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It's no secret that Robert preferred writing to acting. He was a writer of great social conscience and ideas and his work won numerous literary prizes. here is an in-depth look at his novels.

"You know bloody well that in a few years you'll be dead, so what will it be in my case? Nine books on a bookshelf that nobody's reading anymore." 

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Two British airmen, Wilson and Connolly, are incarcerated in a cellar in Bonn: their captor, Corporal Frick, has kept them there ever since the day when he hid them from an infuriated mob and the Gestapo after a raid. He treats his prisoners with kindness, but he has never dared to let them go. Wilson has discovered in himself a talent for writing: Connolly has spent the time brooding about his loved wife and trying to plan an escape. One morning the prisoners realize that al lis not well with their jailer, and when, driven by ill-health, Corporal Frick is compelled to release them, the irony of their imprisonment and escape suddenly dawns on them.

The Hiding Place opens with Hans Frick putting on his Nazi party uniform, preparing his breakfast, and taking a tray with meals down to the two RAF airmen imprisoned in his cellar. While they eat, he tells them a story about a British bomber shot down outside Karlsruhe. The crew, having been rescued after parachuting into the Rhine, were summarily shot by the local Gauleiter. He then heads upstairs, changes out of his uniform and into a suit, and bicycles in to work.

“The date was June the twelfth, nineteen fifty-two.”

Well into the 1950s, the Soviet Union was returning its last surviving German prisoners from World War Two. For several decades after 1945, stories would appear from time to time of Japanese soldiers who emerged from the jungles of Pacific islands after hiding out for years, unaware the war had ended. But in The Hiding Place, Robert Shaw imagines the plight of two British airmen held in isolation, ignorant of the outside world aside from the stories of victories on the Russian front, amazing new German weapons, and the continuing futile attempts by Allied bombers to attack Germany.

This is not, however, an alternate history like Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle. Instead, it’s a tightly-focused study of the psychology of prisoners and their jailer that anticipates by over a decade the phenomenon known as Stockholm syndrome. Connolly and Wilson, having bailed out when their Lancaster bomber was hit on a raid over Bonn, are taken prisoner by Frick, a civil defense auxiliary. To keep them from being lynched by an angry mob, he ushers them to his nearby house and locks them in the bomb shelter that’s been built in his basement. Thanks to his late mother’s fears about being buried alive, the shelter is extremely strong and completely soundproofed.

As the first hours pass, however, he realizes the quandary he’s in: he cannot take the men to the Gestapo without questions about the delay; neither can he set them free. He soon decides the only solution is to keep them prisoner in his house. And so he enters upon a fiction that, once started, he can’t figure out how to end.

Shaw manages with remarkable success in convincing the reader that Frick could continue to convince his prisoners that his fiction is their reality. In part he does this by careful attention to the necessary practical details, but more is the result of his understanding of how prolonged captivity, particularly in relative comfort compared to what the typical Allied POW in Germany could expect, erodes the will to resist.

Wilson endures their confinement better than Connolly. A lawyer in civilian life, he early on convinced Frick to supply pencil and paper so he could practice translating remembered English texts into German. When his memory ran out, his imagination took over. Gradually, Connolly becomes “aware how much Wilson was changing — how much he was beginning to enjoy writing — how much there seemed for him to do.”

Eventually — and quite by accident — Wilson and Connolly do escape, and in some ways what happens next forms the most interesting part of the book. Interesting because the reader wonders where Shaw will take the story. After all, the men think the war is still going on, that they are in the midst of enemy territory. So, even after getting away from Frick, Frick’s fiction remains with them: they are, indeed, actively resisting being set straight.

Frick also struggles to adapt to his new reality after the escape, for he has become as emotionally dependent upon them as they have been physically dependent upon him. Despite the inhumanity of Frick’s actions, Shaw makes him seem sympathetic in the end. The Hiding Place manages to be both thrilling and tender and — despite the very specific conditions upon which the story is premised — also somewhat timeless. It could almost as easily have been set during the American Civil War or on another planet as science fiction.

The Hiding Place was twiced staged as a television play: once in the U.K. with Shaw himself, along with Sean Connery, as the airmen, and once in the U.S. with James Mason as Frick and Richard Basehart and Trevor Howard as Wilson and Connolly. Unfortunately, neither one of the productions received positive reviews. Then in 1965, Gottfried Reinhardt, son of the legendary theater director Max Reinhardt, decided to turn it into a comedy, Situation Hopeless … but Not Serious with Alec Guinness as the jailer and Mike Connors and Robert Redford as the airmen, now Americans. One IMDB reviewer wrote that the movie “was sheer torture to watch”; another, that it was “the strangest Alec Guinness film out there.”

The Hiding Place was Robert Shaw’s first novel. And though he’s now primarily remembered as an actor, he wrote a total of five novels between 1958 and 1969. His second, The Sun Doctor (1961), won the Hawthornden Prize and is becoming rather rare and expensive. The Flag, is something of a realistic parable, perhaps along the lines of William Golding’s The Spire. The Man in the Glass Booth (1967), inspired by the Adolf Eichmann trial, was adapted with considerably more critical successful both for the stage and film. A Card from Morocco (1969), about two British expats on the prowl in Spain, bears traces of Anthony Burgess in its corrupted sense of humour. All, sadly, are long out of print.


"A wise and compassionate look at human beings under stress."

- David Boroff (Saturday Review)

"A considerable tour de force." - Goronwy Rees (Encounter)

"An unusually neat and professional first novel." - The New Yorker

"A novel with high dramatic value." - The London Times


" I genuinely love to shock my readership into something. I am always thinking of how I can get their attention. Of how I can shock them out of their smug, middle-class ways. I want to shock them out of their stupor, to shock them into awareness, to make them think." 


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The Sun Doctor centres on Benjamin Halliday, a British doctor working in Africa who is returning to England to receive a knighthood.


However, he is tormented with feelings of remorse and guilt concerning the afflicted African tribe he was attending. He is also haunted by the early death of his father. The story is told mostly in flashback. It is based on the play Strange Providence. It won the 1962 Hawthornden Prize.

Shaw's second novel tells the story of a troubled doctor who has been working in Africa and has returned to England to be awarded a knighthood. His problems stem partly from his alcoholic father who died prematurely (like Shaw's) and partly because of certain things he has done to - or failed to do for - the afflicted African tribe he was trying to help. Laden with guilt, he goes through a personal crisis, and the bulk of the book is told in flashback.
It's curiously affecting and the African parts are particularly vivid - a real feat of imagination and research as I believe this was outside of Shaw's own experience. This is Joseph Conrad / Graham Greene territory and, while it has its flaws, it's well worth a read if you appreciate those authors.


"Consolidates his place as a writer, whole and proven and one of the powerful talents" - Daily Mail 

"Shaw writes with startling originality." - The Times Literary Supplement

"Shaw can command anything. This novel is funny, tender, exciting, reflective and ingenious by turns." - The London Times

"A certainty of touch and sheer intensity." - The New Statesman



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Can religion and politics mix? How can they not, if you believe that politics is morality put into practice? Certainly the once notorious "Red Vicar of Thaxted," Conrad Noel, believed this when he hoisted the red flag of the workers in his church in the 1920s. And, as a parson in the established Church of England, sometimes referred to as "the Tory party at prayer," Noel's call to arms was all the more shocking.

Robert Shaw's novel The Flag, based on the Noel affair, made an indelible impression when it was published in 1965.

Obstensibly a comedy, this sharply observed novel deals with the effects of a religious (social) reformer on a small English town. John Calvin, an eccentric vicar in the best British tradition, brings his family to his new parish. The parish, family, local characters, et al, are described with a kind of non-sequitur, lunatic charm which is perhaps an exclusively English virtue. However the period is 1925 when Communism and Fascism are both in their innocent infancy; and Calvin, an ex-miner, can in all good faith put up a Red Flag proclaiming a Christian brotherhood of man, and can argue that Christ, too, condemned the capitalists of his days. His serious religious intent is supported by an odd collection of tramps, ""religiouses,"" rich women, an aging General, a pregnant waif and some Boy Scouts. The comic fable ends on a note of ambiguous, triumphant tragedy....Mr. Shaw's novel is very successful although it lacks the more obvious popular appeal of The Hiding Place (1960).


"It's been a very long time since I read a novel which has so excited, so moved and so disturbed me." - Harold Hobson

"The writing is so outstandingly good it rises to the level of poetry." - The Spectator

"Shaw writes at all times with originality and emotional truthfulness." - The Times Literary Supplement

"Mr. Shaw has earned the right to be trusted." - Punch



Arthur Goldman is Jewish and a Nazi death camp survivor. Now a rich industrialist, he lives in luxury in a Manhattan high-rise. He banters with his assistant Charlie, often shocking him with his outrageousness and irreverence about aspects of Jewish life. One day, Israeli secret agents kidnap Goldman and take him to Israel for trial on charges of being a Nazi war criminal.


Goldman's trial forces his accusers to face not only his presumed guilt, but theirs as well.

At the end, it appears that Goldman is not a Nazi or a war criminal after all; he falsified the dental records which the Israelis used to identify him to bring about the trial. When the deception is revealed by the Israeli prosecutor, Goldman is left standing in the trial court's bulletproof glass box, a broken man. The stress shatters his mental health and he becomes catatonic.


He then relives in his mind a Nazi firing squad execution and dies as those in the courtroom whisper the Jewish prayer, "Sh'ma Yis'ra'eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad" ("The LORD is our God, the LORD is one").

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Robert Shaw (The Hiding Place--his first and best) conducts another post-Auschwitz investigation of guilt and survival sickness which makes its point very clearly even though it is pursued through the vagaries of an old man's confused mind.


Goldman, the old man, is first introduced in America, a rich entrepreneuer in real estate attended by a butler, a chauffeur, a doctor; inconsecutively, rather incoherently, he talks about football or a thirty-two million dollar deal or pays respects to his wife in her tomb or indulges in private jokes; he proceeds through various health rituals, rewrites his will, entertains splendidly, and throughout claims that he is being followed by one Dorff, a Colonel in the mobile killing units of Hitler's SS.


In the second part, Dorff comes up for trial, subsequent to Eichmann's, in a glass booth in Israel and Goldman, as Dorff, says ""what no German has ever said in the dock"" in an indictment which transcends national boundaries, racial issues, time--centuries.....The novel which relies on every kind of playful turnabout (figments of the imagination; figures of speech; switches of scene and identity) still is basically a polemic as much as an exercise in irony. Still one wonders if it will get the message across to the general reader.


"An uncommonly imaginative and sustained tour de force." - The Guardian

"An absorbing, stinging and intellectually challenging drama." - Choice Magazine

"A responsible and talented writer is in charge."    - The New Statesman

"Powerful, witty and pulls no punches. It's writing at its most sublime." - The New York Times

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 A Card from Morocco was the final novel in a trilogy.

It concerns Arthur Lewis and Patrick Slattery, two drinking companions self-exiled from society, and their various misadventures through Spain as they both engage in bragging and self destructive behaviour.


Despite the fact that anybody who has ever had to deal with drunken conversation knows it to be repetitive and almost always unrewarding, the author has created as persuasively interesting a pair of drunks as ever staggered across a printed page. Arthur Lewis, a pallid Englishman, and flamboyant ex-Bostonian Patrick Slattery are mid-50-ish drinking companions self-exiled in Spain. Lewis, with a varied and verifiable sex history behind him, pays respectful attention to Slattery, who boasts of being bisexual at a crazed level of performance, but can only document his occasional surrender to the urge to stomp a street Arab senseless. Lewis is convinced that he is an unsatisfactory lover for his much younger wife and he drives her away by arranging a substitute stud. Slattery is a manic mama's boy after all, an artist of great tenderness on canvas, but brutal on impulse. Their drunken travels in and around Madrid, their boozily revealing exchanges, their mutual concern and inability to reduce each other's obsessive self-destruction, is wickedly funny and tragic by turns. It is a short book and seems as likely to successfully transfer to the stage as Shaw's The Man in the Glass Booth (1967), another study of compulsion currently doing well on Broadway.


"Terse and poetic. Extraordinarily well written." - The London Times

"Without doubt his best novel." - The Spectator

"Another explosion of Shaw's strange genius." - Punch

"Bitingly funny. Shaw is irrepressible!" - New York Times


The Unfinished Book

Before he died, Shaw had been working on a new novel, The Ice Floe (a reference to the Inuit tradition of senicide, where people too old to be of use are set adrift on a floe). It was never published, but a few lines were included in an entertaining interview Shaw gave to People magazine in 1977. Here's that excerpt, and the following paragraph from Robin Leach's article:


Mrs. Avery had propped a pillow under the head of her dying elderly friend and looked up through the barred windows of the old peoples' home psychopath ward...Dear God this home is filled with weeping old men and weeping old women ...They are ignored, they are a burden to everyone...Couldn't even children love them? Are they just spectres to be shut up? Dear God, why is it that Jesus Christ did not sanctify old age by living till he was 90? 

"These may be the best sentences I have ever written," says author Robert Shaw of this excerpt from his upcoming novel, The Ice Floe. He researched the book between movies and plays by inspecting the squalid conditions in old peoples' homes around New York City. "I want the truth out," he says. "If I never write anything else again, I've asked valid questions in a lovely prayer." 

The Ice Floe

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