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:
- 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.)
- 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?
- 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.