Attended Lamorna near Penzance, Cornwall, then at Exeter School and St Bartholomew's School in Newbury, Berkshire.
He was a stage actor who, after a debut in Reunion (32, Ivar Campbell), settled for movies in 1937, largely at the instigation of the American director, William K. Howard: Fire Over England (37, Howard); Farewell Again (37, Tim Whelan); The Squeaker (37, Howard); 21 Days (37, Basil Dean); Dark Journey (37, Victor Saville); as a centurion in the unfinished Claudius (37, Josef von Sternberg); Vessel of Wrath (38. Erich Pommer); Yellow Sands (38, Herbert Brenon); Jamaica Inn (39, Hitchcock); Dead Men Are Dangerous (39, Harold French); Poison Pen (39, Paul L. Stein); Hell’s Cargo (39, Harold Huth); Bulldog Sees It Through (40, Huth); Busman's Honeymoon (40, Arthur Woods); The Green Cockatoo (40, William Cameron Menzies); in the short, Channel Incident (40, Anthony Asquith); Gaslight (40, Thorold Dickinson); Major Barbara (41, Gabriel Pascal); Hatter’s Castle (42, Lance Comfort); They Flew Alone (42, Herbert Wilcox); This Happy Breed (44, David Lean); as Pistol in Henry V (45, Laurence Olivier); Night Boat to Dublin (46, Lawrence Huntington); the painter in Odd Man Out (47, Carol Reed); Temptation Harbour (47, Comfort); Snowbound (48, David MacDonald); a brutal Bill Sikes in Oliver Twist (48, Lean); hounding Burt Lancaster in Kiss the Blood Off My Hands (48, Norman Foster); Obsession (50, Edward Dmvtryk); Treasure Island (50, Bvron Ilaskin); Waterfront (50. Michael Anderson); Soldiers Three (51, Tay Garnett); as Dr. Arnold in Tom Brown's Schooldays (51, Gordon Parry); as (avert in Les Miserables (52. Lewis Milestone); Blackboard the Pirate (52, Raoul Walsh); Andro- cles and the Lion (53, Chester Erskine); The Desert Rats (53, Robert Wise); The Beachcomber (54, Muriel Box); The High and the Mighty (54, William Wellman); Long John Silver (55, Ilaskin); and Around the World in 80 Days (56, Anderson).
The British comedian Tony Hancock used to do an excellent impersonation of Robert Newton’s Long John Silver, but Newton had done it before him, a character actor leaving a lasting memory of a man used to the company of a parrot. The eyerolling exaggeration of villainy would have delighted Stevenson as much as it did children, but Newton had once been a frightening villain, possessed of a grinding, slow voice.
With time (and alcohol), the voice slurred and the characters he played became inflated. Some sense of an abandoned, malicious intensity comes from Hitchcock’s admission that he would have preferred Newton to Louis Jourdan in The Paradine Case, a Newton “With horny hands, like the devil!”