Don Shiach was a writer, educationist and cinephile who latterly developed a successful business as a dealer in movie memorabilia. He had started his career as a teacher and was very committed to egalitarian politics, especially in the field of education. From the 1970s onwards, he became a full-time writer of books on both education and the cinema, which was a lifelong passion.
Born into a working-class Aberdeen background in 1938, Donald McGregor Shiach was a bright student who quickly shone and won a scholarship to Robert Gordon's College in Aberdeen. From there he went to Aberdeen University and, after graduating in English in 1959, went straight to London where he lived until the late 1980s when he moved to Brighton. In 2006 he returned to London and settled in Bloomsbury, but throughout he kept in touch with his Scottish roots and was a dedicated supporter of Scottish rugby.
A passionate advocate of comprehensive education, Shiach taught English at Sydenham School for girls until appointed, in his early thirties, as head of English at Holland Park Comprehensive, 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 the headship of the renowned Michael Marland. He was an external examiner and moderator for English GCSE and A-level for a number of 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. In a recent but as yet unpublished memoir of his Aberdonian childhood, he wrote vividly of his early visits to the picture houses, the notorious flea-pit the Belmont, where you could sit on the front benches on production of the strangest admission-charge: four jam jars. He was also passionate about theatre, and in the early 1970s he became a director of Group 64, a young people's theatre centre in Putney, London, where he met his second wife, the actress and teacher Jean Woollard.
Shiach was a prolific author, and wrote more than 30 books on English and drama for a range of publishers including Oxford and Cambridge University Presses. Many of these texts were educational bestsellers. He also wrote critical monographs on the films of Peter Weir (1993), and Jack Nicholson (1995), and, in 2005, 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 bestselling The Movie Book (1992), 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 which made Shiach such a delightfully entertaining companion and accomplished raconteur; no one who saw it will forget his mimicry of John Wayne riding into town on horseback with his shotgun.
Shiach was a lifelong socialist, but was critical of traditional Labourism until the rise of Margaret Thatcher in the late 1970s persuaded him to join the Labour Party. He became chair of his constituency party in Bermondsey and was active in the events surrounding the controversial by-election at which Peter Tatchell was the candidate, handling matters 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, he nonetheless remained sceptical about the promise of the various current opposition parties.
The final phase of his career was marked by the huge and unanticipated success of his business Moviedrome, which sold movie memorabilia such as film posters, lobby cards, photo stills, press books, publicity material, movie magazines and annuals, and became known to collectors worldwide. Shiach would have been wryly amused by the recent web tributes to "a distinguished member of the eBay community".
Donald McGregor Shiach, writer, educationist and cinephile: born Aberdeen 10 October 1938; married 1961 Frances Smith (marriage dissolved 1969), 1984 Jean Woollard; died London 12 July 2008.Reuse content