Alistair MacLean

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Alistair MacLean
Alistair MacLean, late in life
Born Alistair Stuart MacLean
(1922-04-21)21 April 1922
Shettleston, Glasgow, Scotland
Died 2 February 1987(1987-02-02) (aged 64)
Munich, Germany
Cause of death Series of strokes
Resting place Céligny, Switzerland
Residence UK
Nationality Scottish
Other names Ian Stuart
Education Daviot local system
Inverness Royal Academy
Hillhead High School
Alma mater University of Glasgow
Occupation Author and teacher
Years active 1955 to 1986
Employer Royal Navy (1941–1946)
Gallowflat School (1946–1956)
Known for Thrillers
Home town Shettleston
Net worth £73,347 (at death)[1]
Height 5 ft 7 in (170 cm)
Spouse(s) Gisela Heinrichsen (1953–1972)
Mary Marcelle Georgius (1972–1977)
Children Three sons (one adopted) with Gisela
Parent(s) Revd Alistair MacLean and Mary Lamont

Alistair Stuart MacLean (Scottish Gaelic: Alasdair MacGill-Eain; 21 April 1922 – 2 February 1987) was a Scottish novelist who wrote popular thrillers and adventure stories. His works include The Guns of Navarone, Ice Station Zebra and Where Eagles Dare – all three were made into popular films. He also wrote two novels under the pseudonym Ian Stuart.

Early life & family[edit]

Alistair Maclean was descended from Clan Maclean.

MacLean was the son of a Church of Scotland minister[2] and learned English as a second language after his mother tongue, Scottish Gaelic. He was born in Glasgow but spent much of his childhood and youth in Daviot, ten miles south of Inverness. He was the third of four sons.

He joined the Royal Navy in 1941, serving in World War II with the ranks of Ordinary Seaman, Able Seaman, and Leading Torpedo Operator. He was first assigned to PS Bournemouth Queen, a converted excursion ship fitted for anti-aircraft guns, on duty off the coasts of England and Scotland. Beginning in 1943, he served on HMS Royalist, a Dido-class light cruiser. There he saw action in 1943 in the Atlantic theatre, on two Arctic convoys and escorting carrier groups in operations against Tirpitz and other targets off the Norwegian coast. In 1944 he and HMS Royalist served in the Mediterranean theatre, as part of the invasion of southern France and in helping to sink blockade runners off Crete and bombard Milos in the Aegean. During this time MacLean may have been injured in a gunnery practice accident. In 1945, in the Far East theatre, MacLean and Royalist saw action escorting carrier groups in operations against Japanese targets in Burma, Malaya, and Sumatra. (MacLean's late-in-life claims that he was captured by the Japanese and tortured have been dismissed by both his son and his biographer as drunken ravings.[3]) After the Japanese surrender, Royalist helped evacuate liberated POWs from Changi Prison in Singapore.

MacLean was discharged from the Royal Navy in 1946. He then studied English at the University of Glasgow, graduating in 1953. He briefly worked as a hospital porter, and then worked as a school teacher in at Gallow Flat School in Rutherglen.[4]

While a university student, MacLean began writing short stories for extra income, winning a competition in 1954 with the maritime story "Dileas". The publishing company Collins asked him for a novel and he responded with HMS Ulysses, based on his own war experiences, as well as credited insight from his brother Ian, a Master Mariner. The novel was successful, selling 250,000 copies in six months, and MacLean was able to devote himself to writing.[5][4] His next novel, The Guns of Navarone, was very successful, selling over 400,000 copies in its first six months.

In the early 1960s, MacLean published two novels under the pseudonym "Ian Stuart" in order to prove that the popularity of his books was due to their content rather than his name on the cover. They sold well, and MacLean made no attempt to change his writing style. MacLean's books eventually sold so well that he moved to Switzerland as a tax exile in 1956. From 1963–1966, he took a hiatus from writing to run a hotel business in England, purchasing the Jamaica Inn on Bodmin Moor.[6][7]

MacLean's later books were not as well received as the earlier publications and, in an attempt to keep his stories in keeping with the time, he sometimes lapsed into unduly improbable plots.[citation needed] He also struggled constantly with alcoholism,[8] which eventually brought about his death in Munich on 2 February 1987.[9] As reported in the newspaper he died of a stroke. He is buried a few yards from Richard Burton in Céligny, Switzerland. He was married twice and had two sons by his first wife, as well as an adopted third son.

MacLean was awarded a Doctor of Letters by the University of Glasgow in 1983.


Algis Budrys described MacLean's writing style as "hit 'em with everything but the kitchen sink, then give 'em the sink, and when they raise their heads, drop the plumber on 'em".[10]

List of works[edit]


Year Title Notes High
1955 HMS Ulysses #8 17
1957 The Guns of Navarone #12 3
1958 South by Java Head
1959 The Last Frontier in the US The Secret Ways
1959 Night Without End #13 2
1961 Fear Is the Key
1961 The Dark Crusader in the US The Black Shrike (as Ian Stuart)
1962 The Golden Rendezvous #13 8
1962 The Satan Bug as Ian Stuart #16 1
1962 All About Lawrence of Arabia Non-fiction
1963 Ice Station Zebra #10 1
1966 When Eight Bells Toll
1967 Where Eagles Dare He also wrote the screenplay. #8 8
1968 Force 10 From Navarone #4 18
1969 Puppet on a Chain Also wrote screenplay #5 17
1970 Caravan to Vaccarès #6 12
1971 Bear Island #5 14
1972 Alistair MacLean Introduces Scotland Non-fiction, edited by Alastair Dunnett
1972 Captain Cook Non-fiction
1973 The Way to Dusty Death
1974 Breakheart Pass
1975 Circus #5 12
1976 The Golden Gate #8 2
1977 Seawitch #15 1
1978 Goodbye California #10 9
1980 Athabasca #3 [11]
1981 River of Death
1982 Partisans #15 1
1983 Floodgate #12 3
1984 San Andreas
1985 The Lonely Sea Collection of short stories (2 stories added in 2009)
1986 Santorini #13 2

Source for The New York Times Best Seller list: "Adult New York Times Best Seller Listings". Hawes Publications. Retrieved August 30, 2014. Figures are for the Adult Hardcover Fiction lists, 1956 through 1987: highest position reached and total number of weeks on list. A "—" indicates it did not make the list. Note that the Times list consisted of a Top 10 from 1963 through 1976, but a Top 15 or 16 before and after; thus, books during that middle period may have had longer stays relative to the others.

A collection of MacLean's fiction works from 1955 to 1971, published by Heron Books (London) in the mid-1970s

UNACO books by other authors

Year Title Author, using
MacLean's notes
1980 Hostage Tower John Denis
1981 Air Force One is Down John Denis
1989 Death Train Alastair MacNeill
1989 Night Watch Alastair MacNeill
1990 Red Alert Alastair MacNeill
1991 Time of the Assassins Alastair MacNeill
1992 Dead Halt Alastair MacNeill
1993 Code Breaker Alastair MacNeill
1995 Rendezvous Alastair MacNeill
1997 Prime Target Hugh Miller
1998 Borrowed Time Hugh Miller

Golden Girl series by other authors

Year Title Notes
1992 Golden Girl by Simon Gandolfi
1993 Golden Web by Simon Gandolfi
1994 Golden Vengeance by Simon Gandolfi

Films with screenplay contribution

Year Title Notes
1968 Where Eagles Dare book author/screenplay
1970 Puppet on a Chain book author/screenplay
1971 When Eight Bells Toll book author/screenplay
1975 Breakheart Pass book author/screenplay

Other films

Year Title Notes
1961 The Secret Ways book author
1961 The Guns of Navarone book author
1965 The Satan Bug book author
1968 Ice Station Zebra book author
1972 Fear Is the Key book author
1974 Caravan to Vaccares book author
1977 Golden Rendezvous book author
1978 Force 10 from Navarone book author
1979 Bear Island book author
1980 The Hostage Tower story
1989 River of Death book author
1993 Death Train story
1995 The Way to Dusty Death book author
1995 Night Watch story

Allegedly written by Alistair MacLean

Year Title Notes
1962 Bloody borderland by Tadeusz Kostecki in 1946 as Droga powrotna Płowego Jima


  1. ^ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  2. ^ "Rev. Alistair MacLean". Family Search. Archived from the original on 28 July 2014. Retrieved 23 July 2014.
  3. ^ Webster, Alistair MacLean: A Life, p. 191.
  4. ^ a b "Novelist Alistair MacLean Dies at 64". AP News. Retrieved 2018-08-22.
  5. ^ "Alistair MacLean: An enduring writer of thrillers". The Week. Retrieved 21 August 2018.
  6. ^ Johnstone, Iain (10 May 1978). "The Man with the Golden Typewriter". The Australian Women's Weekly. p. 65. Retrieved 10 July 2012.
  7. ^ "His 22 Best-Selling Thrillers Have Brought Alistair MacLean Fame, Fortune and a Lonely Life". People. Retrieved 2018-08-22.
  8. ^ Norman, Barry (2003). And Why Not?: Memoirs of a Film Lover. NY: Simon and Schuster. pp. 211–14. ISBN 978-0684020884. Retrieved 11 April 2017.
  9. ^ McDOWELL, EDWIN. "ALISTAIR MacLEAN DIES; BOOKS SOLD IN MILLIONS." New York Times, Late Edition (East Coast) ed.Feb 03 1987.
  10. ^ Budrys, Algis (April 1966). "Galaxy Bookshelf". Galaxy Science Fiction. pp. 67–75.
  11. ^ "PAPERBACK BEST SELLERS; MASS MARKET." New York Times, Late Edition (East Coast) ed.Apr 25 1982.

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