Tuesday 27 August 2019

Walking With The Black Hand Gang...

Regular readers will know I'm a big fan of The Adventures Of The Black Hand Gang, a childhood favourite I first read in 1978.  Written by H. J. Press, the stories were a combination of text and illustration, originally published in weekly chapters with the solution to the week’s riddle given in the next edition of Sternchen, the children's supplement of German magazine Stern.
1978 Methuen edition, cover scan of my much-loved and much-read copy
The illustrations are fantastic and superbly crafted, with a deceptively simple style that's so thoroughly detailed it invites repeat viewing.  Press was one of the inventors and a key proponent (along with Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Brueghel, he’s regarded as a father of the ‘overcrowded’ style) of the "Wimmelbild", a genre of illustration deliberately overcrowded with detail, to please children as they search for items.

On a family holiday to Yorkshire, we decided to call into Robin Hood's Bay, a small fishing village and bay in the North York Moors National Park, five miles south of Whitby and fifteen miles north of Scarborough.  Bay Town, its local name, is built in a fissure between two steep cliffs with a maze of narrow streets and lots of steps and had a reputation (in the 1700s) for smuggling - there's a reputed network of subterranean passageways linking the houses.
Dude & I, overlooking the beach
According to the University Of York Outdoor Society, the origin of the name is uncertain but it’s doubtful “Robin Hood was ever in the vicinity”.  An English ballad said he was on a fishing trip and “encountered pirates who came to pillage the fisherman's boat. He got the French pirates to surrender and returned the goods that the pirates had robbed during the plundering of the northeast coast of England to the poor people…of the village of the bay that is now called Robin Hood's Bay.”

It's a lovely place and well worth a visit but imagine my surprise at seeing the narrow streets and steep hills, which were like stepping into one of Press' beautiful images.  While we didn't find any skulduggery afoot, Dude & I enjoyed a good walk and a delicious ice cream plus I found an excellent secondhand bookshop too.

The images all come from A Theft At The Zoo (the story which also supplies the cover of the book) - just look at the detail!

Looking over Cleveland Way, coming up from the beach
A close-up of above, with King Street leading off to the left
New Road, heading away from the beach
New Road, on the way back up to the car park.  Note the wonderful old Kodak sign on the shop

You can also check out my 'bit of nostalgia' blog about The Black Hand Gang here

Monday 19 August 2019

Ten Favourite Covers: Alfred Hitchcock

In the second entry of my occasional series highlighting ten of my favourite covers (you can read the Childhood Terrors one here), I thought I'd mark the 120th birthday of Sir Alfred Hitchcock by looking at some of his fantastic anthologies.

As before (and perhaps to explain the eclectic choice), the only rule is that the bulk of the covers must come from my own library.
Edited, as a lot of his anthologies were, by Robert Arthur who went on to create my beloved the Three Investigators series (also using the Hitchcock name).  His credit appears in the acknowledgements - "the editor gratefully acknowledges the invaluable assistance of Robert Arthur".
This is the 1977 Mayflower edition and I wish I could remember now where I bought it from.
Part One (which I don't own) includes Daphne Du Maurier's novelette The Birds.
Edited by Peter Haining, who also compiled one of my favourite childhood books The Restless Bones.

Alfred Joseph Hitchcock was born in Leytonstone, England on August 13, 1899, to William and Emma, the youngest of their three children.  After attending technical school at 15, Hitchcock worked as a draftsman, advertising designer and writer until his interest in photography led to him to London’s nascent film industry.  He started as title card designer and began directing with Number 13 (1922) which was unfinished and is now a lost film.  After making some films in Germany, he came back to London for his first thriller, The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927).

He quickly gained a reputation as a craftsman skilled in delivering suspense (often laced with dark humour) and though he made films in a variety of genres, he specialised in the thriller.  After moving to Hollywood in 1939, he produced his most recognised works and also became a household name with his penchant for self-promotion and a nice line in gallows humour.  He introduced two television anthology series, Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955 to 1965) and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (1962 to 1965), directing seventeen episodes of the former and one of the latter and also ‘edited’ a series of popular horror and suspense anthologies.

During his sixty year career, he directed 54 features and pioneered a lot of cinematic techniques that are still applied to film today.  Among these ‘Hitchcockian’ (as they came to be known) touches was the use of the camera to mimic a person’s gaze (making viewers into voyeurs) while critic Murray Pomerance wrote his shots displayed “the full expression of a character's attitude, feeling, knowledge, position, history, and understanding ... in a single brilliant coup”.  By 1960 he’d directed four films often ranked among the greatest of all time: Rear Window (1954), Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959) (which I wrote about here), and Psycho (1960), while in  2012 Vertigo replaced Citizen Kane (1941) as the British Film Institute's best film.

In recognition of his body of work, he won the BAFTA Fellowship Award, the American Film Institute’s Life Achievement Award, the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, the Directors Guild of America's Lifetime Achievement Award and the Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award.  He has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and, in December 1979, received his knighthood.

Sir Alfred Hitchcock, who married his assistant director and close collaborator Alma Reville in 1926 (they had one daughter, Patricia), died of renal failure on 29th April 1980.

me, with the Madame Tussauds model of Hitchcock, London 2003

The Hitchcock Zone
The Dark Side of Genius, by Donald Spoto