Sir Alfred Hitchcock was born in Leytonstone in what is now part of London, the son of a normal family of mediocre means. After a brief stint in the Royal Engineers during WW1 he began writing short stories, often with the narrative twists and comic-macabre subjects that came to dominate his films. After initial writing and directing forays proved unsuccessful, Hitchcock’s filmmaking career really took off with his first thriller, The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog, in 1926.
In the 1930s, as British writers came to dominate the spy novel genre, Hitchcock practically invented the spy film as we now know it. The Man Who Knew Too Much, The 39 Steps, Sabotage and The Secret Agent were all very successful movies. The 39 Steps was originally a WW1 invasion-paranoia story by John Buchan, reworked in the 30s for an audience anticipating another war with Germany. Sabotage is based on Joseph Conrad’s classic novel, itself inspired by the theories and intrigue surrounding the 1894 explosion in Greenwich park. The Secret Agent is an adaptation of Somerset Maugham’s Ashenden spy stories. Buchan and Maugham both worked for the British government in WW1 in propaganda and intelligence roles.