Outline of Flashman

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"Flashman" redirects here. For other uses, see Flashman (disambiguation).
This article is about the Flashman universe in general. For character of the same name, see Harry Flashman.

George McDonald Fraser re-invented the character of Harry Flashman in 1969 with his novel Flashman, based around the First Anglo-Afghan War (1839–42). Flashman is a minor character in the 1857 novel by Thomas Hughes, Tom Brown's School Days.

Style and layout of the stories[edit]

The series is a classic use of false documents. In a preface to the first book, Fraser described the discovery of General Flashman's memoirs in an antique tea-chest in a Leicestershire saleroom in 1965. As the "editor" of the papers, Fraser produced a series of historical novels that give a largely picaresque (or arguably cynical) description of British and American history during the 19th century. Dozens of major and minor figures from history appear in the books, often in inglorious or hypocritical roles. Characters from other fictional works appear occasionally, notably Sherlock Holmes and some of the boys from Tom Brown's Schooldays.

Fraser's research was considerable. The books are heavily annotated, with end notes and appendices, as Fraser (in accordance with the pretence of the memoirs) attempts to "confirm" (and in some cases "correct") the elderly Flashman's recollections of events. In many cases, the footnotes serve to inform the reader that a particularly outlandish character really existed or that a preposterously unlikely event actually occurred.

In outline there are some similarities to Thomas Berger's 1964 novel Little Big Man, in which a 121-year-old man recounts his numerous adventures and escapades in the American Old West. William Thackeray's The Luck of Barry Lyndon made similar use of an unreliable first-person narrator and footnotes, with Thackeray using them to cast doubt on the protagonist's version of events. Another influence might be[weasel words] Mark Twain's short story "Luck", about an illustrious British general who was actually a blundering fool, but whose mistakes in the Crimean War always ended in success.

The Brigadier Gerard series of comic short stories by the British writer Arthur Conan Doyle was also a major inspiration for the Flashman novels (with George MacDonald Fraser even writing the introduction to the 2001 collection of Gerard short stories).

The half-scholarly tone has occasionally led to misunderstandings. When the first book, Flashman, was published in the United States, ten of 34 reviews took it to be an obscure but real memoir. Several of these were written by academics – to the delight of The New York Times, which published a selection of the more trusting reviews.[1]

For the American publication, Fraser created a fictional entry for Flashman in the 1909 edition of Who's Who. The entry lists Flashman's laurels: VC, KCB, KCIE; Chevalier of the Légion d'Honneur; U.S. Medal of Honor; San Serafino Order of Purity and Truth, 4th Class. The entry also summarizes his military career, both in the British army and as a wandering adventurer. It notes encounters with the "White Rajah" of Sarawak, with Queen Ranavalona of Madagascar, and with Emperor Maximilian of Mexico; and service as a Union major and as a Confederate colonel during the American Civil War. (Allusions in Flash For Freedom and Flashman and the Redskins indicate that he did indeed fight on both sides in the war, but that it was part of some elaborate and dangerous intrigue instigated by Abraham Lincoln.)

George MacDonald Fraser stated that his favourite maritime historical novels were those of the Hornblower series by C.S. Forester.[2]


Main article: The Flashman Papers

Chronological order of Flashman books:


A script for a Flashman film adaptation was written by Frank Muir in 1969, to star John Alderton, and is mentioned in his autobiography A Kentish Lad. A film version of Royal Flash was released in 1975. It was directed by Richard Lester and starred Malcolm McDowell as Flashman, Oliver Reed as Otto von Bismarck and Alan Bates as Rudi von Sternberg.

Sobered by his experience with Lester, Fraser said that further film adaptations of the Flashman books have not been made because he "will not let anyone else have control of the script ... and that simply does not happen in Hollywood." He also pointed to a lack of a suitable British actor to portray Flashman; Errol Flynn was always his favourite for the role (although Flynn was Australian): "It wasn't just his looks and his style. He had that shifty quality." The suggestion of Daniel Day-Lewis struck a chord with him and he said that although "He's probably getting on a bit," he "might make a Flashman ... He's big, he's got presence and he's got style."[3]

In 2007 Celtic Films indicated on their website that they had a series of Flashman TV films in development.[4] In 2010 Picture Palace announced they were developing Flashman at the Charge for TV[5] and that the script had been prepared by George Macdonald Fraser himself. Both companies took an extensive role in developing Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe TV series. No further news has been forthcoming since this time and the project has been removed from both companies' websites.

Playwright Patrick Rayner produced the radio play adaptation Flash for Freedom which was broadcast in 2002[6] and again in 2008 on BBC Radio 4.[7] In it the older Flashman was played by Joss Ackland and the young Flashman was played by Rhys Meredith. This was followed by a radio dramatisation of Flashman At The Charge in 2005, with Ackland reprising the older Flashman and Angus Wright as the younger Flashman.[8]

All of the novels except Flashman on the March are available as unabridged audiobooks read by David Case, with alternative versions of most being available read by either Timothy West or Jonathan Keeble.


  • In the Jackson Speed Memoirs, Robert Peecher borrows heavily from George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman in creating the Jackson Speed character.[9] Like Flashman, Speed is a womanizer and a coward who is undeservedly marked as a hero by those around him. Peecher also adopts the literary device used by Fraser of the "discovered" memoirs. Unlike the English Flashman, Speed is an American making appearances in the Mexican-American War, the U.S. Civil War and other American conflicts of the 19th Century.
  • Robert Brightwell has published three books concerning Thomas Flashman, uncle to Harry. The books, Flashman and the Seawolf (detailing the adventures of Flashman with Thomas Cochrane), Flashman and the Cobra (covering the Second Anglo-Maratha War), and Flashman in the Peninsular (set in the Peninsular War in Spain and Portugal) extend the story into the Napoleonic and Georgian eras.
  • In 2012 Norlights published Scoundrel! The Secret Memoirs of General James Wilkinson by Keith Thompson, to mostly positive reviews. The book was advertised as "The American Flashman", and purports to be the memoirs of real-life scoundrel James Wilkinson, who, the author claims, could have been Flashman's role-model.[citation needed]
  • Writer Keith Laidler gave the Flashman story a new twist in The Carton Chronicles by revealing that Flashman is the natural son of Sydney Carton, hero of the Charles Dickens classic, A Tale of Two Cities. Laidler has Sydney Carton changing his mind at the foot of the guillotine, escaping death and making wayward and amorous progress through the terrors of the French Revolution, during which time he spies for both the British and French, causes Danton's death, shoots Robespierre, and reminisces on a liaison among the hayricks at the "Leicestershire pile" of a married noblewoman, who subsequently gave birth to a boy—Flashman—on 5 May 1822.[10][11]
  • American military historian Raymond M. Saunders created an homage to the Flashman persona in a series of Fenwick Travers novels, set among the US military adventures in the Indian wars, Spanish-American war in Cuba, Boxer Rebellion in China, piracy and Muslim rebellion in the Philippines, and the creation of the Panama Canal. These novels never received the popularity or acclaim of the original Flashman.
  • Peter Bowen's four-book series based on the exploits of Luther Sage "Yellowstone" Kelly is clearly influenced by Flashman. Basing his series loosely on the career of an actual frontier scout, Bowen presents Kelly as a womanizer, heavy drinker, and something of a coward. Like Flashman, Kelly is a victim of his own legend, and is often dragged into exploits against his will by actual historical personages such as U. S. Grant, Buffalo Bill Cody, and Theodore Roosevelt. Eventually he is forced to behave heroically, at times even nobly. Although the novels have a decided comic edge, there is an element of dark tragedy in them, often related to the despoiling of frontiers and the subjugation of native peoples. The books include Yellowstone Kelly: Gentleman and Scout (1987), Kelly Blue (1991), Imperial Kelly (1992), and Kelly and The Three-Toed Horse (2001).
  • Eric Nicol's Dickens of the Mounted, a fictional biography of Francis Jeffrey Dickens, the real life third son of novelist Charles Dickens who joined the North-West Mounted Police in 1874, has an alternate and less than flattering take on Flashman—the book itself is something of an homage to the Flashman series.
  • Adrienne Mayor's The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome's Deadliest Enemy (Princeton University Press 2010), p 420 note 29, dispels the rumour that Harry Paget Flashman had discovered the "true grave" of Mithradates VI of Pontus while in the Crimea 1854–55.
  • In comics, writer John Ostrander took Flashman as his model for his portrayal of the cowardly villain Captain Boomerang in the Suicide Squad series. In the letters page to the last issue in the series (#66), Ostrander acknowledges this influence directly. Flashman's success with the ladies is noticeably lacking in the Captain Boomerang character.
  • Flashman's portrait (unnamed, but with unmistakable background and characteristics) hangs in the home of the protagonist of The Peshawar Lancers, an alternate history novel by S. M. Stirling: the family claims to have had an ancestor who held Piper's Fort, as Flashman did; the protagonist claims his sole talents are for horsemanship and languages and has an Afghan in his service named "Ibrahim Khan" (cf. Ilderim Khan); late in the book, he plays with Elias the Jew on a "black jade chess set" matching the description of the one Flashman stole from the Summer Palace in Flashman and the Dragon; the book's chief antagonist is named Ignatieff. Another allusion to Flashman by Stirling occurs in his short story "The Charge of Lee's Brigade", which appeared in the alternate-history anthology Alternate Generals (1998, ed. by Harry Turtledove). Here, Sir Robert E. Lee is a British general in the Crimean War who orders an officer, obviously Flashman (Cherrypicker trousers, rides like a Comanche in battle), to take part in a better-planned Charge of the Light Brigade. Flashman dies in the attack, demonstrating some courage despite what Lee perceives only as nervousness. So, in this version Flashman again ends up a hero. But—as he himself would have been quick to point out—he is a dead hero.
  • Terry Pratchett is a fan of the Flashman series[13] and the Discworld character Rincewind is an inveterate coward with a talent for languages who is always running away from danger, but nevertheless through circumstance emerges with the appearance of an unlikely hero, for which reason he is then selected for further dangerous enterprises. In this he strongly resembles Flashman, although he is totally dissimilar in most other aspects. The Discworld novel Pyramids has a character named Fliemoe, the bully at the Ankh-Morpork Assassins' Guild school, who is a parody of the original version of Flashman from Tom Brown's Schooldays (including "toasting" new boys).[14] In the Assassins' Guild Yearbook and Diary, Fliemoe is described as having grown up to be "an unbelievable liar and an unsuccessful bully". His name is a play on that of Flashman's crony Speedicut—both "Speedicut" and "Flymo" are brand names of British lawn mowers.
  • In Bernard Cornwell's novel about 9th-century England during the reign of Alfred The Great, The Pale Horseman—which is dedicated to George MacDonald Fraser—the character of Prince Æthelwold (who actually existed, was Alfred's younger nephew and rightful heir to the throne of Wessex) is described as tall, handsome, looking like a warrior king, but also addicted to fornication and drink, duplicitous, amoral and a cowardly shirker in a fight, usually trying to get as far from the bloodshed as possible. Æthelwold is also a brilliant actor when it suits him. In spite of being aware of these faults the main protagonist, Uhtred of Bebbanbergh, finds him likable and good company and saves his skin more than once.
  • An editorial piece in the 14 May 2011 edition of The Guardian newspaper on the subject of British Prime Minister David Cameron being labelled a "Flashman" was given a Harry Flashman by-line and was written in the style of Flashman's narrative.[15]
  • Flashman's son, Harry II, is used as a character in some of the short stories created for the "Tales of the Shadowmen" series. He first appeared in the eighth volume. His son has several of the characteristics of his father, but appears to be less a coward.

Historical characters referenced in the Flashman novels[edit]

The Flashman books are littered with references to a vast number of notable historical figures. Although many have but a brief mention, some feature prominently and are portrayed "warts-and-all". They include the following:


  1. ^ Gen. Sir Harry Flashman And Aide Con the Experts, by Alden Whitman, The New York Times, 29 July 1969 Whitman's review is quoted in the Times's Fox, Margalit (3 January 2008). "Obituary for Fraser". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 October 2010. , noting, "So far, Flashman has had 34 reviews in the United States. Ten of these found the book to be genuine autobiography."
  2. ^ David, Saul (16 April 2006). "Flash man". The Daily Telegraph (London). 
  3. ^ David, Saul (16 April 2006). "Flash man". London: The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 5 October 2010. 
  4. ^ "Celtic Films Entertainment". Retrieved 5 October 2010. 
  5. ^ "Picture Palace - projects". Retrieved 5 October 2010. 
  6. ^ "radio plays, bbc,drama review, DIVERSITY WEBSITE,bbc, classic". ukonline.co.uk. Retrieved 2 February 2008. 
  7. ^ "BBC - Radio 4 - Daily Schedule". BBC. 2 February 2008. Retrieved 2 February 2008. 
  8. ^ http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00ljppj/Flashman_at_the_Charge_Episode_2/
  9. ^ Robert Peecher
  10. ^ Aziloth Books The Carton Chronicles: The Curious Tale of Flashman's true father http://azilothbooks.com/title_details.php?ID=4
  11. ^ Laidler, Keith,The Carton Chronicles: The Curious Tale of Flashman's true father (Aziloth, 2010, ISBN 978-1-907523-01-4)
  12. ^ Mitchell, Sandy (30 April 2007). Ciaphas Cain, Hero of the Imperium. The Black Library. ISBN 978-1-84416-466-0. 
  13. ^ "In the Words of the Master". Retrieved 5 October 2010.  Excerpts from interviews with Terry Pratchett
  14. ^ "Annotated Pratchett File - Pyramids". Retrieved 5 October 2010. 
  15. ^ "Unthinkable? Flashman and the prime minister – Editorial". The Guardian (London). 14 May 2011. 

External links[edit]