John Graham

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John Graham
1987 1st edition of Shadowed Valley, Graham's classic novel

John James Graham (b. 12 July 1921, St. Olaf Street, Lerwick, d. 22 February 2008, Lerwick) was an author, editor, teacher and Shetland Islands Councillor. John compiled the Shetland Dictionary and is one of the key figures in Shetland culture in the latter half of the 20th century.


Graham was born in Lerwick in 1921, but spent the first five years of his life in Stromfirth, Weisdale, after which the family moved to Tingwall, where he went to Gott Public School. He then attended the Lerwick Central School. John served with honour in the RAF during World War II, then entered Edinburgh University where he was active in student literary circles along with his brother Lollie Laurence I. Graham. John graduated 1950. He became an English teacher at the Anderson Educational Institute from 1950 until 1966, was made headmaster of the Lerwick Central Secondary School in 1966, and then headmaster of the Anderson High School in 1970, where he remained until he retired in 1982. He subsequently served as member for Sound on the Shetland Islands Council.

1991 reprint

With his brother Lollie (Laurence) Graham, John Graham was co-editor of quarterly magazine The New Shetlander from 1956 to 1998. As president of the Shetland Folk Society he was instrumental in the reprinting of Jakob Jakobsen's dictionary, sacrificing his own 1st edition so that the facsimile might be created.


John J. Graham was the author of a number of books, including:

  • The Shetland Dictionary, published by The Shetland Times Lerwick, 1979 (1993, 1999), which details the history, pronunciation, etymology and grammar of the Shetland dialect and also contains a sizeable word-list, and an English to Shetland section
  • Shadowed Valley: a novel based on the Weisdale evictions.set in 19th century Shetland, Shetland Publishing Company, Lerwick, 1987
  • Strife in the Valley, a novel, Shetland Publishing Co., 1992
  • A Vehement Thirst for Knowledge: Four Centuries of Education in Shetland, The Shetland Times, 1998
  • Shetland Humour: Twatree selections, a collection of humorous Shetland stories, Shetland Times, 2002

With Laurence I. Graham he compiled and edited:

  • A Shetland Anthology: poetry from earliest times to the present day, Shetland Publishing Co., 1998

With T. A. Robertson (Vagaland) he compiled and edited:

  • Grammar & Usage of the Shetland Dialect, Shetland Times, 1952, 1991
  • Nordern Lichts: an anthology of Shetland verse & prose, 1964

Political Career

External Links

John J. Graham's partial translation into Shetlandic of 'The Seafarer', with a response by 'Stooralaand' (Peter Jamieson) is available @:

John J. Graham's poem to Jakob Jakobsen is at:

Shetland Islands Council
Preceded by
Lindsay Smith
Member for
Lerwick Sound

Constituency abolished