Skip to main content

Robert Newton - Dorset Pirate King

Why do all pirates talk with an exaggerated Dorset accent? Blame rests firmly on the shoulders of Dorset actor, Robert Guy Newton born in Shaftesbury in June 1905.

A colourful, hell raising individual, both on and off stage, Robert had a long and distinguished career in the theatre, in films and on television. For anyone who wants to talk like a pirate, it is almost obligatory to copy the vocal intonations of Robert Guy Newton. He excelled at playing cunning villains. With his thunderous voice and rolling eyes he mesmerised audiences. He is best remembered for playing the rapscallion one-legged pirate Long John Silver in the Disney film, Treasure Island and in its sequel made in Australia four years later. This was followed by a television mini-series filmed on Sydney beaches and on South Sea Islands in the mid 1950s. He had also played the two-legged but bearded pirate, Edward Teach in Blackbeard the Pirate in 1952.

Robert was married four times and is remembered also for his partiality to alcoholic drink. He was once nicknamed the ‘terror of Pinewood Film Studios’. On one occasion, Newton was so drunk he turned up at the wrong film set and started acting. Realising his good fortune, as he had such a big star and did not have to pay a fee, the director kept Robert in four scenes before the drunken actor realised his error and left. Another time Robert assaulted a car with a horse whip because it would not start. In 1952, he spent some time in a Hollywood Jail when he was taken drunk from a night club. Then in 1954, an application was made for his bankruptcy as he owed the British Inland Revenue £46,300.

Robert Newton was the son of talented landscape artist, Algernon Newton whose painting ‘a Dorset Landscape’ recently sold for £225,000. His four wives were Petronella Walton (1929-35), Annie McLean (1936-1945), Natalie Newhouse (1947-52) & Vera Budnik (1952). During World War II, Robert joined the Royal Navy and served on the Arctic convoys to Russia. In 1951, he was voted one of the most popular stars in Britain.

For his role in Around the World in 80 Days, Robert had agreed to keep off the booze while filming – a pledge he faithfully honoured. However, when it ended, he went on a colossal bender which probably killed him. Robert Newton died on the 25th March 1956 in Beverley Hills, California following a heart attack. Sadly, in his later years he had suffered from chronic alcoholism.

It seems entirely appropriate that Robert Newton is the patron saint of International Talk like a Pirate Day - celebrated each year in September. With his popping eye and husky exaggerated Dorset voice, he will always be the top movie pirate of all time.

So, ‘avast ye mateys, let’s raise a non-alcoholic toast in pirate patter to the memory of Shaftesbury’s iconic and original pirate, Robert Guy Newton!’


Popular posts from this blog

Chimney Sweep Tragedy

Crown Hotel, Blandford is reckoned to be one of Dorset’s oldest hostelries. Yet its most tragic day, during a long history, must surely be when a young chimney sweep lost his life. The chimney sweep, who was just a child, suffocated and was burnt to death in a Crown Hotel chimney which had been alight a little while before. ‘His cries were dreadful and no-one could give assistance. Part of the chimney was taken down before he was got out.’ (Salisbury & Winchester Gazette 27th March 1780) The lad had gone up one chimney and attempting to go down another had become stuck. At the time children were used to climb up chimneys to clean out soot deposits. With hands and knees, they would shimmy up narrow dark flue spaces packed thick with soot and debris. After the 1731 Great Fire of Blandford it was realised that it was important to sweep chimneys regularly while many rebuilt houses had narrower ones. Smaller chimneys and complicated flues were a potential death trap for children. The sw

Murder at Gussage St Michael

Gussage St Michael is a quiet North Dorset village with a population of few more than a couple of hundred. Yet for several months in 1913, it made headlines across the world as far away as Australia and New Zealand. William Walter Burton, a rabbit catcher, was found guilty of murdering his lover, 24 year-old Winifred Mitchell and had buried her in a lonely wood. Winifred Mary Mitchell was 5ft 5 ins tall, dark haired and was employed as a cook. She was known as ‘ Winnie ’ and ‘cookie’ . Winnie wore false teeth that had been given to her by a former employer. On the 9 th August 1913, South Australia’s Adelaide Advertiser reported. ‘ In the annals of crime, there have been few murders so carefully planned and so ingeniously carried out and it will be remembered that the judge in passing sentence of death intimated that Burton was beyond human forgiveness.’ William Burton walked alone to the scaffold and was hanged at Dorchester Prison on the morning of Tuesday 24 th June 1913. 

Tarrant Rushton's Nuclear Secret

Tarrant Rushton was a large RAF base used for glider operations during World War II. It was then taken over by Flight Refuelling for the conversion of aircraft for the development of aircraft in-flight refuelling. However, between 1958 & 1965, the Tarrant Rushton airfield had a much more secretive and less publicised role. This was in support of the nation’s nuclear bomber deterrent, as Tarrant Rushton airfield became a QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) dispersal unit.   During 1958, contractors Costain reinforced the main runway and carried out other work to ensure the giant bomber aircraft could be accommodated. At times just a few miles from Blandford, there would have been up to four RAF Vickers Valiant bombers at Tarrant Rushton ready to become airborne in minutes charged with nuclear weapons. The bombers were from 148 Squadron at RAF Marham in Norfolk. As there was no suitable accommodation at the airfield, an old US Air Force Hospital building at Martin was used. At the time, the