Friday 22 September 2017

Whatever Happened to Denis Shaw?


The late actor Denis Shaw only appeared very, very briefly in a Carry On film yet his face is so instantly recognisable to a generation of British film and television fans I felt he was deserving of a Carry On blog all of his own. I admit when I watched Carry On Regardless as a child I mistook Shaw for a Robbie Coltrane cameo. There are similarities in their appearances, however my younger self apologises profusely to both actors.

My interest in Denis Shaw was sparked when I listened to the Carry On Regardless DVD audio commentary by the joyous, colourful Liz Fraser. When Shaw's scene came on, Liz took a deep intake of breath and exclaimed: "Denis Shaw! He was a villain! A proper villain in Soho!" Now, one takes Liz's comments with a huge pinch of salt however perhaps there was some truth in her comments as Shaw was well-known for propping up many a bar in the infamous West End London district during the 1950s and 1960s. Soho in those days was a well known hangout for all kinds of everything so one can only guess as to who he came into contact with and befriended. He certainly came across the famous journalist and raconteur, Jeffrey Bernard, as Denis is referenced in Keith Waterhouse's play, Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell.

Anyway, back at least for a moment, to Denis Shaw's cameo in Carry On Regardless. He appears in one of my very favourite sequences in that film, the 39 Steps send up starring Kenneth Connor's hesitant little man, Sam Twist. This sequence is probably Kenneth's crowning glory in the Carry On series and he stumbles, crumbles and misunderstands his way through several delightful scenes with the likes of Esma Cannon and Betty Marsden. He also shares a very brief scene in a train compartment with two shady looking types played by Shaw and that other screen legend, the great Victor Maddern. Initially assuming this pair are up to no good, it is swiftly revealed that all they want is a third for a game of cards. It's a delightful moment played beautifully by Shaw, Maddern and Connor.

Denis Shaw was born in Dulwich in London in April 1921. A heavy set man with dark, wavy hair and slanty eyes, he very quickly gained a reputation for playing slimy villains and suspicious characters in all manner of post-war British film and television. Probably one of his moment famous film roles was that of the German prison guard Priem in the 1955 film, The Colditz Story. The 1950s saw Denis appear in countless films, often in the horror genre, mainly in supporting roles. His films included titles such as Jack The Ripper, The Mummy and The Curse of the Werewolf. He grabbed a rare leading role in the 1959 film The Great Van Robbery as a judo expert detective Caesar Smith. The cheaply made Danziger Brothers film co-starred Kay Callard and future Carry On player Julian Orchard.


Shaw appeared in another comedy film the year Regardless was released and A Weekend with Lulu also co-starred several familiar Carry On faces including Kenneth Connor, Shirley Eaton, Irene Handl, Leslie Phillips and Sid James. Around this time he also worked on a film with Liz Fraser herself - The Night We Dropped A Clanger - which co-starred Cecil Parker, Brian Rix, Hattie Jacques, Leslie Phillips and William Hartnell. 

Later in Denis Shaw's career, he began appearing in the blossoming word of television drama. As with most jobbing character actors of the era, he made appearances in all the usual suspects during the 1960s. At various points you could catch Denis popping up in titles such as The Avengers, Z-Cars, Sherlock Holmes, Danger Man, The Prisoner and Dixon of Dock Green. Denis Shaw's last credited appearance was a soldier in an episode of the 1970 children's series Here Come the Double Deckers, which starred a young Peter Firth (who would go on to appear in Equus and Spooks) and Brindsley Forde who played pupil Wesley in the big screen version of Please Sir! in 1971.


Denis Shaw's prolific screen career came to abrupt end at the end of February 1971. Sadly, at the age of just 49, Shaw passed away after suffering a sudden heart attack. 

If anyone knows anything else about the life and career of Denis Shaw, please do get in touch.

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  1. Denis was in 'A' Squadron, The 23rd Hussars, during WW2 (same Regiment as my Dad).

  2. I heard a story about his funeral which I really hope, no disrespect to him or his family, is true. It is well known that Denis Shaw had a reputation. Mainly for being "The Rudest Man In London". This was due to not paying for meals or drinks and repaying loans. Over the years he would find it more and more difficult to gain entry, let alone service, to many pubs, clubs and restaurants in London. so the legend goes: As the hearse, with Shaw's body, arrived at the cemetery they found the gate shut and a banner across them saying "Denis, your barred!".

    1. Wow I picked him up in 1970 in my London taxi never forget him he said to me you all right trecle

  3. Denis was the wireless operator in a Sherman tank on D-Day. 'A'Squadron 24th Lancers.(my dad was the driver)