Five Fascinating Facts about Patrick Hamilton

Interesting facts about a neglected novelist and playwright

1. Patrick Hamilton’s famous fans and champions have included Doris Lessing and Graham Greene. The playwright and author J. B. Priestley was also an admirer of Hamilton’s work, much of which focuses on working-class British life. In 1968, future Nobel Laureate Doris Lessing lamented: ‘Hamilton was a marvellous novelist who’s grossly neglected.’ More recently, Fever Pitch author Nick Hornby has expressed admiration for Hamilton’s novels, declaring Hamilton ‘my new best friend’ when he first encountered his work.

2. Hamilton could drink a bottle of whisky a day – and he died at the age of 58, from the effects of heavy drinking. Hamilton was born to middle-class parents in Sussex, England; from his father he inherited a passion for writing – and, indeed, for drink. And like Hamilton Senior, Patrick also had a penchant for prostitutes – Patrick Hamilton plaqueor, rather, for trying to save them. One such infatuation inspired the plot for the superb trilogy of novels collected together as Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky (Vintage Classics) – adapted for the small screen by the BBC in 2005.

3. Hamilton wrote the play on which Alfred Hitchcock’s film Rope was based. For Hamilton, literary success came early, and while he was still in his twenties the Sussex-born writer had a huge theatrical hit with Rope, a play which was later adapted for the big screen with Hitchcock in the director’s chair, in 1948. The play, and the film, focuses on two friends who conspire to commit the perfect murder.

4. Hamilton’s other most successful play, Gas Light, inspired the term ‘gaslighting’, denoting a form of torture. Hamilton’s 1938 play Gas Light (renamed Angel Street in the US) was filmed twice in the 1940s: in the UK in 1940 and in a US version in 1944. The play, and two films, gave the English language a surprising legacy: the word for the brand of torture defined as ‘a form of psychological abuse in which false information is presented to the victim with the intent of making him/her doubt his/her own memory and perception’.

5. As a teenager, Patrick Hamilton fell victim to the Spanish flu epidemic – and then in 1932 he was hit by a car and seriously injured. The luckless Hamilton was left paralysed in one arm as a result of the accident, and would walk with a limp for the rest of his life. This disability appears to have exacerbated his drink problem, and for the next thirty years of his life he would be a heavy drinker. (He died in 1962.) The bleak decade of the 1930s did, though, inspire perhaps his most famous novel, Hangover Square: A Story of Darkest Earl’s Court (Penguin Modern Classics), published in 1939, about London low-life, social inequality, fascism, and the ‘gathering storm’ of the Second World War.

If you enjoyed these curious Patrick Hamilton facts, we recommend our book crammed full of 3,000 years of interesting bookish facts, The Secret Library: A Book-Lovers’ Journey Through Curiosities of History, available now from Michael O’Mara Books.

Image: Plaque in Chiswick, London commemorating Patrick Hamilton (picture credit: Spudgun67) , Wikimedia Commons.


  1. Ah, the danger of reading this blog is that my TBR list grows…

    • You mentioned Priestly – I wonder if he is a neglected writer? I’ve never read Good Companions but he wrote a marvelous non-fiction book titled Man & Time. Also his ‘time’ plays such as Dangerous Corner are quite original and still made into TV plays.

  2. Thanks for such an interesting post. I loved 20 Thousand Streets and have Hangover Sq on my TBR shelf! Bronte

  3. I really enjoyed seeing his play Gaslight. Thanks for this post.
    x The Captain