When you think of genre-defining Scottish spies, you usually think of James Bond. True, James Bond started off as the quintessential English hero in Ian Fleming’s books, but once Sean Connery assumed the mantle in the movies, he became so synonymous with Bond than even Fleming felt compelled to make Bond Scottish, something very evident in the latest Bond movie, Skyfall.
But long, long before Bond, back when even Ian Fleming was just a young boy, there was another Scottish spy who more or less defined the genre in the first place: Richard Hannay. Based in part on Edmund Ironside, an Edinburgh-born spy during the Second Boer War, Hannay appeared in no fewer than seven books by John Buchan, the best known of which is The Thirty-Nine Steps.
Set in 1914, it sees ex-soldier and engineer Hannay visited in his London flat by a man called Scudder, a freelance spy, who reveals that there’s a German plot to assassinate the Greek premier during a forthcoming visit to London. When Scudder is murdered, the finger points at Hannay who not only has to evade the authorities and the German spy ring that killed Scudder, he also to save the Greek premier and expose the ring.
Buchan’s ‘shocker’ was an instant, astonishing hit, and proved so enticing that Alfred Hitchcock adapted it in 1935 with Robert Donat as Hannay.
But that was far from the last time the book was adapted. As well as numerous radio adaptations, including one with Orson Welles, a 1959 film directed by Ralph Thomas saw Kenneth More became Hannay.
More recently, Rupert Penry-Jones became Hannay for a 2008 BBC TV adaptation.
And even now, a comedic version of the book is a West End staple. However, the best known adaptation of the story is the 1978 movie directed by Don Sharp and starring Robert Powell…
…that’s famous for out-doing Hitchcock with this scene on Big Ben.
So well regarded was this version that over a decade later, ITV asked Robert Powell if he'd reprise the role for a TV series called, naturally enough, Hannay. Here are the rather engaging, patriotic, not-at-all symbolic titles.
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