George MacDonald Fraser

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George MacDonald Fraser
GeorgeMacdonaldFraser.jpg
Born 2 April 1925
Carlisle, England
Died 2 January 2008(2008-01-02) (aged 82)
Isle of Man
Occupation Author
Known for Flashman novels; McAuslan short stories; screenplay for Octopussy
Spouse(s) Kathleen Hetherington
Children Caro Fraser, writer

George MacDonald Fraser, OBE FRSL (2 April 1925 – 2 January 2008) was a Scottish author who wrote historical novels, non-fiction books and several screenplays. He is best known for a series of works that featured the character Flashman.

Biography[edit]

Fraser was born to Scottish parents in Carlisle, England on 2 April 1925.[1] His father was a doctor and his mother a nurse. It was his father who passed on to Fraser his love of reading, and a passion for his Scottish heritage.[2]

Fraser was educated at Carlisle Grammar School and Glasgow Academy;[3] he later described himself as a poor student due to "sheer laziness".[2] This meant that he was unable to follow his father's wishes and study medicine.[4]

War service[edit]

In 1943, during World War II, he enlisted in The Border Regiment and served in the Burma Campaign, recounted in his memoir Quartered Safe Out Here. After completion of his OCTU (Officer Cadet Training Unit) course, Fraser was granted a commission into the Gordon Highlanders. He served with them in the Middle East and North Africa immediately after the war, notably in Tripoli. In 1947 Fraser decided against remaining with the army and took up his demobilisation. He has written semi-autobiographical stories and anecdotes of his time with the Gordon Highlanders in the "McAuslan" series.

Journalism[edit]

After his discharge, Fraser returned to the United Kingdom. Through his father he got a job as a trainee reporter on the Carlisle Journal and married another journalist, Kathleen Hetherington.[5] They travelled to Canada, working on newspapers there, before returning again to Scotland. Starting in 1953, he worked for many years as a journalist at the Glasgow Herald newspaper[5] where he was deputy editor from 1964 until 1969. He briefly held the title of acting editor.

Novelist[edit]

In 1966 Fraser got the idea to turn Flashman, a fictional coward and bully originally created by Thomas Hughes in Tom Brown's School Days, into a hero and wrote a novel around his exploits. The book proved popular and led to a series of further novels, presented as packets of memoirs written by the nonagenarian Flashman looking back on his days as a hero of the British Army during the 19th century. The series is notable for the accuracy of the historical settings and praise from critics. P.G. Wodehouse said of Flashman, "If ever 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."[6]

Fraser also fictionalised his post-war military experience as the adventures of the rather unassuming "Dand" MacNeill in a Scottish Highland regiment. This series of short stories is noted for the strong and strange characters surrounding McNeill, including an aged and prototypical colonel, a perfect-soldier regimental sergeant-major, a Wodehousian adjutant, an active and dedicated pipe sergeant, a die-hard Algerian revolutionary, various blackguards and spivs, and, most memorably, Private John McAuslan, the dirtiest soldier in the world. Featuring games of golf, scrapes and run-ins with the police both military and civil, the transfer of the die-hard to the French (of all people), and McAuslan's various disasters, these works form a picture of the British army in the period immediately after World War II.

Screenwriter[edit]

The film rights to Flashman were bought by Richard Lester who was unable to get the film funded but hired Fraser to write the screenplay for The Three Musketeers in Christmas 1972. This was successful and also launched Fraser as a screenwriter.[7] The movie Royal Flash by Richard Lester with screenplay by Fraser appeared in 1975. For the next twenty years he would alternate between novels and film scripts, including work as a script doctor.

Honours[edit]

George MacDonald Fraser was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1999.[8] A traditionalist, he was an Honorary Member of the British Weights and Measures Association, which opposes compulsory conversion to the metric system.[9] He died on 2 January 2008 from cancer, aged 82.[1]

Family[edit]

Fraser married Kathleen Hetherington in 1949. They had three children, Simon, Caroline, and Nicholas. He had eight grandchildren, Julie, Jack, Sophie, Genevieve, Andrew, Harry, Emily and Tom.

Works[edit]

Flashman novels[edit]

The Flashman series constitute Fraser's major works. There are 12 books in the series:

Short stories[edit]

  • The "Dand MacNeill" or "McAuslan" stories, a semi-autobiographical series of short stories based on the author's experiences in the Gordon Highlanders in North Africa and Scotland soon after World War II. Some of the stories were originally by-lined "by Dand MacNeill", a play on the regimental motto BYDAND,[10] meaning standfast:

History[edit]

  • The Steel Bonnets (1971), a history of the Border Reivers of the Anglo-Scottish Border.
  • The Hollywood History of the World: From One Million Years B.C. to Apocalypse Now (1988, revised 1996) The book discusses how Hollywood deals with history. It concludes that the standard of historical analysis in most movies is far better than one might imagine. The text is illustrated by comparative images of figures from history and the actors who portrayed them in film.

Memoirs[edit]

Other novels[edit]

  • Mr American (1980), a novel about a mysterious American in England, the book comes to life in the hero's dealings with the aged General Harry Flashman.
  • The Pyrates (1983), a tongue-in-cheek novel incorporating all the possible buccaneer film plots into one.
  • Black Ajax (1997), a novel about Tom Molineaux, a 19th-century black prizefighter in England. (As in Mr American, this novel is also connected to the Flashman series—in this case Sir Harry Flashman's father plays a minor role.)
  • The Candlemass Road (1993), a short novel about the Border Reivers of the 16th century.
  • The Reavers (2007), a comic novel of the Border Reivers, loosely based on the Candlemass Road, in the style of his earlier novel The Pyrates.

Screenplays[edit]

Fraser wrote or co-wrote the screenplays for:

Unproduced screenplays[edit]

Fraser also wrote the following scripts which were never filmed:[12]

Select articles[edit]

  • "Long before the decay of lying", Chicago Tribune (1963) [Chicago, Ill] 9 Nov 1969: p6.

Radio[edit]

Fraser also wrote radio plays for the BBC.

Popular culture[edit]

George Macdonald Fraser's Flashman at the Charge was in the April and June 1973 Playboy issues. The climactic sequence of Flashman in the Great Game was also excerpted there.

The character of Michael (Matthew Zeremes) in the film All My Friends Are Leaving Brisbane (2007) has an ideal image of a woman that includes being a fan of George MacDonald Fraser novels.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Obituary of George MacDonald Fraser Author who brought new life to Flashman, the cad to end all cads". The Daily Telegraph (London). 4 January 2008. p. 27. 
  2. ^ a b Schudel, Matt (4 January 2008). "Obituary". The Washington Post. Retrieved 19 June 2010. 
  3. ^ "George MacDonald Fraser". The Daily Telegraph (London). 3 January 2008. 
  4. ^ "Obituary". The Scotsman. 4 January 2008. Retrieved 19 June 2010. 
  5. ^ a b Sheil, Pat (4 January 2008). "Harry Flashman finally buys it: George MacDonald Fraser (1925–2008)". The Sydney Morning Herald. 
  6. ^ Hitchens, Christopher (21 January 2008). "Farewell to Flashman; The singular creation of George MacDonald Fraser, 1925–2008". The Weekly Standard (Washington). Retrieved 5 June 2012. 
  7. ^ Lester's Back and the 'Musketeers' Have Got Him By MARK SHIVAS. New York Times (since 1923) [New York, N.Y] 5 August 1973: 105
  8. ^ "Queen's Birthday Honours". The Times (London). 12 June 1999. p. 46. 
  9. ^ "Patrons and Honorary members". British Weights and Measures Association. Retrieved 5 June 2012. 
  10. ^ An adjectival use of the Middle Scots present participle of bide (SND: Bydand)
  11. ^ Fraser, George MacDonald. The Light's on at Signpost, HarperCollins Publishers Ltd (7 May 2002)
  12. ^ George MacDonald Fraser, The Light's on at Signpost, HarperCollins, 2002 p 280-283
  13. ^ Landis fulfills HBO's dreams of gold: [FIVE STAR SPORTS FINAL Edition] Buck, Jerry. Chicago Sun - Times [Chicago, Ill] 20 July 1990: 63.
  14. ^ AT THE MOVIES; by Tom Buckley; Brad Dourif's long association with 'Ragtime.' New York Times, Late Edition (East Coast) [New York, N.Y] 07 Nov 1980: C.6.

External links[edit]

Media offices
Preceded by
James Holburn
Acting Editor of The Herald
1964–1965
Succeeded by
Alastair Wilson