Shadows of Orkney

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If you are a certain age, the name Robert Shaw will instantly conjure up a jaunty theme tune:

A life on the ocean wave will be
The only life for you and me;
We’ll sail across the Spanish Main for-e-ever,
And if you see that danger’s near
Just whistle a tune and I’ll be here,
And we will face the enemy together.

What child couldn’t thrill to the derring-do of The Buccaneers? It was launched on ITV in 1955. You can see it on YouTube: Shaw strides about, flinging his cloak around, bawling lines he made up himself in a cod Cornish accent lifted from his parents. It netted him £200 an episode – a fortune, which he spent on golf clubs, cars and booze.

But that may not be the Shaw you remember. Perhaps you’re a Bond fan, unlikely to forget the controlled menace of Grant, the blond psychopath in From Russia with Love. Maybe it’s A Man for All Seasons which catches you – Henry VIII leaping off the royal barge into the river, or butting against Paul Scofield’s Sir Thomas More over divorce. Or were you transfixed by Quint’s mesmerizing monologue in Jaws, that moment when we see under the skin of the pursuer, and understand what drives him?

There were, it would seem, as many Robert Shaws as there were parts to play. It was both a blessing and a curse, this catholicity. My Robert Shaw is perhaps less known; but he may be the key to all the other manifestations. I know the writer, the man who never forgot the short, crucial time he spent in my home town in Orkney.

Shaw was born in 1927 in Lancashire, to Doreen and Thomas. She was from Swaziland, though the family had Cornish roots. He was a doctor, charming, athletic, competitive, assiduous – and an incurable alcoholic. As bills mounted and the marriage began to unravel, the couple took drastic action. When Robert was 6 they bought Seaview, a fine house overlooking the harbour in Stromn

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About the contributor

Morag MacInnes is an Orcadian writer and lecturer. Her new dialect poems appear in Working the Map (2015), a collection of responses to the changes in Orkney’s landscape, edited by John and Fiona Cumming and published by Hansel Cooperative Press.

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