Thirty-Nine Steps : I counted them. High Tide, 10.

37 pm

These are seaside steps similar to those that inspired John
Buchan. The original ones exist no more. Their importance is
that they led down to the sea. In the novel, the people from
Prussia in 1914 who were planning to make trouble for England
would have needed to escape back to Germany using similar
steps to get to their yacht… But the point was that there were
thirty-nine… The film by contrast has them leading to Big Ben…
In both the novel and the 1978 film, the plan was to assassinate
‘the Greek Prime Minister, Karalides’ – who as a friend of Great
Britain in those days was helping to keep the peace in the eastern
part of Europe. In the film he comes to Britain to speak to the
British government at the Houses of Parliament…and survives!
In the book, Karalides is finally reported to have been killed; and
now Hannay’s aim is to stop the enemy taking Britain’s secrets
about its plans for war back to Germany – representing also the
Austro-Hungarian Empire, Bulgaria and Turkey; against the
alliance of Britain, France and Russia. (In reality Greece only
joined the Second World War a few years later…) The secret
plans are stolen because – in the book – someone impersonating
a British Minister attends a Cabinet Meeting.
In the film someone also impersonates a Cabinet Minister at a
high-level meeting; but the idea here is to get access to Big Ben.
In the film Richard Hannay – just at the last minute - prevents
Karalides and the Houses of Parliament from being blown up by
a bomb placed inside Big Ben. He prevents the clock from
working, which in turn prevents the dynamite from functioning…
In reality it would be extremely difficult to perform inside Big
Ben all the exciting action which we see in the film, although the
film is thoroughly convincing, as you will see…

The clockwork mechanism in reality is not as imposing and
dramatic as we see in the film — there is less space around the
mechanism and the wheels are much smaller — and it would be
hard to make it trigger an explosion using dynamite.

There’s not enough room here for gun battles close to the clock-
face, and the metalwork seems too strong for characters to fall
through… And I cannot see how Hannay could have climbed to
the outside to get access to the hands of the clock…though on
each side there is a small window which I guess can be opened…

But when the structure is cleaned and repainted, workmen do not
seem to use this window to get outside, but abseil down ropes
from above the belfry…
The view from the very top is also very wonderful…

but the level below that – almost like a cathedral – is better still!

The dialogues from the film – from the point where Richard
escapes from the nursing home where his captors have taken him
– they are pretending he is unwell, but in reality they have
drugged him – would make for some exciting acting in a class
setting, I think, and you may find the transcript here…
As for the book, I have extracted some sections towards the end,
which give the action from a similar point in the story when
Richard is now trusted by the British government and is trying to
help them…leading right up to the battle near the thirty-nine steps
on the Kent sea coast, where two out of three of the enemy are
captured… The other man will be taken by the Navy from the
yacht Ariadne … And Britain – and Hannay – will win…!
The Kent coast
I thought it would be most interesting to put the two endings into
a video sequence, following that up with a dramatic set of stills
from the film highlighting a different – but in many ways equally
satisfying – ending… With suitable music, of course… In fact, you
may like it better…! Before that, listen to these book sections read
by Robert Powell, to get them in your mind. Powell played
Hannay in the 1978 film. AUDIO OF FINAL SCENES WITH TEXT
We have returned from Scotland – and that, really, is the end of
the adventure of the Thirty-Nine Steps!
One hundred years later, let us hope that Scotland, Georgia,
Germany and Russia will all be prosperous and friendly to each
other; and sensible in their actions; that in the future, wars will be
something we read about only in adventure stories!
Learning other countries’ languages is a good personal way of
taking that process of peace and healing forwards… Let’s do so!

Moffat – the town where Hannay had supper before returning south from Scotland
after the first part of his adventures….

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