Alfred Hitchcock was born on 13 August 1899 on the floor above his father’s shop at 517 High Road, Leytonstone; Leytonstone was by the time of his birth a soft forgetful suburb, sweltering in summer and sullen in winter. It was marked by a sense of vacancy, deriving from the time when it was simply a hamlet on the Roman road to London. It was situated five miles to the northeast of the city, and at the time of Hitchcock’s birth was still nominally part of Essex, but the vast roar of London was coming ever closer. In 1856 the Great Eastern Railway arrived and Leytonstone soon became a “dormitory town” filled with the modestly affluent who made their way each morning into the City and its environs.

William Hitchcock was a greengrocer, selling everything from cabbages to turnips. It was as busy as any other high road, with horses and carts and carriages passing incessantly; the scent of bananas ripening, and the musty dusty odour of potatoes, were mingled with the keener stench of horse dung. The pervasive smell of manure was in fact only alleviated by the arrival of the electric tram in 1906, an event that Hitchcock vividly remembered. A photograph was taken of him and his father outside the family business on what looks to be the recently established Empire Day; he is astride a horse, no doubt the one that brought the produce from Covent Garden market. William Hitchcock was a successful merchant, whose business soon expanded, and Hitchcock told one biographer that “I remember my father going to work in a dark suit with a very white starched shirt and a dark tie.” In this, at least, the son came to resemble the father. William Hitchcock was also a highly nervous man, who suffered from various neuralgic conditions such as skin lesions.

Emma Hitchcock was by all accounts also smartly dressed, meticulous and dignified; like most lower-middle-class housewives, Hitchcock’s mother took great delight in cleaning and polishing the appurtenances of the home. She was also adept at preparing family meals, a process she immensely enjoyed.

Hitchcock claimed he was told that, as a baby and small child, he never cried. Yet he also adverted to his terror when, as an infant in the cradle, a female relative put her face too close to his own and uttered baby noises. He also remarked that when a baby is about three months of age, the mother will try and scare it; it is an experience that supposedly both of them enjoy. On another occasion he recalled his mother saying “Boo!” at him when he was six months old. Even if he never cried, he was not devoid of fear.

Alfred Hitchcock: A Brief Life