Buchan on TV

I’m very pleased that my temperamental video machine managed to record the BBC4 programme about John Buchan that was broadcast over Christmas. It was very well done, and I’m annoyed with myself for not recording the companion programme on Rider Haggard as well.

I enjoyed it greatly, but, niggling sod that I am, I have these complaints:

  1. The programme concentrated, probably sensibly, on the Hannay novels. No mention of excellent books such as Huntingtower. I’d vaguely hoped it might have told me more about the historical novels, which I don’t know. (Note to readers: Recommendations of the best among Buchan’s historical works will be gratefully received.)
  2. The most notable talking heads they roped in to tell us how good Buchan was were Hurd, Widdecombe and (God help us!) Archer – Tory politicians turned writers. Could they not find a single professor of literature willing to confirm Buchan’s literary quality? Am I alone in valuing The Three Hostages as one of the great novels of the 1920s?
  3. The account of Mr Standfast said, correctly enough, that Buchan was critical of the pacifists in the novel – but made it sound as though he was crudely hostile – whereas, with his customary generosity, Buchan presents us with Lancelot Wake, who discovers heroism within himself without renouncing his pacifist principles.

Otherwise, it was first-rate. There was a terrific photo of Buchan and Hitchcock eying each other suspiciously. It was good to know that while Buchan’s wife was indignant at the changes Hitchcock made to The 39 Steps, Buchan was fascinated by the film. That generosity again.




  1. David Corbett
    Posted December 30, 2006 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    Dear Sir ,
    I quite enjoy Buchan ! Hopefully the bit on Buchan will filter in to the U.S.
    Keep up the good work !
    cordially ,
    David Corbett
    Wheeling ,Illinois USA

  2. Posted January 3, 2007 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

    I missed the Buchan programme, but did catch the one on Rider Haggard. It was rather good. I hadn’t appreciated he was quite that prolific.

  3. Jane Stemp
    Posted October 4, 2007 at 2:47 am | Permalink

    If nobody has given you any Buchan historical titles yet, I’d start with “Blanket of the Dark” which is set round Oxford, and then go on to “Witch Wood” which is the best. Have you been to see his grave at Elsfield?

    It’s good to find someone else who reads Buchan – I think I have all his fiction. And most of his non-fiction (I draw the line at “The Law of Taxation in Southern Africa”)

  4. The Shadow
    Posted March 31, 2009 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

    I was a little shocked by BBC 4’s THE BOOK QUIZ the other day. One of the rounds has a few sentences of a novel read out to the contestants, who have to guess who wrote it and where it came from.

    They were read the opening of THE THIRTY-NINE STEPS, where Hannay is bemoaning the dullness of London. Suggestions ranged from Evelyn Waugh to Graham Greene. ‘It’s John Buchan, you idiots!’ I ended up shouting at the screen. They didn’t hear me.

    Is Buchan really that little read…?

  5. Posted March 31, 2009 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

    I am ALWAYS shocked by the Book Quiz. I watch it every week, but have given strict instructions to my wife to keep an eye on me, in case my blood pressure rises so dramatically the my head catches fire, like the chap in the current health advert.
    “They know nothing!” I yell.
    The worst episode was when the Poet Laureate could not even recognise the opening of Poe’s “The Raven.” This week there was a particularly dim vicar, who seemed to have read remarkably few books in his long self-satisfied life…
    But I must stop. This is a subject on which I feel too deeply…

  6. The Shadow
    Posted April 1, 2009 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

    When he couldn’t recognise THE RAVEN they probably heard me shouting at the TV from the bottom of the street. I suspect that the safest way of watching it is to get slightly drunk beforehand (Bet that I’d still get more answers right than they do,though!)

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