Author and critic
Born: 10 October, 1938, in Aberdeen.
Died: 12 July, 2008, in London, aged 69.
DON Shiach was a writer, educationist and cinephile who latterly developed a successful business as a dealer in movie memorabilia that drew on a lifelong passion for cinema.
Born in Aberdeen in 1938, Donald McGregor Shiach never lost touch with his Scottish roots. A dedicated supporter of Scottish rugby, he rarely missed an international at Murrayfield or elsewhere in Europe. He remained committed to an egalitarian politics, especially in the field of education. A bright student from a working-class background, he quickly shone and won a scholarship to Robert Gordon's College in Aberdeen, and from there went to Aberdeen University. After graduating in English, Shiach went straight to London in 1959, where he lived until the late 1980s before moving to Brighton. In 2006 he returned to London, where he settled in Bloomsbury. In a recent but as yet unpublished memoir of his Aberdonian childhood Shiach wrote vividly and amusingly of his early visits to the picture houses, including Aberdeen's notorious flea-pit, the Belmont, where you could sit on the front benches on production of the strangest admission-charge: four jam jars.
A passionate supporter of comprehensive education, Shiach taught English at Sydenham School for Girls in south London, until appointed, in his early thirties, head of English at Holland Park Comprehensive, west London, where his pupils included the sons and daughters of several prominent Labour ministers and intellectuals. Later, he became head of English at Woodbury Down Comprehensive under the headship of the renowned Michael Marland. He remained in teaching until becoming a full-time writer of educational and cinema books from the 1970s onwards.
He was an external examiner and moderator for English GCSE and A-level for several major examination boards.
In 1993 Shiach was awarded a DPhil from Sussex University for a thesis on the career of Vincente Minnelli at MGM studios, a critical analysis of the concept of directorial authorship in the cinema. He subsequently taught film at university level and wrote on art house and classic Hollywood cinema.
Equally passionate about theatre and the movies, Shiach became in the early 1970s a director of Group 64, a young people's theatre centre in Putney, south London, where he directed many productions and where he met his wife, the actress and teacher Jean Woollard.
A prolific author, Shiach wrote more than 30 books on English and drama for a range of major publishers including Oxford and Cambridge University Presses, John Murray and Hodder Headline. Many of these texts were educational best-sellers. He wrote critical monographs on the films of Peter Weir and Jack Nicholson and, most recently, a biography of the actor Stewart Granger. He brought to his writings on cinema a formidable knowledge of the movies and a wickedly sharp pen. This is noticeable in his best-selling The Movie Book, a lavishly illustrated coffee-table book about the cinema whose glossy pages concealed some bracingly iconoclastic comments on several adulated stars.
It was this sharp wit and humour which made Shiach such a delightfully entertaining companion and accomplished raconteur.
A lifelong socialist, but critical of traditional Labourism, he was persuaded by the rise of Margaret Thatcher in the late 1970s to join the Labour Party and he was active in the events surrounding the controversial Bermondsey by- election at which Peter Tatchell was the candidate. Shiach chaired the party at that crucial time with authority and tact.
Latterly disillusioned with the rise of New Labour, and especially its retreat from the firm commitment to comprehensive state education which was, for him, an article of faith, Shiach nonetheless remained sceptical of the promise of the various current opposition parties.
The final phase of his career was marked by the huge and unanticipated success of his movie memorabilia business, Moviedrome, and he would have been wryly amused by the recent web tributes to "a distinguished member of the eBay community". Moviedrome was one of the leading companies in movie memorabilia (film posters, lobby cards, photo stills, press books, publicity material, movie magazines and annuals). It was a global business known to collectors worldwide.
His first marriage, to Frances Smith, was dissolved in the 1960s; Shiach is survived by his second wife, Jean Woollard.