I was rather saddened to recently learn of the death of the actor Richard Shaw. When I first saw the brilliant Quatermass and the Pit many years ago, I was captivated by it, and thrilled at what a complex and sumptuous production it was. I was also taken by many of the performances, but one that really stuck out was that of Richard Shaw as the beleaguered workman Sladden. Initially brought in to do a hush-hush drilling job to get into the hull of the mysterious object buried in Hobbs Lane, he is initially a typical, chirpy, working class character. As the story unfolds, however, he becomes pivotal, being the first to completely succumb to the baleful influence of the Martian inheritance dormant within us all. In a sequence even my Mum remembered from watching all those years ago, he assumes the gait and posture of one of the creatures, as all about him the pit goes haywire. Eventually seeking solace in a churchyard, he collapses to the ground and the gravel beneath him begins to move. Later, under cross examination by Quatermass, he has a vision of life on Mars five million years previously. So many aspects of Shaw’s performance could well have been hokey, and yet he pulled off every one brilliantly. Actors now are well versed in the tropes of science fiction, not so then. It is a performance well ahead of its time, by a largely jobbing character actor who merrily filled the screen both big and small, in roles which similarly filled the spectrum (he has one line in A Night To Remember, and none in The Dirty Dozen, but bigger roles in 633 Squadron and the Doctor Who story The Space Museum in which he was the lead villain). I enjoyed his performance in Quatermass so much that I entered into a correspondence with him. He was the first actor to whom I had plucked up the courage to do this, and the fact that he replied encouraged me to contact more people, and so a teenage pastime was born, which has of course, been greatly useful to me in later life.

As none of my Quatermass archive has been published (bar the use of my photographic collection on the BBC DVD release – in the gallery and booklet), it seems fitting that the original contribution to it should be the first to hit the public domain.

Richard was deeply flattered to have been contacted about his role in the show – “you bring back long lost memories, where have all the years gone?” he asked. Rudolph Cartier had seen him in a play called The Schirmer Inheritance and offered Richard the role of Sladden. “When I read the script I realised it was a very important part and I quote, said thank you, and took the part.” He had fond memories of the cast, and as for producer Rudolph Cartier: “He was the finest director at the BBC, a very hard task master who was a joy to work for and in fact I did eight other plays for him.”

“Sladden was very difficult to play, trying to sustain the level of being twisted and torn by the Martians was very wearing – in those days everything we did was live, though we did do a little on film. During one of my runs through the flying objects I did break my toe. To say it was painful is putting in mildly but I had to keep shooting.” Original Quatermass monster actor Duncan Lamont played Richard’s role in the subsequent feature film, because “I was asked to play it originally but was already committed to another film with Ray Milland so had to say ‘Sorry, I can’t do it’”.

Richard, a humble, charming man, was not one to overplay his importance in the show, and was very happy to be reminded of his work on it, and proud of the serial itself. “I am very aware that I seem to be remembered for my performance in Quatermass, people still come up to me and I am very touched by it. It is gratifying to know my work is appreciated.”

After Quatermass, Richard continued to work over the next few decades, notching up three performances in Doctor Who. His biggest role was in The Space Museum. “Bill Hartnell was a long standing friend and we had worked together many times. When I played Lobos I sustained a severe blow to my left eye which caused some problems for the first episodes but we had to carry on.”

The late Bernard Wilkie recalled that Richard had been extremely co-operative and a joy to work with on his difficult, effects heavy scenes. Patrick Connor (also no longer with us, alas), who played a policeman in the series, also remembered Richard; “He was, to my knowledge, the only actor in the cast to have had only TV and film experience (i.e. none on the live stage). The number of actors without theatre experience had started to grow, and to some degree they were slightly looked down upon by theatre actors. Most of them were a bit aggressive and had a bit of a chip on their shoulder – but I got on with Richard fine”.

Very much one of those “I know the face but…” actors, despite a five decade career in some major productions, it is unlikely that Richard’s passing in April, aged 90, will get the acknowledgement it deserves, so I hope this little corner of the internet serves as some sort of tribute to the man and his work.

Richard Shaw 1920 – 2010, RIP.

11 thoughts on “RICHARD SHAW RIP”

  1. That’s a fascinating tribute, Toby – thanks so much for posting it. I love Quatermass in all its incarnations but that chilling sequence was the start of my fascination and it’s still easy to see why; a superb performance, utterly convincing.

  2. What a brilliant obit. Terrific reading that interview. Why haven’t you had your Quatermass material (archive pics, interviews) issued other than on ‘The Quatermass Collection’ DVD Toby? it would be great to see that material hit the light of day.



  3. Glad you liked it fellas, ta. I did try to get something published some years back but had no takers Steve. However, I do have a plan …

  4. I too have been upset at the death of Richard Shaw, he was one of my favourite baddies on film and television, Oh to return to those scary black and white days,I used to repair Richard’s old METROPOLITON in the early 70s, Gleneldon Mews Streatham, N R OWEN was my boss, I was just the grease monkey, GOD BLESS MR SHAW, you ‘will’ be missed, JOHN KILBURN.

  5. I watched this absolutely superb production on the original B and W TV when I was still at school. I still regard it as the best ever SF story ever broadcast. I occasionally watch it on a CD and I have now reached my 70th year. It never fails to grip me. I have always thought that Richard Shaw had an excellent performance as the drill operator, Sladden. Glad that you thought so too.

  6. I met Richard back in ’61 or so, when moonlighting at a London theatre after school. Nice man, gentle, you felt ‘safe’ with him. But also tough as ol’ boots after serving in the services during war, as most actors were during those years. He agreed with me those times would never come again, war-toughened actors with real-life experiences, and live performances. “Acting is team-work, we’re family, we help each other through the times we simply can’t get it right, we’re only human, after all,” he winked at me. There was a reason he said that – he knew that I knew (people into this sort of stuff, 2 were High Priests still revered today in occult circles. you’ve heard of them both, one would surprise you, top star in showbiz). There were almost unsaid rumours about Quatermass back then, there were people who tried to stop the book, then stop the TV-series ever being made, let alone aired. Quatermass was based on real events. But swapped-about a bit. Richard himself had experience of it. He admitted to having seen rituals worshipping ‘The Bugs’, back as a boy. They were actually more reptile-like (shades of Icke’s Lizard People?) Richard said they possibly found a UFO filled with bodies during excavations in Victorian London, Prince Albert was involved, exposure to something might have killed him. There had been problems with ‘spirits’ in that area since Roman times, why Claudius built his Imperial Estate in Bromley, on the south side of the river, not where London is today. Richard said most of the UFO’s landed ok, but, like this one, the odd few crashed. “The Martians were cold-blooded, so created a variant of themselves that was better for our colder climate. US. The ones with a purer bloodline still possess certain traits most don’t have. I think I’m 50/50 – well, 20-80! – as were others in the cast. We didn’t realise this until we got going. We looked at each other and KNEW we had some of The Force in us. (He actually used that phrase – pre Star Wars!) Perhaps we felt something, why we applied to join the cast.”

    I thought he was dead years ago, was surprised he only died recently. As said, I liked him. You would have done, too.

  7. I have just come across this site having been always interested in what Richard Shaw had been doing all those years ,I could never find anything on him and it was only his death in 2010 that I found a little more about him.
    Like everyone else it was Quatermass and the Pit which stunned me on its first showing all those years ago, and the part of Sladden played by Richard was one of the most powerful things I ever saw on tv.
    Years later when he continued his acting in other tv and film work, no matter what he was in Steptoe and Son, Coronation Street, it was always ”Hey look theres Sladden !’

  8. I have also just found this site by chance and learnt of the sad death of Richard Shaw in 2010.
    I was actually searching for Richard’s wife Carol, whom I had worked with in the film industry in the 70’s and 80’s. By chance I also lived a few doors away from Richard, Carol and daughter in the Upper Norwood area during the 70’s.Richard was a charming man and a good actor, he was well liked in the business. Does anyone know of the where-abouts of carol, I would be grateful for any information.

  9. Hi great tribute to a great man ! My mum and Carol are good friends she is doing well and is as vibrant and beautiful as ever. She is still living where she and Richard lived for many many years.

  10. One of funniest things ever in British film, early 1960s- Richard as a crook when
    digging a tunnel to rob a bank. Gang leader smells gas and says Whatever you do, don’t light a match.
    Richard didn’t hear, says What? and lights a match!
    I still laugh. Thanks, Richard!

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