George MacDonald Fraser
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.
|George MacDonald Fraser|
|Born||2 April 1925
|Died||2 January 2008
Isle of Man
|Known for||The Flashman Papers series of novels; McAuslan short stories; screenplay for Octopussy|
|Children||Caro Fraser, writer, Nick Fraser & Simon Fraser|
Fraser was born to Scottish parents in Carlisle, England on 2 April 1925. 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.
Fraser was educated at Carlisle Grammar School and Glasgow Academy; he later described himself as a poor student due to "sheer laziness". This meant that he was unable to follow his father's wishes and study medicine.
In 1943, during World War II, Fraser enlisted in the Border Regiment and served in the Burma Campaign, as recounted in his memoir Quartered Safe Out Here (1993). After completing 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.
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. They travelled to Canada, working on newspapers there, before returning to Scotland. Starting in 1953, Fraser worked for many years as a journalist at the Glasgow Herald newspaper, where he was deputy editor from 1964 until 1969. He briefly held the title of acting editor.
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 (1857), into a hero, and he wrote a novel around the character's exploits. The book proved popular and sale of the film rights enabled Fraser to become a full-time writer. He moved to the Isle of Man where he could pay less tax. Covers for the Flashman novels were illustrated by Arthur Barbosa.
There were a series of further Flashman 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 its historical settings and praise it received from critics. For example, 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."
The first Flashman sequel was Royal Flash. It was published in 1970, the same year that Fraser published The General Danced at Dawn, a series of short stories which 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, and McAuslan's various disasters, these works form a picture of the British army in the period immediately after World War II.
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 would be turned into two films, The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers, both popular at the box office, and it launched Fraser as a screenwriter. For the next 20 years, Fraser alternated between writing novels and film scripts; he also worked as a script doctor.
There was another collection of Dand McNeill stories, McAuslan in the Rough (1974), then Flashman in the Great Game (1975) and Flashman's Lady (1977). He was hired to rewrite Crossed Swords (1977) and Force 10 from Navarone (1978). The latter was directed by Guy Hamilton who arranged for Fraser to do some work on the script for Superman (1978). He did some uncredited work on the film Ashanti and wrote an unused script for Tai Pan to star Steve McQueen.
Fraser tried a more serious historical novel with Mr American (1980), although Flashman still appeared in it. Flashman and the Redskins (1982) was a traditional Flashman and The Pyrates (1983) was a comic novel about pirates. He was one of several writers who worked on the James Bond film Octopussy (1983). Richard Fleischer arranged for him to do work on the script for Red Sonja (1985).
After Flashman and the Dragon (1985) he was reunited with Lester on The Return of the Musketeers (1988) then released a final volume of McAusland stories, The Sheikh and the Dustbin (1988) and did another history, The Hollywood History of the World (1988).
Following Flashman and the Mountain of Light (1990), Fraser did his memoirs of his experiences during World War Two, Quartered Safe Out Here (1992). He wrote a short novel about the Border Reivers of the 16th century, The Candlemass Road (1993), then Flashman and the Angel of the Lord (1994) and Black Ajax (1997), a novel about Tom Molineaux, which featured Flashman's father as a support character.
Flashman and the Tiger (1999) consisted of three different Flashman stories. The Light's on at Signpost (2002) was a second volume of memoirs, focusing on Fraser's adventures in Hollywood and his criticisms of modern-day Britain. The latter could also be found in Flashman on the March (2005), the final Flashman, and The Reavers (2007), a comic novel about the Border Reivers in the style of The Pyrates.
Following his death a novel was discovered amongst his papers, Captain in Calico. This was published in 2015.
George MacDonald Fraser was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1999. A traditionalist, he was an Honorary Member of the British Weights and Measures Association, which opposes compulsory conversion to the metric system.
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The Flashman series constitute Fraser's major works. There are 12 books in the series:
- Flashman (1969)
- Royal Flash (1970)
- Flash for Freedom! (1971)
- Flashman at the Charge (1973)
- Flashman in the Great Game (1975)
- Flashman's Lady (1977)
- Flashman and the Redskins (1982)
- Flashman and the Dragon (1985)
- Flashman and the Mountain of Light (1990)
- Flashman and the Angel of the Lord (1994)
- Flashman and the Tiger (1999)
- Flashman on the March (2005)
The "Dand MacNeill" or "McAuslan" stories is 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 bylined "by Dand MacNeill", a play on the regimental motto BYDAND, meaning standfast:
- The General Danced at Dawn (1970)
- McAuslan in the Rough (1974)
- The Sheikh and the Dustbin (1988)
- The Complete McAuslan (HarperCollins 2000) (All the stories in the three volumes, with a new introduction.)
- 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.
- Quartered Safe Out Here (1992), a memoir of his experiences as an infantryman in the Border Regiment during the Burma Campaign of World War II
- The Light's on at Signpost (2002), a memoir of the author's days writing in Hollywood, interspersed with criticism of political correctness and New Labour.
- Mr American (1980), a novel about a mysterious American in England.
- 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.
- Captain in Calico (2015), a novel posthumously issued.
Fraser wrote or co-wrote the screenplays for:
- The Three Musketeers (1973)
- The Four Musketeers (1974)
- Royal Flash (1975, adapted from his novel)
- Crossed Swords (US) or The Prince and the Pauper (UK) (1977)
- Force 10 from Navarone (uncredited) (1978)
- Octopussy (1983)
- Red Sonja (1985)
- The Return of the Musketeers (1989)
- Some script-doctor work on Ashanti (1979) and Superman II (1980)
Fraser also wrote the following scripts which were never filmed:
- adaptation of The General Danced at Dawn commissioned in 1972
- Prince of Thieves from the Alexandre Dumas' version of the Robin Hood story
- Bulldog Drummond – adaptation of the novels
- Hannah – adaptation of novel about the life of Helena Rubenstein with director Jack Clayton
- Thirteen Against the Bank – true story about a man who leaned how to beat the bank at Monte Carlo
- adaptation of the William Tell story set against the background of the Battle of Mortgarten
- The Lone Ranger with director John Landis, circa 1990
- The Ice People – adaptation of a novel about the discovery of a man and a woman from an ancient civilisation trapped in ice
- Berry and Co based on a story by Dornford Yates for director Lindsay Anderson
- Stortebekker for director Wolfgang Petersen about the medieval German pirate Klaus Störtebeker
- Quentin Durward from the novel by Sir Walter Scott
- Stillwell, a biopic of Joe Stillwell for director Martin Ritt at MGM (early 1980s)
- adaptation of the James Clavell novel Tai-Pan, intended to star Steve McQueen (not used when the movie was made in 1986) – also a sequel
- adaptation of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea for Dino de Laurentiis
- "Long before the decay of lying", Chicago Tribune (1963) [Chicago, Ill] 9 Nov 1969: p6.
Fraser also wrote radio plays for the BBC.
In the film All My Friends Are Leaving Brisbane (2007), the character of Michael (Matthew Zeremes) has an ideal image of a woman, which includes her being a fan of George MacDonald Fraser novels.
- "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.
- Schudel, Matt (4 January 2008). "Obituary". The Washington Post. Retrieved 19 June 2010.
- "George MacDonald Fraser". The Daily Telegraph. London. 3 January 2008.
- "Obituary". The Scotsman. 4 January 2008. Retrieved 19 June 2010.
- Sheil, Pat (4 January 2008). "Harry Flashman finally buys it: George MacDonald Fraser (1925–2008)". The Sydney Morning Herald.
- Toby Clements, "Flashman flies the Jolly Roger: George MacDonald Fraser's lost pirate novel" Daily Telegraph8 August 2015
- 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.
- Shivas, Mark (August 5, 1973). "Lester's Back and the 'Musketeers' Have Got Him". The New York Times. p. 105.
- "Queen's Birthday Honours". The Times. London. 12 June 1999. p. 46.
- "Patrons and Honorary members". British Weights and Measures Association. Retrieved 5 June 2012.
- An adjectival use of the Middle Scots present participle of bide (SND: Bydand) Archived 17 January 2012 at the Wayback Machine.
- Fraser, George MacDonald (2008). The Complete McAuslan. HarperColins. ISBN 9780006513711.
- Fraser, George MacDonald. The Light's on at Signpost, HarperCollins Publishers Ltd (7 May 2002)
- George MacDonald Fraser, The Light's on at Signpost, HarperCollins, 2002 p 280-283
- Landis fulfills HBO's dreams of gold: [FIVE STAR SPORTS FINAL Edition] Buck, Jerry. Chicago Sun - Times [Chicago, Ill] 20 July 1990: 63.
- 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.
- "Playboy & Flashman", harryflashman.org, archived from the original on 17 June 2006, retrieved June 8, 2016
- George MacDonald Fraser on Internet Movie Database
- Biography in The Spectator
- Obituary in The Daily Telegraph, 4 January 2008
- Obituary in The Economist, 10 January 2008
- Appreciation in The Herald, 4 January 2008
- The Last Testament of Flashman's Creator, Daily Mail 5 January 2008
- Hail the Cowardly Hero And His Bravely Un-P.C. Creator, The Wall Street Journal 17 January 2008
|Acting Editor of The Herald