Newton's influence on pop culture is more pervasive than many people
realize. In 1950, he was the first actor to portray the character of Long
John Silver with the swaggering vocal intonations that most people now
associate with pirates. According to an article in Financial
Times, "An actor can become a star by playing against grain
or inclination, against pedigree or plausibility. ... [A favorite example:]
Robert Newton as Long John Silver. There never was a Cornish accent like
this, but who would carp? That chop-licking, eye-rolling, Jim-ladding
growl remapped pirate argot forever, and achieved extra immortality in
the repertoire of a dozen comics from Tony
Hancock to Eric Morecambe." (KN)
Here are just a few examples of Robert Newton's sometimes-unwitting imitators:
- From a young age, rock drummer Keith
Moon was heavily influenced by his hero's performance in Treasure
Island, often mugging and speaking just like his Long John Silver.
Click here for more about Moon's obsession with
- The 1975 blockbuster Jaws offers two Robert Newton impersonations
in one film: As scientist Matt Hooper, Richard Dreyfuss briefly impersonates
Robert Shaw's feature-length Robert Newton impersonation in the role
of the crusty Captain Quint (complete with multiple "arrrs"). (SB)
- In the 1994 documentary Crumb, underground comic-strip artist
and his brother are depicted as being obsessed with Robert Newton as
Long John Silver--an interest that takes them down some unsual paths.
- In Disney's 1971 live-action/animated classic Bedknobs and Broomsticks,
the leonine king on the Island of Naboombu (voiced by Lennie Weinrib)
sounds a lot like Newton's Long John. The only thing piratical about
the character, however, is his frequent utterances of "arr"
1994 20th Century Fox film The
Pagemaster features an animated seafaring character named Adventure
(voiced by Patrick Stewart) whose speech patterns are inspired by Newton's
Long John--but also features a genuine cartoon characterization of/homage
to Newton's classic Disney performance (convincingly voiced by Jim
Cummings, also the current voice of Disney's Winnie the Pooh and
Tigger among others).
- In an episode from the 1999-2000 season of Dharma and Greg,
the main characters play "pirate," with Greg, sounding very
much like Robert Newton, in pursuit of "wench" Dharma.
- The pirate cat (voiced by Don Messick) in 1982's The Last Unicorn
has a suspiciously Newton-like swagger.
- In the "Treasure of the Lost Planet" episode of the 1960s
TV series Lost in Space,
Albert Salmi portrays a very Newton-like space pirate. (SB)
- The seafaring Captain
McAllister, a recurring character on The
Simpsons, may not look like Robert Newton, but Newton was actor
Hank Azaria's inspiration
for the captain's voice and liberal use of the trademark "Arrr"
(and many variations thereon!). (Click on the "Captain McAllister"
link for a list of sample lines.) (LH)
cartoon series SpongeBob Squarepants regularly pays homage to
Robert Newton: SpongeBob's krusty boss, Mr. Krabs (voiced by Clancy
Brown), owes much of his nautical swagger to Robert Shaw's Captain Quint
in Jaws (who in turn owes a lot to RN), but his laugh is a clear
nod to Newton: "Ar-ar-ar-ar-ar-ar-ar ..." In one episode,
Mr. Krabs takes SpongeBob and pal Patrick on a treasure hunt and spends
a good part of the voyage instructing them in the proper inflection
of the word "arrr(gh)." Blackbeard's ghost, who guards the
treasure, looks a lot like the real Blackbeard, but his voice is a full-on
Robert Newton impression. The pirate vocalist's hearty laugh at the
end of series' theme song (sung to the tune of "Blow the Man Down")
ends with a "harrr." And the persona of sometime live-action
host Patchy the Pirate (Tom Kenny, also the voice of SpongeBob) is clearly
inspired by Newton. (The Flying Dutchman character on the show was voiced
by Brian Murray, who also provided the voice for Long John Silver in
Disney's animated Treasure Planet.) (EO, JP)
- Long John Silver in Disney's 2002 animated feature Treasure Planet,
which reworks the story of Treasure Island into an interplanetary
sci-fi tale, sports an Irish accent, but his vocal inflections (courtesy
of Brian Murrayno relation to Brian Doyle-Murray, brother of Bill)
and appearance are clearly influenced by Newton. (JP)
- The Disney theme-park ride "Pirates of the Caribbean" has
long been "chock-full of Robert Newtonesque voices" (many
of which were provided by prolific voice actor Paul
- Down Periscope catches the underdog submarine crew, headed
by Kelsey Grammer, turning rogue pirate in LJS fashion, complete with
"Arrrr's", "Matey's," and plucked chickens lashed-to-shoulder
for full effect. (PM)
- In Boris and Natasha: The Movie (starring Dave Thomas and Sally
Kellerman), Boris, true to form, ineptly "conceals" himself
in a crowded plaza by milling around as John Q ... Pirate, in full
LJS regalia: peg-leg, parrot, and copious arrgh-ing to boot. (PM)
- Hook's Robin Williams attempts to pass undetected among a throng
of pirates, with the occasional outburst of ... you guessed it.
- An old Canadian commercial for High
Liner seafood featured a sea captain who sounded very much like
Newton's Silver (and looks a lot like Captain McAllister!). (GKC, LH)
- From an episode of Hawaii Five-O:
Steve McGarrett: "Pirates in modern day Hawaii, eh?"
Dan-O [with a bit of a growl]: "Ayyyye, Steve!" (PL)
- Many, many years ago, the legendary radio team Bob and Ray on New
York's WOR did some fantastically funny impersonations of Long John:
One was a radio story entitled "Jonathan Livingston Seagull,"
which had nothing whatsoever to do with the actual book but was a hilarious
impersonation of Long John beating up a hapless crewmember. In one of
their "Mary Backstage" series, Mary and her gang are shanghied
on a boat captained by a John Silver sound-alike. (ME)
- There's a character in the Lemony Snicket book "The
Grim Grotto" who talks like Robert Newton's Long John Silver, putting
an "Arr!" in just about every sentence.
- The widest audience in 40 years for a Robert Newton soundalike was
the recurring character on Laugh-In played by Arte Johnson. "Arr-rrh
. . ." was many times all he said (with a leer and a squint, of
- An episode of "Miami Vice" included a Robert Newton impression.
I don't recall the episode title, but rich yacht club kids were ripping
off drug-runner boats at sea. One character carried a pair of MAC-10
submachine guns in shoulder holsters. He used Newton's English Pirate
Brogue when he boarded the drug boats at gunpoint. (FB)
- In the comic series Blackadder 2, in episode "Potato,"
actor Tom Baker clearly imitates Newton as the redbeard Captain Rum.
- A Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch features a rugby match
between teams called the Bournemouth Gynecologists and the Watford Long
John Silver Impersonators. The Gynecologists easily beat the Impersonators,
who lean immobile on their crutches, snarling "Arrr, Jim lad ..."
in Newtonian tones.
interface is now available in "English (Pirate)" featuring
an endless supply of gratuitous "arr"s and lots of pirate
jargon. (To change your preferred language, scroll to the very bottom
of the Facebook page and click the language link in the far left corner
next to the "Facebook ©" notice, or choose "Language"—"Tongue"
in Pirate English—under "Settings"—a.k.a. "Adjust
ye riggings.") Be forewarned, the interface will prove a challenge
for those who are not well-versed in nautical-speak and the 18th-century
English of Stevenson's Treasure Island so study
up, me hearties!
A Cultural Icon
Illustrations from two children's books: Robert Newton's name is
mentioned nowhere in either book; he simply is Blackbeard!
Left: Cover of Pirates! Raiders
of the High Seas by Christopher Maynard, New York: DK Publishing,
Inc., 1998. Photo courtesy Ronald Grant Archive.
Right: From Pirates by Karen
McWilliams, New York: Franklin Watts, 1989. Photo courtesy of Aerial
Photography Services--no artist credit given for painting.
A genuine Florida postcard (GKC)
In 1977 the progressive-rock band Emerson Lake & Palmer released
the album Works Volume 1
featuring an epic song titled "Pirates."
Their 1977 tour programme featured this two-page painting to accompany
the lyrics to "Pirates." (Click image to see larger version.)
If you know of a Robert Newton impression that should be
listed here but isn't, please e-mail me so
I can add it to the list (and give you credit). A big "Arr, thank
'e kindly, matey" to the following contributors (whose initials follow
their contributions above): Steve
Bingen, Frank Brayman, Tom Bright,
Glenn K. Call, Mike Emmer, Louise
Hansen, Erling Jacobsen, Philip
Leibfried, Priscilla Moreno, Kim Newton, Erin O'Neil, John Pickens,
Richard, Venie, Leane Verhulst.