What do Manchester novelist Winston Graham and master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock have in common?
The answer is the classic 1964 thriller movie Marnie, starring Sean Connery and Tippi Hedren.
Directed by Hitchcock, Marnie was based on the 1961 novel of the same name by Graham.
It told the story of tax consultant Marine ‘Marnie’ Edgar, who went on the run after stealing from her company only to be recognised by her new employer Mark Rutland, played by Connery.
He blackmails Marnie (Hedren) into marrying him, realising there are profound psychological reasons behind her fear of thunderstorms and the colour red.
The film reaches a climax – appropriately in a storm – as the traumas of Marnie’s childhood past are finally revealed by her mother. In true Hitchcock style, it transpires that Marnie killed a man defending her mother and blotted it out of her memory.
Marnie was very different to Graham’s most well-known series of novels – the Poldark saga. Set in 18th century Cornwall, they told of the struggles faced by former soldier Ross Poldark on his return from the American War of Independence.
He arrives home to find that his sweetheart Elizabeth has married his cousin – and his family’s mines are run down and derelict.
As he sets about restoring them, Ross weds Demelza Carne, an urchin he has taken into his home as a servant. They have five children, but in the background Ross still harbours a yearning for Elizabeth.
Cornwall was in Graham’s blood as his family moved from Manchester to Perranporth when he was 17. He had contracted pneumonia as a child and the sea air was thought to be beneficial for his health.
Graham was born at 66 Langdale Road, Victoria Park, on June 30th 1908. His father, Albert Grime, was a well-known tea importer and grocer.
Graham’s first love was always writing. When his father died after being weakened by a stroke, it was Graham’s mother who supported him while he tried to get his work published.
The breakthrough came in 1934 with the publication of his first novel The House with the Stained Glass Windows. It was a thriller about a guardian’s attempt to drive his ward mad because he had embezzled her fortune.
The first Poldark novel, Ross Poldark, went on sale in 1945. It proved popular with people seeking an escape from post-war austerity. Another 11 Poldark titles followed, ending with Bella Poldark in 2002.
Poldark hit its popularity peak when the BBC serialised the first seven novels on the prime Sunday evening TV slot from 1975 to 1977.
More than 14 million tuned in every week to see Robin Ellis play Ross and Angharad Rees portray Demelza. At one point, church services needed to be rescheduled so viewers wouldn’t miss an episode!
Ellis even wrote his own book about the making of the series, such was the public demand for all things Poldark.
Graham, though, hated the TV programme. He thought the depiction of Demelza was too promiscuous – and tried to get the series cancelled.
A second TV adaptation of the Poldark novels, starring Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza and Aidan Turner as Ross, was screened by BBC1 from 2015 to 2019.
Other films based on Graham titles include Night Without Stars in 1951, Fortune is a Woman in 1957 and the 1962 Brazilian movie Socio de Alcova – a Portuguese version of the novel The Sleeping Partner.
British crime movie The Walking Stick, released in 1970, was based on Graham’s 1967 novel of the same name. It starred David Hemmings and Samantha Eggar as a couple planning to steal £200,000 from an antiques shop vault.
The film was probably most famous for its theme tune – Cavatina – played on classical guitar. It was used as the music for The Deer Hunter eight years later.
Graham, who changed his name from Grime to Graham by deed poll in 1947, often referred to himself as ‘the most successful unknown novelist in England’.
It was fair to say that he never sought the spotlight, preferring to live quietly in Cornwall and then East Sussex.
In spite of this, he was Chairman of the Society of Authors from 1967 to 1969 and a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He was also awarded the OBE in 1983.
Graham died in London in July 2003 at the age of 95. His autobiography, Memoirs of a Private Man, was published by Macmillan in the same year.
*Many more creative talents from the North West are recalled in Clive Hardy’s three Around Manchester books covering the 1950s, 60s and 70s.
Each book is packed with around 300 past images of Manchester along with fascinating insights and commentary from the author. Just go to our online shop to place your order or telephone the order hotline on 01928 503777.