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Richard Hannay: Wikis


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Major-General Sir Richard Hannay, KCB, OBE, DSO, Legion of Honour, is the fictional secret agent created by Scottish novelist John Buchan, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir. In his autobiography, Memory Hold-the-Door, Buchan suggests that the character is based, in part, on Edmund Ironside, 1st Baron Ironside, from Edinburgh, a spy during the Second Boer War.[1]



Hannay appears in several novels as a major character, including:

He also appears as a minor character in:

Radio, film and television

The character of Richard Hannay has been portrayed on screen in the four versions of The Thirty Nine Steps by Robert Donat, Kenneth More, Robert Powell and Rupert Penry-Jones (in a 2008 BBC production) respectively, while Powell reprised the role for the ITV series Hannay (1988-1989). Orson Welles portrayed him in a radio play of The Thirty-Nine Steps in 1938.[2]

The 1973 BBC documentary Omnibus: The British Hero had Christopher Cazenove playing Hannay in a scene from Mr Standfast, as well as a number of other such heroic characters, including Beau Geste, Bulldog Drummond and James Bond. Barry Foster played Hannay in a 1977 television adaptation of The Three Hostages.


As revealed through the various novels, Richard Hannay was born in Scotland about 1877[3]; his father was Scottish and had German business partners. He was brought up to speak that language pretty fluently[4]. At the age of six he joined his father in South Africa.[3] He became a mining engineer spending three years prospecting for copper in German Damaraland[4] and made a small fortune in Bulawayo.[3] He took part in the Matabele Wars[4] and was an intelligence officer at Delagoa Bay in the Boer war.[5] He returned to England in 1914,[3] and the events of The 39 Steps take over.

The First World War breaks out three weeks after the events of The Thirty-Nine Steps and Hannay immediately joins the Army as a captain. He suffers wounds to the leg and neck in the Battle of Loos in September 1915, by which time he has reached the rank of major. Greenmantle, the sequel to The Thirty-Nine Steps begins in early 1916, with Hannay in Hampshire where he has arrived to convalesce after Loos. During the events of Greenmantle, his work as a spy in wartime Europe and Turkey earns him a DSO and CB. Following this, he returns to regular service in the army and is rapidly promoted to brigadier-general. In early 1917, however, he is called back to the Secret Service to hunt an exceptionally dangerous man during the decisive months of World War I. As told in Mr Standfast, he meets and falls in love with his future wife, Mary Lamington, an intelligent young nurse of remarkable beauty. Later, in 1918, now promoted to major-general, he returns to the front lines and participates in desperate fighting following the Germans' massive, last-ditch effort to win the war.

Soon after the war ends, Hannay marries Mary Lamington and the following year they have a son, Peter John Hannay. The boy was probably named after Hannay's two great friends John Scantlebury Blenkiron (an American spy who had often helped him) and Peter Pienaar ("Mr Standfast"), an old Boer scout who seems to have been a kind of father-figure to him. The family settles in Mary's old home in the Cotswolds, Fosse Manor, Oxfordshire and Hannay (now a KCB) finds peace and enjoyment as a kind of gentleman farmer. However, in 1920 or 1921, Hannay again finds himself in an adventure, this time with his wife's help unravelling a kidnapping mystery in The Three Hostages.

His last adventure, The Island of Sheep, occurs some twelve years later when Hannay, now in his fifties, is called by an old oath to protect the son of a man he once knew, who safeguards the secret of the greatest treasure on earth. This book also focusses on Hannay's son, Peter John, now a bright but solemn teenager.

Though the Hannay books stop short of World War Two, Buchan's last novel, Sick Heart River (published just after the author died in 1940) offers a hint about Hannay's future: dying in Canada, Hannay's friend Sir Edward Leithen hears of the outbreak of war in Europe and guesses that many of his old friends, including Hannay, will have taken up arms again.

Impact on espionage fiction

Richard Hannay was one of the first modern spy thriller heroes and as such has heavily influenced the genre. Today, considered in the light of mainstream espionage fiction, Hannay appears to be badly cliched - although one could point out that this is not his fault as he was created well before his attributes became cliched.

In terms of personality, for example, Hannay seems to be a stereotypical "strong, silent" Briton, combining the stereotype of the dour Scotsman with the "stiff upper lip" of an Englishman and with a tough physique and shrewd brains (although not brilliant); daring and resourceful. In terms of plot, he is often forced to conduct his activities on the wrong side of the law, hunted by the police and enemy alike; he falls in love with a beautiful (blonde) spy on his own side; he is often called upon to thwart the enemy in some evil plan certain to ruin Britain's war effort.

However, Hannay also displays some characteristics that sharply distinguish him from both later characters and the fiction writers that sought to imitate him. He narrates all the stories and shows a much wider range of emotion than is usually expected from this kind of thriller hero. Nowhere near as hard-boiled as the detective of American noir fiction, Hannay is dependent upon his friends and appears to be a religious man; like his author, he is Presbyterian.

He is also increasingly shown to be something of a philosopher; he does not dehumanise his enemy, and despite sharing some of the racial prejudices of his day, is open-minded towards Germans, pacifists, and similar demonised groups of the time. Most remarkably in contrast to more recent thriller heroes, however, Hannay finds it difficult to talk to women, suffering from months of nerves before declaring his love for Mary. Until she appears, he has no love interest (indeed, the first two books are tautly constructed, and in no way suffer from an absence of romance), and when puzzling over his love for Mary, he remarks, "You can't live my kind of life for forty years, wholly among men, and be any good at pretty speeches to women." Being ignorant of women, however, does not make him immature: he is in fact a shrewd and able judge of men, and unusually wise.

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b c d ch 1, The Thirty-Nine Steps at Project Gutenberg
  4. ^ a b c ch 2, The Thirty-Nine Steps at Project Gutenberg
  5. ^ ch 3, The Thirty-Nine Steps at Project Gutenberg

External links



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