In the 1950’s and 60’s there was a mysterious television series on our screens that was hosted by a curio director of latter-day blockbuster thrillers.
Alfred Hitchcock, the director of classic films such as Vertigo and Psycho, North by Northwest and Frenzy, had a collection of wonderful, bizarre and surreal stories that he wanted to share with the world; and in a bold move for the time, he decided to lend his name to a television series.
This was in the days when television was the poor man’s cinema. Before DVD, video, and way before television became cool with actors; it was seen as a step down for many actors, with the lights of Hollywood fading into the distance the more they became typecast by their performances on the small screen. You would never have seen Humphrey Bogart or Fred Astaire acting on television in the same way that top stars are now attracted to good quality dramas on tv, and it would only be later that stars would appear on chat shows as television became a more accessible way of reaching a mass audience.
So Hitchcock led the way, and it was a huge success; running for seven series and giving a push to some leading lights and directors; it also led to copycat tv shows, such as Tales of the Unexpected in the UK and Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories. But none could compete with the originality of Hitchcock’s television drama.
This also spawned a series of pulp paperback books. In keeping with the traditions of the tales that were being told, this was a mass market product designed to be read for a scare or two and to be enjoyed rather than for its literal value. There are many books in the series and they have been republished on lots of occasions, most recently in the 1990’s. You can now find the books at your local charity shop and they are well worth collecting, as well as seeing old copies on Ebay or Amazon.
The books were originally published by Pan Books and I have a version that cost 3’6,dated 1965 and entitled Stories they would not let me do on TV. It contains twenty-five macabre tales to chill your blood. The last line of the book says it all really,
“And the black abyss swallowed him.”
Alfred Hitchcock Presents harks back to a time where scares were more psychological, and his tales from the television were very suited to be turned into books. This was not necessarily a more innocent time, just that in order to be satisfied you had to use your imagination. Nothing like today where we see graphically and in detail everything that the producers wish us to see, however disgusting. This is apparent in literature too, where vivid descriptions of bodies and parts are commonplace in horror fiction. But is it necessary? There is a school of thought that what goes on in our own minds is actually far scarier, and all we need is a suggestion. This is what made Hitchcock such a master of suspense. He always knew that you would fill in the blanks and create your own scary story; that is what made Psycho so great a horror film, because actually, you saw hardly any gore on the screen at all.