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The 39 Steps

By John Buchan and Patrick Barlow

The 39 Steps is a comic melodrama based on the 1915 novel by John Buchan which has seen a number of film versions, perhaps the most famous being Alfred Hitchcock’s in 1935. The original concept and production of a four-actor version of the story was by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon and it was this original that Patrick Barlow subsequently adapted in 2005.

The Thirty-Nine Steps is an adventure novel by the Scottish author John Buchan. It first appeared as a serial in Blackwood’s Magazine in August and September 1915 before being published in book form in October that year. It was the first of five novels featuring Richard Hannay, an all-action hero with a stiff upper lip and a miraculous knack for getting himself out of sticky situations.

The story is set in the lead-up to the First World War and centres on Hannay who, when an undercover British spy is killed in his flat, is himself accused of murder and caught up in a deadly conspiracy which threatens not only his life, but the safety of the nation. Pursued by spies and the police, he reluctantly joins forces with a feisty suffragette as he attempts to uncover the truth and save Great Britain from invasion.


The playwright - John Buchan

John Buchan was born in Perth. He attended Glasgow University (by which time he was already publishing articles in periodicals) and Brasenose College, Oxford where he published five books and many articles, won several awards including the Newdigate Prize for poetry and gained a First. His career included a barrister and Member of Parliament, a writer, soldier and publisher. He was created Baron Tweedsmuir of Elsfield in 1935 and became the fifteenth Governor-General of Canada, a position he held until his death in 1940.

John Buchan’s first success as an author came with Prester John in 1910, followed by a series of adventure thrillers, or ‘shockers’ as he called them, all characterized by their authentically rendered backgrounds, romantic characters, their atmosphere of expectancy and world-wide conspiracies, and the author’s own enthusiasm. There are three main heroes: Richard Hannay, whose adventures are collected in The Complete Richard Hannay; Dickson McCunn, the Glaswegian provision merchant with the soul of a romantic, who features in Huntingtower, Castle Gay and The House of the Four Winds; and Sir Edward Leithen, the lawyer who tells the story of John MacNab and Sick Heart River, John Buchan’s final novel. In addition, John Buchan established a reputation as an historical biographer with such works as Montrose, Oliver Cromwell and Augustus.

John Buchan

The playwright - Patrick Barlow

Patrick Barlow is an actor, comedian and playwright. His comedic alter ego, Desmond Olivier Dingle, is the founder, Artistic Director and Chief Executive of the two-man National Theatre of Brent, which he has performed on stage, on television and on radio. He has also appeared in numerous films including Shakespeare in Love , Notting Hill, Bridget Jones’s Diary and Nanny McPhee.

Patrick Barlow