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An American stamp showing a portrait of Sir Alfred Joseph Hitchcock (1899-1980)

Alfred Hitchcock: Biography

Image Credit: Olga Popova / | Above: An American stamp showing a portrait of Sir Alfred Joseph Hitchcock (1899-1980

He gave his name to a genre: every director of a suspenser seeks the tag 'Hitchcockian'. 'Vertigo' and 'The Birds' are peerless, whilst the cameo appearances attest to his wry humour.

Alfred Joseph Hitchcock was born on 13 August 1899 in Leytonstone, London to greengrocer William Hitchcock and his wife Emma. He was raised a strict catholic and was educated at Saint Ignatius College, which was run by Jesuits.

His first job outside of his father's business was as an estimator for the Henley Telegraph and Cable Company, which he started in 1915. At this age is when his love for films developed as he went to the cinema in his spare time.

Hitchcock entered the world of film as soon as he finished university. He started as a draftsman for a film studio, which was built in London in 1920 and quickly worked his way up to scriptwriter, then art director and assistant director, until his debut film as a director in 1925.

He had previously had experience of directing when he was asked to complete the 1923 film 'Always Tell Your Wife' after the original director fell ill. He was then asked to direct 'Number 13' but before it could be finished the studio closed its London branch. Instead his directorial debut was 'The Pleasure Garden' in 1925.

It was with the film 'The Lodger', in 1927, that Hitchcock had his first hit, and was widely noticed as a director. In 1929, Hitchcock directed 'Blackmail', which was groundbreaking in its success as the first widely popular non-silent film.

Hitchcock's reputation in Britain was consolidated with his hits such as 'The Man Who Knew Too Much' (1934), 'The 39 Steps' (1935) and 'The Lady Vanishes' (1938).

These films brought international notice and, in 1939, Hitchcock moved across the Atlantic, which marked a critical point in his career.

Hitchcock's American debut film, 'Rebecca' (1940), starred Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine and was a huge success, winning an Oscar for Best Picture. This film was based on the gothic novel by Daphne Du Maurier.

Success followed success for Hitchcock, with a number of hits, perhaps the most famous being 'Notorious' (1946), 'Rear Window' (1954), 'Vertigo' (1958), 'North by Northwest' (1959) and, of course, 'Psycho' (1960).

Other notable films over his 50-year career included 'Dial M For Murder' (1954), 'To Catch A Thief' (1955), 'Birds' (1963) and 'Torn Curtain' in 1965. His final film was 'Family Plot' in 1976.

Hitchcock's success earned him both followers as well as critics. Some of his critics argued his films lacked substance but his admirers argued that the truth was the opposite and instead Hitchcock was "an all-round specialist".

Hitchcock's style was one of meticulous planning, from which it is reported that he never improvised or deviated. He also adhered to his own maxim on the value of suspense over shock.

This appreciation of planning could help explain why he liked to use the same actors regularly. Although he apparently disliked most actors and their behaviour, perhaps his regular use of a select few can be put down to the fact that there were only a few actors Hitchcock actually liked or admired.

His 'select few' included Cary Grant, James Stewart, Vera Miles, and Grace Kelly. The 'actor' that appeared in almost all of his films was, however, himself, as he nearly always gave himself a cameo in each of his films.

Surprisingly, despite being nominated on several occasions, Hitchcock never won an Oscar for Best Director, although he did pick up Best Picture in 1940 for 'Rebecca'.

In 1979, Hitchcock was recognised by the British establishment and was knighted by the Queen.

Hitchcock was married in 1926 to Alma Reville, a film editor. They had a daughter, Patricia Hitchcock, who appeared in some of Hitchcock's most famous films.

On 29 April, 1980, Hitchcock died at the age of 80.