Hitchcock by the Regent’s Canal
I knew it was along here somewhere. I’d walk and cycled this stretch of the towpath several times but the building didn’t announce itself. During the course of my research I read a snippet that the master of cinematic suspense had started his career along this towpath but could I find it? No. I even asked people who lived in the area “Yes I heard that too” they said, “wasn’t it close to King’s Cross?” There is very little to tell anyone passing either by road or towpath where the great Alfred Hitchcock began his working career.
On New North Road, at the point where it rises up and over the Regent’s Canal, there is a modern construction some eight storeys high of residential and office usage. If you’ve approached this structure from the south you’ll know the name as it is clearly spelled out in one metre high capitals (Futura Book, to be precise) along the roof top: GAINSBOROUGH. It was on this site in 1920, Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980), one of the UK’s greatest film directors, began his career. The year before he began work the power station that stood on the site was converted into a film studio.
Hitchcock began work as a title artist for silent films, at what was to later become the Gainsborough Film Studios. He was born in nearby Leytonstone and trained as a draughtsman and designer. Within five years he had become a director. He produced many of his successful early psychological thrillers here, including The Thirty Nine Steps (1935) and The Lady Vanishes (1938), and the first UK talkie, Blackmail (1929). Just prior to the outbreak of the Second Work War Hitchcock emigrated to Hollywood to continue his successful career.
The Gainsborough Studios also produced many popular films, including Oh, Mr Porter! and Waterloo Road. In 1941, the studio facilities were moved to Lime Grove in west London because of the risk posed by German bombing. The studios were finally closed in 1951 and eventually converted into a carpet warehouse before being demolished and residential and office apartments built over the site. However part of the original building is still preserved in the south facing aspect. There is a small circular plaque that recalls the former glories. The new street names reflect the area’s brief association with cinema: Gaumont Terrace and Gainsborough Studios.
The inner court of the Gainsborough building, off Poole Street, is worth accessing for there is a massive sculpture of Hitchcock’s head made from rusted iron sheeting created by the artist Antony Donaldson. The brooding head with drooped eyes stands nearly three metres high on its sloping dais and is easily recognisable.
This article was adapted from the book ‘The Regent's Canal: An Urban Towpath Route from Little Venice to the Olympic Park’ by David Fathers. Published by Frances Lincoln. Available from 4 October 2012 from Amazon bit.ly/r_canal Follow David Fathers on Twitter @TheTilbury
Member since: 10th July 2012
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