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39 steps

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Rupert Penry-Jones plays Richard Hannay in the latest 39 steps, a Masterpiece Theatre adventure that gives an admiring nod both to Hitchcock's North by Northwest and to Mr Memory. The setting is Britain just before World War One. Treason lies at the heart of the story.

For the month of March you can view 39 Steps on PBS. It isn't John Buchan's 39 Steps, and it isn't Hitchcock's, but I enjoyed it, particularly the suffragette angle and the increasingly lovely exchanges between the hero and the heroine.

Buchan told a friend he wrote the book because of his "affection for that elemental type of tale which Americans call the 'dime novel' and which we know as the 'shocker' - the romance where the incidents defy the probabilities, and march just inside the borders of the possible. During an illness last winter I exhausted my store of those aids to cheerfulness, and was driven to write one for myself".

It's cheerful.

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