Frank Shaw was one of Liverpool's great writers, known for his 'Lern yerself Scouse' book, edited with notes and translations by Fritz Spiegl and a Pome (sic) by Stan Kelly. Frank was a prolific writer and published many titles.
This short biography has been adapted using Frank Shaw's penultimate book You Know Me Aunty Nelly, published by Wolfe Publishing Ltd in 1970.
Frank Shaw wrote a good deal and appeared before the public a good deal and, in both capacities, was very versatile. But his work, at least in the last twenty years of his life, was usually about Liverpool in some form or other.
In everything he wrote during that time there was some reference to Liverpool, especially its unique adenoidal dialect, Scouse, which he spoke fluently. ‘I’ve been writing since I was a schoolboy fifty years ago’, Frank said. ‘ Don’t know when I didn't write, I wrote a play at ten, a hymn to the Trinity before that, had poems in print in my teens. But my first stuff in print was when I was eleven, in St Francis Xavier’s College Magazine. I was writing about Scouse then, with, believe it or not, the uncle of Peter Moloney, my rival in the Scouse industry - though I was the first in it. But for twenty years I wrote about history, politics, short stories set elsewhere and never mentioned the dear old ’Pool.’
Father of four, grandfather of six, he retired from H M Customs in 1968. ‘I worked full-time for them for forty years while being a part-time writer. Unkind superiors put it the other way about. Now I’m a full-time writer.’
He also performed regularly for Radio Merseyside, made records, and did TV work for both sides. With Denis Mitchell he did his first broadcast with Bessie Braddock, Arthur Askey, and other Liverpudlians for Liverpool Civic Week, 1951, later with Mitchell and cameraman Roy Harrii he shared the Italia Prize for the year’s best documentary, the BBC’s Morning In the Streets, set mainly round Dingle, Everton, Scotland Road, and featuring schoolchildren at play. His last three books, written in association with others, Book of Liver Verse, Lern Yerself Scouse (‘best title I ever created’), Gospels In Scouse (which was also recorded) . But before them he wrote the standard Court Procedure For Customs Officers (he was Publicity Officer for the Customs officials’ union). From 1967-1969 he held the annual award for the Civil Service Writer of the Year, the Matthew Finch Silver Cup. He has written for a variety of periodicals, here and in the USA, from New Statesman to the Liverpool University’s Sphinx to Billy’s Weekly Liar. He even smuggled Scouse into the august pages of Punch appearing for two years running, in the annual Pick of Punch. He worked for the Central Office of Information and Canadian Broadcasting. He also wrote the Unity Theatre play, in Scouse, The Scab, ran the Pot of Scouse review at the Everyman in 1967, has been a local councillor, school governor, club performer, patron of Win on Want, Jesuit novice, and, at the very beginning, a little lad in Tralee.
‘A long journey, I hope to go much farther but my heart will always be round the back streets of the ’Pool.’ That is why he made for the port’s posterity, if any, with actor Jack Gordon of Unity, the recordings of Liverpool customs and speech - now in the City archives.
Although (he said) he was ‘slung out of the church choir - for.. . miming’ he appeared at Fritz Spiegl’s concerts; on the sacred podium of the Liverpool Philharmonic he smoked a cigar and shared a bottle of stout with Stan Kelly (author of Liverpool Lullaby, etc.) while reading the Liverpool Echo. With fellow-‘singer’ Glyn Hughes he ran the Scouse Museum, a perfectly serious project with some unique exhibits such as the Aintree Iron and a ‘purr’ of docker’s boots.
In 1994 Frank was a member of the British delegation to the International Town Planning Congress at Hastings. In 1968 at Warwick University, he wrote a thesis proving that Shakespeare was a Scouser - and because Stan Kelly was a member of the faculty - Frank received the honorary degree of M.Sc. (Master of Scouse). He gave talks to youth clubs, townswomen’s guilds, pensioners, Rotary and Noel, and the lads in the Blue Boar lounge, Huyton. He has been chairman of a youth club, a working men’s club, a literary club, a bowls club.
‘I have set a New Statesman competition, judged a Miss Liverpool contest, read the lessons in a Prodessan cherch, and I am a fully paid-up member of Michael Barsley’s Left-handers’ Association.’ All this and a serious student of linguistics, as witness a long series in the Dialect Magazine and ‘Why We Speak That Way’ in the Saturday Book 1967.
On his retirement, Frank finally had the time to start work on the book of Liverpool. He finished the manuscript only weeks before his death in August, 1971.
Some dockers’ nicknames
Sam Goldwyn - He keeps saying ‘Lissen, lads, I’ll put yer in the picture.’
The Reluctant plumber - He won’t do a bloody tap.
The Bewildered Minstrel - Mister White whose daughter is singer Cilla Black.
Unknown Soldier - He wore a long khaki (Army surplus) overcoat.
Auctioneer - A bogey-driver he said, - he'd knock anything down.’
The lonely Cat - He looks down a hold and says. ‘ Is Me-ow1 feller down dur?’
Stanley Matthews - When he joins three others to man a hatch he says "I'll take dis corner".
Phil the Cot - Father of many.
The Vicar - Keeps saying ‘Eh men.
Lino - always ‘on the floor’ (short of money).
Ink - Hes in the pen (taking on point)
Morphia - Loading a truck he says‘ There’s more f’yer’ (morphia). here.
The Piano - ‘They’re playing on me.
Lazy Solicitor - He went to sleep on a case.
The Good Shepherd - He took a carcase of a sheep through the dock gates.
The Sheriff - ‘What’s the hold up, lads?’
Jellypex - He's only got one coat.
Harpic - He's clean round the bend (daft).
Wallpaper - He’s up the wall (daft).
The Baker - Keeps talking about ‘me and me tart’ (girl, wife).
The Surgeon - Keeps saying ‘Cut that out.’
Lame Kangaroo - Hasn’t had a jump (sexual intercourse) for years.
Bird Doctor - 'This larks no good'.
The Contented Diner - 'I've got enough on me plate'.
Pontious Pilate - Always washing his hands
Midwife - Always on deliveries
Blood Donor - Very pale
Sore Finger - Always looking for sympathy
Frightened Fish - Wont handle a crane
Rattler - Has got false teeth
The Parish Priest - Works every Sunday
The Spaceman - 'Going to Ma's (Mars) for me dinner.
The Destroyer - Always after a sub.
London Fog - He never lifts
The Balloon - The Foreman who always say's 'don't let me down lads'.
Cinderella - 'Gotta be away by twelve'.
Morning in The Streets
for which he shared the he shared the
Italia Prize for the year’s best documentary
Liverpool Central Library
Liverpool Records Office
My Liverpool by Frank Shaw
Robert F Edwards