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Sunday 1 January 2023

Talk like a pirate

New month old post (first posted 19th September 2014)

Robert Newton: the man who taught us to talk like a pirate

Although we did not yet have a television set at home, I used to see Newton in ‘The Adventures of Long John Silver’ at great Aunty Gina’s, where I would go once each week after school for tea. The series was made in Australia in 1954, but by the time it appeared on our screens in England some three years later, he had died from heart failure brought about by chronic alcohol consumption. He had previously played the role in the film, ‘Treasure Island’, in 1950.

Newton’s idiosyncratic one-eyed, one-legged and parrot-shouldered portrayal of Silver was much parodied and instantly memorable. The wildly gyrating eyeball and oddly exaggerated throaty West Country accent became the stereotypical pirate for the next half-century. Its influences are still prominent in the 2003 film ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’. Two Americans even thought it fitting to declare September 19th each year to be ‘International Talk Like A Pirate Day’ when everyone should greet each other with phrases such as “Ahoy, matey!”, and liberally sprinkle their speech with the pirate growl, “Aaarrrh”.

Exactly how do you talk like a pirate? It strikes me that the opening lines of ‘To The Hesitating Purchaser’ which begins Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel ‘Treasure Island’ provides a great model. Newton recites it at the start of every episode:

         If sailor tales to sailor tunes,
         Storm and adventure, heat and cold,
         If schooners, islands, and maroons,
         And buccaneers and buried gold,
         And all the old romance, retold,
         Exactly in the ancient way,
         Can please, as me they pleased of old,
         The wiser youngsters of today:
         So be it (Aarrrh Aarrrh), and fall on!

Just growl it out, stretching and rhoticising the ‘r’s and omitting the ‘d’ out of ‘adventure’, and you’ll sound pretty authentic.

To tell you the truth, I preferred the cleaner-cut, less eccentric Captain Dan Tempest in ‘The Buccaneers’, which was also set in the sixteenth-century age of pirates. Tempest was an ex-pirate, pardoned by the King and turned privateer to fight other pirates and the despicable Spaniards. He never caught the public imagination in the same way as Long John Silver. Perhaps it was because he didn’t talk like a pirate.


  1. rhymeswithplague1 January 2023 at 16:45

    I remember seeing Newton in Treasure Island when I was about the same age as Bobby Driscoll. You are right, he set the bar very high for how to talk, walk, look, and act like a pirate!

    I know this is a pre-scheduled post, but as it is now January 1st, I wish for you a very happy, healthy, prosperous, peace-filled New Year in 2023, Tasker.

  2. I've never read the book and feel that I know it all because of the film. Sometimes I get 'stuck' on a word and know that I must stop calling my friend's dog Matey, it is not his name.
    Happy New Year to you Lesley

  3. Robert Newton will always be Long John Silver to me, the quintessential pirate. Happy New Year!

  4. Made in Australia, but I've never heard of it, aside from the name Long John Silver.

  5. I was born in 1968, and what pirate films I remember watching as a kid, were 1950s Hollywood ones starring Erroll (spelling?) Flynn - the most beautiful man I had ever seen, until he was replaced in my esteem by the even more handsome Gregory Peck (definitely not the pirate type).

  6. You've got to speaks in the present tense too.

  7. I remembe back then, the neighbourhood boys hopping around on one leg, closing one eye and saying "Aharr .. Jim lad!"

  8. Robert Newton: the iconic Bill Sikes; his dog would not come near him after he murdered Nancy.
    Yet I have no memory of Newton as Long John Silver and I am an RL Stevenson enthusiast.
    The Buccaneers I recall only too well with Robert Shaw, who was outstanding in the film of Pinter's The Caretaker.
    He was a gifted novelist and playwright - The Man in the Glass Booth.
    In one episode of The Buccaneers the Prophet appeared in the storyline.
    I remember seeing the Levantine-looking actor who played him in a lift at the Harrod sales, decades ago.
    This character actor appeared in many British films and in Danger Man.
    Wish I knew his name.

  9. I have never been in a situation where I felt it might be efficacious to talk like a pirate. These days to talk like a pirate one would be well-advised to learn the Somali language. "Talk like a pirate" in Somali is "U hadal sidii burcad-badeed".

    I hope you are keeping well Tasker and I wish you all the best in 2023.

  10. My dad would often talk like a pirate 'Avast ye matey or I'll make ye walk the plank!' to make us kids laugh. I don't know on which film pirate he molded his jargon, but it was a sure-fire hit.

  11. September 19th, 2023 is the annual 'Talk Like a Pirate Day'. I vote we all meet back up here and leave piratey comments.

    Did you hear the joke about the pirate captain standing on the deck of his pirate ship, surrounded by all of his loyal pirates working away. His cabin boy stood at his side.

    And one of the pirates yelled, "Cap'n, we've got a ship off starboard, and she be heading to us fast!"

    The captain barked his orders to his crew, as they readied themselves for attack. He turned to his cabin boy and said, "Boy, run below and fetch me my red shirt."

    The cabin boy did as he was asked and as the pirate captain changed his shirt, the cabin boy said, "Please sir, why the red shirt?"

    The captain explained: "I am a pirate captain and my job is to inspire my crew. If we are attacked and I am injured, my crew will see my blood and will lose heart. I where the red shirt so that they will not know if I am injured.

    And the cabin boy was proud to be serving such a pirate captain as this.

    The cry went up again, "Cap'n. There is a second ship. She be coming fast from port."

    The captain turned to his cabin boy and said, "Boy. Fetch me my brown pants."

  12. Hope you have a better New Year Tasker, wishing you and your family a contented New Year.
    You cannot beat McKenzie Crook in the 'Pirates of Penzance', those are real pirates!


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