MacDonald Fraser, author of Flashman novels, dies aged 82
Thursday 03 January 2008
The novelist George MacDonald Fraser, author of the popular Flashman series of adventure stories, has died after a long battle against cancer.
The 82-year-old former soldier worked as a journalist for The Herald newspaper, then known as The Glasgow Herald, for many years.
He also wrote screenplays and a memoir of his experiences as an infantryman in the Burma campaign, but it is for his semi-historical novels based around Sir Harry Flashman that MacDonald Fraser will be best remembered.
The Flashman series is based on the bully character of Thomas Hughes' Victorian classic Tom Brown's Schooldays grown up and serving as an officer in the Army, fighting, drinking and womanising his way around the British Empire.
Each of the novels purports to come from packets of faux-autobiographical notes the Flashman Papers discovered in the 1960s. When the first instalment of these entirely fictional memoirs, created by MacDonald Fraser, first appeared in the US in 1969, around a third of its 40 reviewers believed they were a genuine historical find. One reviewer said that the works were "the most important discovery since the Boswell Papers".
Although many found Flashman's 19th-century racism and sexism distasteful, the books sold in huge numbers and MacDonald Fraser was praised for his attention to historical detail. He published the final book in the series in 1994.
Other novels include the McAuslan stories, a series following the fortune of a Scottish army regiment and starring Private J McAuslan, "the dirtiest soldier in the world".
The author Kingsley Amis said he was "a marvellous reporter and a first-rate historical novelist".
PG Wodehouse also praised him: "If there was a time when I felt that watcher-of-the-skies-when-a-new-planet stuff, it was when I read the first Flashman," he said. MacDonald Fraser, who lived on the Isle of Man, was awarded an OBE in 1999 for a literary career that included a number of screenplays including the Bond movie Octopussy.
At The Glasgow Herald he worked as a sub-editor and in the features department, and rose to become deputy-editor. Murray Ritchie, 66, was taught journalism by MacDonald Fraser as a cub reporter on the Dumfries Standard in the 1960s. The retired journalist, who was in his late teens when MacDonald Fraser took him under his wing, said last night: "He used to give us lessons in how to sub-edit and how to write. He was a very respected and very considerate person and showed an interest in younger journalists. And he was a brilliant journalist. He was a superbly gifted writer, he wrote with such clarity, and was a good editor."
Referring to MacDonald Fraser's departure from journalism in the 1960s, Ritchie added: "I think he was quite critical of changing standards in journalism, when management took over from editors.
He said of his novels: "It may be tripe but it's my tripe and I do urge other authors to resist encroachments on their brain-children and trust their own judgment rather than that of some zealous meddler with a diploma in creative punctuation who is just dying to get in to the act."
He was born in Carlisle on 2 April 1925 and served with the Army in Burma and India during the Second World War, a period of his life described in his book Quartered Safe Out Here. The Light's On At Signpost gives an insight into his screenwriting days and his views on modern politics.
Life and times
1925: Born in Carlisle
1930-40s: Carlisle Grammar; Glasgow Academy
1943-7: With Border Regiment in Burma
1953: Daughter, Caro, also a novelist, born
1964-1969: Deputy editor of 'Glasgow Herald'
1969: First of 20 Flashman novels published
1974: First screenplay, 'Three Musketeers'
1983: Screenplay of Bond film 'Octopussy'
2008: Died of cancer
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