HITCHCOCK, Sir Alfred (1899-1980)
Plaque erected in 1999 by English Heritage at 153 Cromwell Road, South Kensington, London, SW5 0TQ, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea
Theatre and Film
Sir ALFRED HITCHCOCK 1899-1980 Film Director lived here 1926-1939
Sir Alfred Hitchcock is one of the most celebrated filmmakers in the history of cinema. He is commemorated with a blue plaque at 153 Cromwell Road in South Kensington, where he lived between 1926 and 1939. It was his first home after marrying Alma Reville and they remained living there for the first 13 years of his career in film, before moving to Hollywood.
Hitchcock was born in Leytonstone, east London in 1899. The youngest of the three children of William Hitchcock (1862–1914), a greengrocer, and his wife, Emma Jane Whelan (1863–1942), he was an isolated, tubby child, with few school friends.
Hitchcock made his debut as a director of feature films with The Pleasure Garden (1925) and four years later he directed Blackmail, the first British full-length ‘talkie’, in which he made one of his trademark cameo appearances.
Hitchcock married film editor Alma Reville (1900-82) in December 1926. Alma had worked on a number of Hitchcock’s earlier films as a close collaborator and she continued to consult on decisions such as editing and casting through much of his career, though she remained largely out of the limelight.
The couple’s first home after marriage was a modest two-bedroom flat on the top floor of 153 Cromwell Road, part of a mid-Victorian terrace, where they also hosted their wedding reception. Hitchcock designed the furniture and fittings for the flat, and kept it as his London base for over a decade, despite his rising fortune and fame: ‘I never felt any desire to move out of my own class’, he once remarked. ‘Hitch’ liked to hone his scripts at home, and callers often found him hard at work still wearing his favourite silk pyjamas and dressing gown.
Over the following years, whilst living at Cromwell Road, Hitchcock cemented his reputation for cinematic innovation and suspense-filled plotlines with film successes such as The Thirty-Nine Steps (1935) and The Lady Vanishes (1938) starring Margaret Lockwood. His success caught the attention of American film producer and studio owner David O. Selznick, who extended a contract offer of three motion picture films. By this time, Hitchcock had become disillusioned with the lowly artistic standing of the cinema in Britain and so accepted Selznick’s offer and in March 1939, left Cromwell Road for Hollywood, bringing Alma and their ten-year-old daughter Patricia. Hitchcock became an American citizen in 1955, by which time he had made films such as Rebecca (1940), Spellbound (1945), Notorious (1946) and Strangers on a Train (1951).
Hitchcock is known for his recurring collaborations with certain actors, including Cary Grant, Grace Kelly and Ingrid Bergman, and for bringing out some of their best performances. However, throughout his career he also gained a reputation for disliking actors – once saying they should be treated like cattle. His behaviour could be cruel and controlling – most notoriously towards Tippi Hedren, who endured a particularly traumatic experience during the filming of The Birds (1963), which led to a nervous breakdown.
Hitchcock’s failing health reduced his output in the last decade of his life. He returned to Britain to make his penultimate film Frenzy (1972) – sometimes described as his last great film. Hitchcock received a BAFTA Fellowship (1971), the AFI Life Achievement Award (1979) and was knighted in December that same year, only a few months before he died.