Biography of Alfred Hitchcock by Peter Ackroyd
Alfred Hitchcock was born in 1899 in the east end of London in a working class neighborhood. Hitchcock’s father ran grocery and fish shops. He was often kidded in school for smelling like fish.
Hitchcock as a child, had many fears. He talked of remembering being terrorized by the Jesuit priests he was schooled by.
And from his childhood he collected travel paraphernalia. He had train schedules, such as every stop on the Orient Express, which he memorized. In addition, he kept up with the progress of ships across the sea from the newspapers. These conveyances later populated his films.
Early in life, as Hitch tells the story, his father arranged for him to be put in jail for a brief period of time – to punish him for some infraction. The vertical and parallel bars of jails are also a constant feature in his films.
The east end of London was a rough and tumble neighborhood. And Hitchcock seems not to have been a popular little boy. He was always the fat boy who didn’t fit in.
Even later in his life, some said of him that he was always, even when on the set, sitting and watching them set up, alone, the fat boy who had escaped his contemporaries.
Hitchcock was also a watcher. He told stories about sitting in a corner and watching at family gatherings. Voyeurism is also an important part of his movies. (Note: In the recent biographical film of Hitchcock, Hitch, Hitchcock is often seen peering through blinds at people, especially women.)
Hitchcock first saw films when he was eight, short films, designed for shock value, like films of a train coming toward the audience. The members of the audience, unfamiliar with film, would scream and duck as the image appeared to bring the train over them.
Hitchcock was in the right environment. The British film industry was using space around where he lived to start film studios.
As well as being fascinated with conveyances, Hitchcock was fascinated with crime and punishment. He could take a bus to the Old Baily and even in adulthood could reproduce the floor plan of the criminal building. He would watch trials and was fascinated with trials and crime his whole life.
Hitchcock said that he had a fear of guilt and punishment. There is speculation that his fantasies, perhaps of killing women, contributed to this fear of guilt and punishment.
Hitchcock went to plays with his parents and his films often show action taking place on a stage where the camera just moves out over the arch.
For a nervous boy, just beginning to work as a minor assistant engineer, the experience of WWI was terrible for Hitchcock. He later in life described being trapped and not knowing where to go as bombs went off all around him. He had several searing memories of his mother during bombing in London.
He was considered fit for military duty at home, but by that time the war was almost over.
He started attending night classes at Art School. And, at the engineering firm he was moved to the advertising department, doing layouts. He was sent out to sketch people.
When a studio opened in Islington that provided movies for Paramount, they started advertising for employees. Hitchcock read the novel of a movie they were doing and created all the silent movie cards that described the action. The studio, however, changed movies. But, Hitchcock returned within two days with new cards. He moonlighted and then he got a full-time job at the studio. He paid off his superiors at the advertising agency with the money he made from the film work.