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Robert Shaw (British actor)

For other people of the same name, see Robert Shaw (disambiguation).

Robert Shaw
publicity headshot (circa 1971)
Born Robert Archibald Shaw
(1927-08-09)9 August 1927
Westhoughton, Lancashire, England
Died 28 August 1978(1978-08-28) (aged 51)
Tourmakeady, County Mayo, Ireland
Cause of death
Heart Attack
Occupation Actor, novelist
Years active 1951–1978
Spouse(s) Jennifer Bourke (m. 1952–63); 4 children – Deborah, Penny, Rachel, and Katherine
Mary Ure (m. 1963–75) her death; 4 children – Colin, Elizabeth, Hannah and Ian
Virginia Jansen (m. 1976–78) his death; 2 children – Charles and Thomas
Children 10 (two adopted)

Robert Archibald Shaw (9 August 1927 – 28 August 1978) was an English actor and novelist. With his menacing mutter and intimidating demeanor, he was often cast as a villain. He is best remembered for his performances in From Russia with Love (1963), Battle of the Bulge (1965), A Man for All Seasons (1966), The Sting (1973), The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974), Black Sunday (1977), Force 10 from Navarone (1978), The Deep (1977) and Jaws (1975), in which he played the shark hunter Quint.

Early life

Robert Shaw was born in Westhoughton, Lancashire, England, in 1927. His mother, Doreen (née Avery), was a former nurse born in Piggs Peak, Swaziland, and his father, Thomas Shaw, was a doctor.[1][2] He had three sisters, Elisabeth, Joanna, and Wendy, and one brother, Alexander (Sandy). When he was seven, the family moved to Stromness, Orkney, Scotland. When Robert was 12, Thomas, an alcoholic, took his own life. The family then moved to Cornwall, where he went to the independent Truro School. Shaw was a teacher in Saltburn-by-the-Sea in the North Riding of Yorkshire for a brief period, then attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. He served in the Royal Air Force, air crew.

Acting career

Shaw began his acting career in theatre, appearing in regional theatre throughout England. In 1952 he made his London debut in the West End at the Embassy Theatre, in Caro William.

During the 1950s, Shaw starred in a British TV series which also appeared on American television as The Buccaneers. Shaw's best-known film performances include the assassin, Donald Grant, in the second James Bond film From Russia with Love (1963), the title role in The Luck of Ginger Coffey, (1964), the relentless panzer German Army officer Colonel Hessler in Battle of the Bulge (1965), a young Henry VIII in A Man for All Seasons (1966), Lord Randolph Churchill, in Young Winston' General George Armstrong Custer in Custer of the West (1967), the ruthless mobster Doyle Lonnegan in The Sting (1973), the equally-ruthless subway-hijacker and hostage-taker "Mr. Blue" in The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974), the shark-obsessed fisherman Quint in Jaws (1975), lighthouse keeper and treasure-hunter Romer Treece in The Deep (1977), and the Israeli Mossad agent David Kabakov in Black Sunday (1977), which was the most successful of his appearances in films as the principal good-guy.

Shaw was nominated for the Golden Globe Award and the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in A Man for All Seasons.

He performed onstage as well, (he had a formidable, well-trained shouting voice) across Britain and on Broadway in the US,[3] where his notable performances include Harold Pinter's Old Times[4] and The Caretaker,[5] Friedrich Dürrenmatt's The Physicists directed by Peter Brook,[6] and The Man in the Glass Booth, inspired by the kidnapping and trial of Adolf Eichmann, written by Shaw himself, and directed by Pinter.[7]

Writing career

In addition to his acting career, Shaw was also an accomplished writer of novels, plays and screenplays. His first novel, The Hiding Place, published in 1960, met with positive reviews. His next, The Sun Doctor, published the following year, was awarded the Hawthornden Prize in 1962.

Shaw then embarked on a trilogy of novels – The Flag (1965), The Man in the Glass Booth (1967) and A Card from Morocco (1969); it was his adaptation for the stage of The Man in the Glass Booth which gained him the most attention for his writing. The book and play present a complex and morally ambiguous tale of a man who, at various times in the story, is either a Jewish businessman pretending to be a Nazi war criminal, or a Nazi war criminal pretending to be a Jewish businessman. The play was quite controversial when performed in the UK and the US, some critics praising Shaw's sly, deft and complex examination of the moral issues of nationality and identity, others sharply critical of Shaw's treatment of such a sensitive subject. The Man in the Glass Booth was further developed for the screen but Shaw disapproved of the resulting film and had his name removed from the credits.

Shaw also adapted The Hiding Place into a screenplay for the film Situation Hopeless... But Not Serious starring Alec Guinness. His play Cato Street, about the 1820 Cato Street Conspiracy, was produced for the first time in 1971 in London.


Shaw died of a heart attack on 28 August 1978 while driving from Castlebar to his home in Tourmakeady, Ireland. He suddenly became ill, stopped the car, stepped out and then collapsed on the roadside. He was rushed to Castlebar General Hospital and was pronounced dead aged 51.[8][9] He had just completed filming of Avalanche Express.

Shaw's remains were cremated and his ashes scattered near his home in Ireland. A stone memorial to him was unveiled there in his honour in August 2008.[10]


Shaw has a public house named after him[11] in the town of his birth, Westhoughton, Lancashire. Also, villain Sebastian Shaw from the X-Men comics is named and modelled after Shaw.[12]

Personal life

Shaw was married three times and had ten children, two of whom were adopted.

  • His first wife was Jennifer Bourke (1952–63) with whom he had four daughters.
  • His second wife was actress Mary Ure (1963–75) with whom he had four children. He adopted son Colin, born in 1961, born from his wife's previous marriage to John Osborne. His son Ian Shaw, born in 1969, also became an actor. He also had two daughters, Elizabeth and Hannah, born in 1963 and 1966, respectively. This marriage ended with her death from an overdose.
  • His third and last wife was Virginia Jansen (1976–78) with whom he had one son, Thomas, and adopted Jansen's son, Charles, from a previous relationship.

For the last seven years of his life, Robert Shaw lived at Drimbawn House, in the village of Tourmakeady, County Mayo in Ireland.[10]






  1. ^ Wakeman, John; Stanley Kunitz (1975). World authors, 1950–1970: a companion volume to Twentieth century authors. Wilson. p. 1292. ISBN 0-8242-0419-0. 
  2. ^ "Full text of "The Player A Profile of an Art"". Retrieved 7 October 2010. 
  3. ^ Robert Shaw at the Internet Broadway Database
  4. ^ Old Times at the Internet Broadway Database
  5. ^ The Caretaker at the Internet Broadway Database
  6. ^ The Physicist at the Internet Broadway Database
  7. ^ The Man in the Glass Booth at the Internet Broadway Database
  8. ^ "Robert Shaw, British Actor, Dies in Ireland". The Post and Courier. 29 August 1978. Retrieved 6 December 2011. 
  9. ^ David Parkinson, "Shaw, Robert Archibald (1927–1978)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press 2004; online edition 2007
  10. ^ a b Connie O'Toole "Robert Shaw memorial unveiled in Mayo village" Irish Times (11 August 2008)
  11. ^ "JD Weatherspoon". Retrieved 9 June 2011. 
  12. ^ "Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed #44!". Retrieved 9 June 2011. 

External links

  1. REDIRECT Template:Academy Awards hosts

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