Compton Mackenzie

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Compton Mackenzie

Born(1883-01-17)17 January 1883
Died30 November 1972(1972-11-30) (aged 89)
Resting placeBarra, Scotland
EducationSt Paul's School, London
Alma materMagdalen College, Oxford
  • Scottish croquet player
  • actor
  • broadcaster
  • writer
  • political activist
Years active1907–1971
Notable workWhisky Galore
The Monarch of the Glen
(m. 1905; died 1960)
Christine McSween
(m. 1962; died 1963)
Lilian McSween
(m. 1965)
RelativesFay Compton (sister)
Francis Compton (brother)
Viola Compton (sister)
Henry Compton (grandfather)

Sir Edward Montague Compton Mackenzie, OBE (17 January 1883 – 30 November 1972) was a Scottish writer of fiction, biography, histories and a memoir, as well as a cultural commentator, raconteur and lifelong Scottish nationalist. He was one of the co-founders in 1928 of the National Party of Scotland along with Hugh MacDiarmid, R. B. Cunninghame Graham and John MacCormick. He was knighted in 1952.


Edward Montague Compton Mackenzie was born in West Hartlepool, County Durham, England, into a theatrical family of Mackenzies, many of whose members used Compton as their stage surname, starting with his English grandfather Henry Compton, a well-known Shakespearean actor of the Victorian era. His father, Edward Compton Mackenzie, and mother, Virginia Frances Bateman, were actors and theatre company managers; his sister, Fay Compton (whose son was Anthony Pelissier, Compton's nephew), starred in many of J. M. Barrie's plays, including Peter Pan. He was educated at St Paul's School, London, and Magdalen College, Oxford, from where he graduated with a degree in Modern History.[1]


Mackenzie is perhaps best known for two comic novels set in Scotland: Whisky Galore (1947) set in the Hebrides, and The Monarch of the Glen (1941) set in the Scottish Highlands. They were the sources of a successful film and a television series respectively. He published almost a hundred books on different subjects, including ten volumes of autobiography: My Life and Times (1883–71). He wrote history (on the Battle of Marathon and the Battle of Salamis), biography (Mr Roosevelt, a 1943 biography of FDR), literary criticism, satires, apologia (Sublime Tobacco 1957), children's stories, poetry and so on. Of his fiction, The Four Winds of Love is sometimes considered his magnum opus.[2] He was admired by F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose first book, This Side of Paradise, was written under the literary influence of Compton.[3]

Sinister Street, his lengthy 1913–14 Bildungsroman, influenced George Orwell and Cyril Connolly, who both read it as schoolboys.[4][5] Max Beerbohm praised Mackenzie's writing for vividness and emotional reality.[6] Frank Swinnerton, a literary critic, comments on Mackenzie's "detail and wealth of reference". Sir John Betjeman said of it, "This has always seemed to me one of the best novels of the best period in English novel writing." Henry James thought it to be the most remarkable book written by a young author in his lifetime. After his conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1914, Mackenzie explored religious themes in a trilogy of novels, The Altar Steps (1922), The Parson's Progress (1923) and The Heavenly Ladder (1924).[citation needed]

In 1922, Robin Legge, chief music critic of The Daily Telegraph, encouraged Mackenzie to write some of the earliest gramophone record reviews.[7] In 1923 he and his brother-in-law Christopher Stone founded Gramophone, the still-influential classical music magazine.[8] Mackenzie continued to edit the magazine until 1961. He was also the literary critic for the London-based national newspaper Daily Mail.[9]

Following his time on Capri, socialising with the gay exiles there, he treated the homosexuality of a politician sensitively in Thin Ice (1956). The Lunatic Republic (1959) is a political satire. For the version of English spoken by the inhabitants of Lunamania on the far side of the Moon, Mackenzie invented over 150 new words.[citation needed]

Greek Memories[edit]

Mackenzie worked as an actor, political activist and broadcaster. He served with British Intelligence in the Eastern Mediterranean during the First World War, later publishing four books on his experiences. According to these books, he was commissioned in the Royal Marines, rising to the rank of captain. His ill-health making front-line service impractical, he was assigned counter-espionage work during the Gallipoli campaign,[10] and in 1916 built up a considerable counter-intelligence network in Athens, Greece then being neutral.[11] He is alleged to have taken part in an attempt to assassinate the King by poison in August 1916, during which the royal palace was to be surrounded by fire to prevent him escaping.[12] While his secret service work seems to have been valued highly by his superiors, including Sir Mansfield Smith-Cumming, his passionate political views, especially his support for the Venizelists, made him a controversial figure and he was expelled from Athens following the Noemvriana.[13]

In 1917, he founded the Aegean Intelligence Service, and enjoyed considerable autonomy for some months as its director. He was offered the Presidency of the Republic of Cerigo, which was briefly independent while Greece was split between Royalists and Venizelists, but declined the office. He was recalled in September 1917. Smith-Cumming considered appointing him as his deputy, but withdrew the suggestion after opposition from within his own service, and Mackenzie played no further active role in the war. In 1919, he was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE), and was also honoured with the French Legion of Honour, the Serbian Order of the White Eagle, and the Greek Order of the Redeemer.[14]

After the publication of his Greek Memories in 1932, he was prosecuted the following year at the Old Bailey under the Official Secrets Act for quoting from supposedly secret documents. His account of the trial, vividly described, is in Octave Seven (1931–38) of his autobiography: the result was a fine of £100 and (prosecution) costs of £100. His own costs were over £1,000. Mackenzie states that a plea-bargain (described in the text as "an arrangement") had been reached with the judge prior to the trial: in exchange for his pleading guilty, he would be fined £500 with £500 costs. However Sir Thomas Inskip, then attorney general who prosecuted the case, succeeded in annoying the trial judge to such an extent that he then reduced the penalties to a token amount. Even so, the costs of his defence and the withdrawal from sale of Greek Memories left Mackenzie out of pocket and an attempt was made to ask the authorities exactly which passages in the book they objected to so it could be re-issued with the offending material removed. This approach was rebuffed.[15] In Octave Eight, covering the years 1939–45, Mackenzie recounts that the matter was raised in Parliament and a new version of Greek Memories was eventually published in 1939.[16] However, in spite of the withdrawal of the 1st edition a copy had already been deposited at the British Museum[17] (which then contained what is now the independent British Library) but was not given a general catalogue reference making it effectively impossible to access. In 1994 The Guardian newspaper published an article about this anomaly The muzzling of Compton Mackenzie – 62 years on.[18] Following this the 1932 edition was entered in the British Library's public catalogue.[19] In 2011 Biteback published the original 1932 edition of Greek Memories, including the Secret Intelligence Service memo detailing the offending passages of the book.[20]

He was president of the Croquet Association from 1953 to 1966. He was president of the Siamese Cat Club.[21] He was the subject of This Is Your Life in 1956 when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews at the King's Theatre, Hammersmith, London.[citation needed]

A strong supporter of Edward VIII, Mackenzie was a leading member of the Octavians, a minor society that campaigned in support of Edward VIII and for his return to the UK after he became the Duke of Windsor.[22] According to a 1938 Time article Mackenzie had intended to write a book in support of Edward but abandoned the plan when the Duke asked him not to publish.[23]


Between 1913 and 1920 he lived with his wife, Faith, on Capri at Villa Solitaria, and returned to visit in later years. This Italian island near Sorrento was known to be tolerant not just of foreigners in general, but of artists and homosexuals in particular. He became friends with the writer Somerset Maugham, a frequent visitor to the island. Faith had an affair with the Italian pianist Renata Borgatti,[24] who was connected to Romaine Brooks.

Compton Mackenzie's observations on the local life of the Italian islanders and foreign residents led to at least two novels, Vestal Fire (1927) and Extraordinary Women (1928). The latter, a roman à clef about a group of lesbians arriving on the island of Sirene, a fictional version of Capri,[25][26] was published in Britain in the same year as two other ground-breaking novels with lesbian themes, Virginia Woolf's love letter to Vita Sackville-West, Orlando, and Radclyffe Hall's controversial polemic, The Well of Loneliness, but Mackenzie's satire did not attract legal attention.[27] He was a friend of Axel Munthe, who built Villa San Michele, and Edwin Cerio, who later became mayor of Capri.[28]

Scottish identity[edit]

Grave of Compton Mackenzie, Eoligarry, Isle of Barra

Mackenzie went to great lengths to trace the steps of his ancestors back to his spiritual home in the Highlands, and displayed a deep and tenacious attachment to Gaelic culture throughout his long and very colourful life. As his biographer, Andro Linklater, commented, "Mackenzie wasn't born a Scot, and he didn't sound like a Scot. But nevertheless his imagination was truly Scottish." He was an ardent Jacobite, the third Governor-General of the Royal Stuart Society, and a co-founder of the National Party of Scotland. He became a member of the Scottish Arts Club in 1929.[29] He was rector of University of Glasgow from 1931 to 1934, defeating Oswald Mosley, who later led the British Union of Fascists, in his bid for the job.[30]

From 1920 to 1923 Mackenzie was the Tenant of Herm and Jethou. He built a house on Barra, in the Western Isles (Outer Hebrides) of Scotland, in the 1930s. On Barra, he gained inspiration and found creative solitude, and befriended a great number of people that he described as "the aristocrats of democracy". [citation needed]

He was a founding member of the short-lived secret organisation Clann Albain.[31]

Private life[edit]

Mackenzie was married three times. On 30 November 1905 (aged 22), he married Faith Stone in St Saviour's, Pimlico: they remained married for more than 50 years, until her death.[32] In 1962 (aged 79), he married Christina MacSween, who died the following year. Lastly, he married his deceased wife's sister, Lilian MacSween in 1965 (aged 82).[33] (died 2009)

Mackenzie was a supporter of West Bromwich Albion F.C. Although from the north east of England, he "was influenced in the choice of Albion as 'my' team by the fact that their ground was romantically called The Hawthorns and that they were nicknamed the Throstles".[34]

He was also a fan of snooker, and gave an account of the origin of the game's name in The Billiard Player magazine of 1939, describing how young lieutenant Neville Chamberlain (not the former British Prime Minister) was experimenting on the officers' mess table with the existing game of 'Black Pool' featuring 15 red balls and a black.[35][36] He presented the World Championship trophy to Joe Davis at the 1939 Championships.[citation needed]

After his retirement, Mackenzie sold the entire copyright in 20 of his books for a lump sum of £10,000 arguing that this was a capital receipt and not the proceeds of the business. The Court of Appeal held that this was assessable income as part of the proceeds of his business: Mackenzie v Arnold (1952) 33 TC 363.[37]

Mackenzie died on 30 November 1972, aged 89, in Edinburgh and was interred in St Barr's churchyard cemetery at Eoligarry on the Isle of Barra.

Select bibliography[edit]

A list based on Kenneth Young's Compton Mackenzie, 1968:[38]


  • Poems (1907)
  • Kensington Rhymes (1912)


  • The Gentleman in Grey (1907)
  • Columbine (1920)
  • The Lost Cause (1931)

Novels and romances[edit]

History and biography[edit]

  • Gallipoli Memories (1929)
  • First Athenian Memories (1931)
  • Greek Memories (1932), a continuation of First Athenian Memories
  • Prince Charlie (1932), biography
  • Marathon and Salamis (1934), history
  • Prince Charlie and His Ladies (1934), history
  • Catholicism and Scotland (1934), history
  • The Book of Barra (1936), (with J.L. Campbell)
  • Pericles (1937), history
  • The Windsor Tapestry Being a study of the life, heritage and abdication of HRH The Duke of Windsor (1938)
  • Aegean Memories (1940)
  • Calvary (with F.C. Mackenzie) (1942)
  • Wind of Freedom: The history of the invasion of Greece by the Axis powers, 1940–1941 (1943)[39]
  • Mr Roosevelt (1943), biography
  • Brockhouse (1944), history
  • Dr Benes (1946), biography
  • The Vital Flame (1946) (on the gas industry)
  • All over the Place (1949), diary
  • Eastern Epic, an account of the part played by the Indian Army in the Second World War, Vol. I (1951)
  • I Took a Journey ... A tour of the National Trust Properties (1951)
  • The House of Coalport 1750–1950 (1951), history
  • The Queen's House. A history of Buckingham Palace (1953), history
  • Realms of Silver. One Hundred Years of Banking in the East (1954), a history of the Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China.
  • The Savoy of London (1953), history
  • My Record of Music (1955), musical autobiography
  • Sublime Tobacco (1957)
  • Cats' Company (1960) with photos by Harrison Marks
  • Greece in My Life (1960), essays
  • Catmint (1961), imaginary conversations
  • Look at Cats (1964)
  • Little Cat Lost (1965)

Essays and criticism[edit]

  • Gramophone Nights (1923), (with Archibald Marshall)
  • Unconsidered Trifles (1932), collected essays.[40]
  • Literature in My Time (1933), criticism
  • Reaped and Bound (1933), collected essays
  • A Musical Chair (1939), essays
  • Echoes (1954), broadcast talks
  • On Moral Courage (1962)

Children's stories[edit]

  • Santa Claus in Summer (1924)
  • Told (1930), tales and verses
  • Little Cat Lost (1965)
  • The Stairs That Kept Going Down (1967)
  • The Strongest Man on Earth (1967), mythology for young people


  • My Life and Times in ten "Octave" volumes each intended to cover eight years, published as:
  • Octave One (1883-1891)
  • Octave Two (1891-1900)
  • Octave Three (1900-1907)
  • Octave Four (1907-1915)
  • Octave Five (1915-1923)
  • Octave Six (1923-1930)
  • Octave Seven (1931-1938)
  • Octave Eight (1939-1946)
  • Octave Nine (1946-1953)
  • Octave Ten (1953–1963)


  • Linklater, Andro Compton Mackenzie: A Life The Hogarth Press (1992, London)
  • Mackenzie, Lady Faith Compton More than I should, Collins (1940)


Year Title Role Notes
1949 Whisky Galore! Captain Buncher Film debut
1950 Chance of a Lifetime Sir Robert Dysart Final film
1966 Jackanory Storyteller


  1. ^ "Compton Mackenzie". Undiscovered Scotland: The Ultimate Online Guide. Undiscovered Scotland. Retrieved 31 March 2015.
  2. ^ Massie, Allan (26 September 2007). "The magnum opus of Compton Mackenzie". The Spectator. Retrieved 31 March 2015.
  3. ^ Piper, Henry Dan (1956). "Frank Norris and Scott Fitzgerald". Huntington Library Quarterly. 19 (4). University of California Press: 393–400. doi:10.2307/3816401. ISSN 1544-399X. JSTOR 3816401.
  4. ^ Cyril Connolly, Enemies of Promise (White Samite), Routledge, London, 1938.
  5. ^ Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus, The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell Volume I Letter to Connolly 14 December 1938, Secker & Warburg, 1968.
  6. ^ "On Compton Mackenzie" by Allan Massie,; accessed 10 August 2014.
  7. ^ Epperson, Bruce, D. More Important Than the Music: A History of Jazz Discography (2013), p. 20
  8. ^ "Compton Mackenzie". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 31 March 2015.
  9. ^ "Compton Mackenzie". Compton's by Britannica. Britannica Online for Kids. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. Retrieved 31 March 2015.
  10. ^ Sir Compton Mackenzie: Gallipoli Memories
  11. ^ Sir Compton Mackenzie: Athenian Memories.
  12. ^ Deacon, Richard (23 November 1991). British Secret Service. Grafton. ISBN 9780586209851 – via Google Books.
  13. ^ Sir Compton Mackenzie, Greek Memories
  14. ^ Sir Compton Mackenzie, Aegean Memories
  15. ^ Sir Compton Mackenzie: Octave Seven p.104
  16. ^ Sir Compton Mackenzie: Octave Eight pp. 14,15
  17. ^ The official stamp in the book is dated 22 November 1932
  18. ^ The Guardian 8 January 1994, page 6. Available on microfiche at the British Library and via ProQuest
  19. ^ Shelfmark Cup.410.f.383
  20. ^ Greek Memories backstory,; accessed 10 August 2014.
  21. ^ "Compton Mackenzie | Authors | Faber & Faber".
  22. ^ Martin Pugh, "Hurrah for the Blackshirts!" Fascists and Fascism in Britain Between the Wars, Pimlico, 2006, p. 260
  23. ^ Foreign News: Want Him Back!,; accessed 10 August 2014.
  24. ^ Infinite variety: the life and legend of the Marchesa Casati, by Scot D. Ryersson, Michael Orlando Yaccarino, p. 99
  25. ^ Castle, Terry (2005). The Literature of Lesbianism: A Historical Anthology from Ariosto to Stonewall. Columbia University Press. p. 38. ISBN 0-231-12511-9.
  26. ^ "Isola di Capri – Personaggi e dimore: Compton Mackenzie". 8 July 2011. Archived from the original on 8 July 2011.
  27. ^ Tamagne, Florence (2006). A history of homosexuality in Europe: Berlin, London, Paris, 1919–1939, volume I & II. A History of Homosexuality in Europe. Vol. 1–2. Algora Publishing. p. 322. ISBN 0-87586-355-8.
  28. ^ Profile Archived 19 July 2006 at the Wayback Machine,; accessed 10 August 2014.
  29. ^ Graves, Charles (1974), Men of Letters, in The Scottish Arts Club, Edinburgh, 1874 – 1974, The Scottish Arts Club, Edinburgh, p. 52.
  30. ^ Compton Mackenzie profile Archived 26 August 2012 at the Wayback Machine,; accessed 10 August 2014.
  31. ^ Linklater, Andro (1992). Compton Mackenzie: A Life. Hogarth Press. p. 234. ISBN 0701209844.
  32. ^ "Marriages: 40th Anniversary". The Times. 30 November 1945.
  33. ^ Webster, Jack (1994). The Express Years. Edinburgh: Black & White Publishing. ISBN 1873631367. Retrieved 1 April 2015.
  34. ^ Profile,; accessed 10 August 2014.
  35. ^ "History of Snooker". World Snooker. 22 January 1955. Retrieved 16 September 2016.
  36. ^ "Billiard and Snooker Heritage Collection – Origins of Snooker". Retrieved 16 September 2016.
  37. ^ Tiley, John (2013). Studies in the History of Tax Law, Volume 6. Portland OR: Hart Publishing. pp. 310–11. ISBN 9781849464802. Retrieved 1 April 2015.
  38. ^ Young, Kenneth (1968). Compton Mackenzie. London: Longman, Green & Co. pp. 29–32 (bibliography).
  39. ^ "Compton Mackenzie Ably Tells The Heroic Tale of Greece, 1941". The Montreal Gazette. 6 November 1943. p. 10. Retrieved 16 July 2017.
  40. ^ "Essays by Compton Mackenzie. Unconsidered trifles. By Compton Mackenzie". The Glasgow Herald. 19 May 1932. p. 4. Retrieved 16 July 2017.

External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by Rector of the University of Glasgow
Succeeded by