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Reuben Ship (BBHS ’34)

1917,  Montreal, Quebec – 1975 London, England

Reuben Ship, a notable Canadian playwright and scriptwriter, was born and raised in the Plateau in Montreal. He completed his secondary education at BBHS and attended McGill University where he studied English literature and earned his Bachelors Degree in 1939.

Ship’s interest in theatre began when he directed plays for a local theatre group affiliated with the YMHA. Many of these plays were anti-fascist and were intended to raise money for the war effort. Ship’s most successful production during that time, We Beg To Differ,  was a musical revue which poked fun at numerous contemporary Canadian political figures.  The lyrics were by Ship and the music was by the renowned television comedy writer Mel Tolkin (born Shmuel Tolchinsky). Tolkin who attended Commercial High School is best known as head writer of the seminal  TV comedy series Your Show of Shows with Sid Ceasar.   At this time, Ship began touring the northeastern United States, and he eventually settled in New York City.

In 1944, Ship was hired by NBC in New York where he worked for four years. In 1951 he was informed that his visa was under review and he was subsequently called before the House Un-American Activities Committee in that same year, likely having being named a communist by fellow writers. As he claimed that the government had no right to question him about his beliefs, he was labeled an uncooperative witness and subsequently dismissed. Eighteen months later, he was deported back to Canada. This inspired his most well-known and acclaimed work, The Investigator,  a satirical radio show which premiered in 1954 and criticized the McCarthy Trials and Red scare in America. In a 1994 letter from  BBHS teacher Mr. Saunders to a former student, he mentions Reuben Ship as a student in his 10th year English class and how this play was instrumental in McCarty’s ultimate downfall.  Click below to hear the original radio play.

When Ship returned to Canada he settled in Toronto and wrote radio plays for the CBC, including The Night Before Christmas and The Man Who Liked Christmas both in 1953. In 1956, Ship moved to England where he scripted two films There was a Crooked Man and The Girl on the Boat. He wrote many more radio programs throughout his career, and oversaw a stage production of his play The Taxman Cometh for the CBC in 1969. He lived in England until his death in 1975.


The Investigator in Historical and Personal Context, Gerald Gross, The Journal for Multimedia History, University at Albany