birthday

26 August, 2016

The 39 Steps was published in 1915.

Sir John Buchan’s most notable work is perhaps The Thirty-Nine Steps, which was published in 1915.

Today (26 August) is the birthday of the Scottish novelist Sir John Buchan. Also known as the 1st Baron Tweedsmuir, Buchan worked as a politician for much of his life as well as writing adventure fiction. His most notable work is perhaps The Thirty-Nine Steps, which was published in 1915.

In this tale of a mysterious murder and mistaken identity, the reader is taken on a whirlwind adventure from central London to the Scottish countryside as protagonist Richard Hannay fights to prove his innocence.

To celebrate the brilliance of Buchan’s work, we’ve taken a look at some of the adaptations of The Thirty-Nine Steps that have been created since it was first published.

Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps
1935 saw the release of English film director Alfred Hitchcock’s adaptation of the book. The film starred Robert Donat in the leading role of Richard Hannay. Hitchcock’s film was very loosely based on Buchan’s original plot, however he made many prominent changes to the storyline.

Some scenes from the film, such as in the music hall and on the Forth Bridge, were not part of the book’s plot. Hitchcock also introduced two female characters, Annabella the spy and Pamela the reluctant companion. In this film, The 39 Steps refers to the clandestine organisation, whereas in the book and the other film versions it refers to physical steps. Hitchcock’s adaptation was voted the best British film of 1935 and is his most acclaimed work.

Don Sharp’s The Thirty Nine Steps
Don Sharp’s film adaptation was released in 1978 and was considered a thriller. It was the third film version of the 1915 novel. The screenplay, written by British playwright Michael Robson, is generally considered closest to the original novel.

The events and feel of the film resemble Buchan’s original plot much more than the others, although there were a few slight changes: the character of Scudder was made more sympathetic, and a love interest was introduced. The meaning for the thirty-nine steps was also adapted, but largely the film still sticks to Buchan’s original notion of them being a real staircase.

Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon’s The 39 Steps
This stage show version was created in 1995, before being rewritten in 2005 by Patrick Barlow. The script was adapted from Hitchcock’s film and the play is performed by a cast of only four actors, covering all 139 roles!

One actor plays the hero Richard Hannay, another plays the three women who serve as Hannay’s romantic interests, and two other actors play every other character, from heroes to villains, and from children to the occasional inanimate object!

The play brilliantly turns Hitchcock’s spy thriller into a hilarious comedy, with quick changes aplenty. Through subtle puns, the script makes several nods to other Hitchcock films, including Strangers on a Train, Psycho, and North by Northwest.

Buchan’s original book features on the Kumon Recommended Reading List. To celebrate his birthday why not pick up a copy and join Richard Hannay on an excellent adventure across the country? Happy birthday Sir John Buchan.