January 2, 2008


Author of Flashman series dies (Sophie Borland, 03/01/2008, Daily Telegraph)

George MacDonald Fraser, the author of the popular Flashman series, has died from cancer. He was 82.

The former soldier and journalist, best remembered for his books charting the adventures of Sir Harry Flashman, a fictional soldier and hero of the Victorian wars in the 19th century, passed away yesterday, said his publisher.

Fraser’s inspiration for the Flashman series came from the Thomas Hughes novel Tom Brown’s Schooldays, in which Flashman is mentioned as a cowardly bully at Rugby school. He went on to develop the character as a pompous womaniser who despite running from many of the battles of the British empire always ends up swathed in glory by the end of the plot.

The books contain highly detailed historic accounts from the author’s own research and the author Kingsley Amis once called him “a marvellous reporter and a first-rate historical novelist”.

Father of arch-cad, womaniser and all-round bounder Harry Flashman dies, aged 82 (Craig Brown, 1/03/08, The Scotsman)
Born in Carlisle but proud of his Scots heritage, the best-selling writer spent more than two decades living north of the Border and served overseas with the Gordon Highlanders. [...]

In the book and 11 sequels, the roguish Flashman was little improved from his schoolboy days, fighting, drinking and womanising his way across the British Empire, Europe and the United States.

However, despite his debauchery and caddishness, Flashman invariably found himself playing a pivotal role in the century's great historical moments and emerged from each episode covered in glory, rising to the rank of medal-garlanded brigadier-general.

Each instalment purported to come from a faux-biographical trove of memoirs – The Flashman Papers – discovered in England in the 1960s.

Fraser joined the 9th Border Regiment at the age of 18 and saw action in India and Burma during the Second World War.

Not only are the books terrific but so was his screenplay for the Three and Four Musketeers. He collaborated with Richard Lester again on a pretty good Prince and the Pauper and on Royal Flash, which is impossible to find and I've never seen.

-The Flashman Society
-How I inspired Thatcher: The Sir Harry Flashman books tell us a lot about the Victorians and a little bit about Lady Thatcher (David Cannadine, 12/09/05, BBC Magazine)
-OBIT: MacDonald Fraser, author of Flashman novels, dies aged 82 (Rosie Walker, 03 January 2008 , Independent)

Each of the novels purports to come from packets of faux-autobiographical notes –the Flashman Papers – discovered in the 1960s. When the first instalment of these entirely fictional memoirs, created by MacDonald Fraser, first appeared in the US in 1969, around a third of its 40 reviewers believed they were a genuine historical find. One reviewer said that the works were "the most important discovery since the Boswell Papers".

Although many found Flashman's 19th-century racism and sexism distasteful, the books sold in huge numbers and MacDonald Fraser was praised for his attention to historical detail.

An "although" that surpasses parody.
-OBIT: Author of Flashman stories dies (BBC, 1/02/08)
-OBIT: Author of popular Flashman novels dies at 82 (Martin Hodgson, January 3, 2008, The Guardian)
George MacDonald Fraser, 82; wrote 'Flashman' historical adventures
(Associated Press, 1/03/08)
Fraser thought his antihero's appeal was not surprising.

"People like rascals; they like rogues," Fraser told the British Broadcasting Corp. in 2006. "I was always on the side of the villain when I was a child and went to the movies. I wanted Basil Rathbone to kill Errol Flynn."

The Flashman books were also praised by critics for their storytelling flair and attention to historical detail. Each installment of the series purported to come from a faux-biographical trove of memoirs -- The Flashman Papers -- discovered in an English attic in the 1960s.

Fraser proudly pointed out that a third of the first book's American reviewers believed the Flashman papers were real.

Some readers and critics found Flashman's 19th century racism and sexism disturbing. But by the time the final book, "Flashman on the March," appeared in 2005, the critical tide had turned in Fraser's favor.

-OBIT: Flashman author George MacDonald Fraser dies aged 82 (Times of London, 1/03/08)
-OBIT: George MacDonald Fraser (Daily Telegraph, 1/03/08)
-OBIT: George MacDonald Fraser, Author of Flashman Novels, Dies at 82 (MARGALIT FOX, January 3, 2008, NY Times)
-TRIBUTE: George MacDonald Fraser revealed: The truth about the man behind Flashman (MAX HASTINGS, 3rd January 2008, Daily Mail)
George - I was lucky enough to know and love him - came from a Scottish family, but was born in Cumbria, near Carlisle, in 1925.


George MacDonald Fraser died aged 82
He cherished the area and its people all his life, and retained perfect mastery of its dialect.

Early in 1945, he found himself marching into Burma with the Border Regiment, in General Slim's legendary XIVth Army.

His account of that experience, Quartered Safe Out Here, is perhaps the best private soldier's memoir of World War II.

Here is a typical Fraser account of a skirmish south of Meiktila: "I turned to see a Jap racing across in front of the bunker, a sword flourished above his head.

"He was going like Jesse Owens, screaming his head off, right across my front: I just had sense enough to take a split second, traversing my aim with him before I fired; he gave a convulsive leap, and I felt that jolt of delight - I'd hit the bastard! - and as he fell on all fours the Highland officer with whom I'd played football dived on him from behind, slashing at his head with a kukri."

This is the first important thing worth knowing about George Fraser.

Long before he became a famous writer of fiction, he was able to bottle up remarkable personal experiences of what war is like at the sharp end.

He knew exactly how soldiers, and especially Cumbrian soldiers, talk.

He recalled how his rifle section took the news of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima: "Ey, Grandarse, 'ear w'at they're sayin' on't wireless? The Yanks 'ave dropped a bomb the size of a pencil on Tokyo an' it's blown the whole f**kin' place tae bits!"

"Oh, aye. W'at were they aimin' at - 'Ong Kong?"

After the war, George became an officer and served for a time in Egypt with the Gordon Highlanders.

This experience, in turn, later produced a crop of affectionate comic stories about Scottish soldiers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 2, 2008 8:15 PM

A great series of books. The film, Royal Flash, suffers only because the effectiveness of the novels depends so much on Flashman's own account of his actions. The film is available on DVD - see http://www.amazon.com/Royal-Flash-Malcolm-McDowell/dp/B000MQ54MQ/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=dvd&qid=1199328838&sr=1-1

Posted by: Jim Skaggs at January 2, 2008 9:57 PM

Beyond great. Right up there with Wodehouse for sheer entertainment value. I am very sad.

Posted by: Benny at January 2, 2008 11:24 PM

I'm sorry to hear he's passed away, but I'm glad he did so much with the time he had. I will try to do my part to pass his books on to the ornery youth of tomorrow.

Posted by: Guy T. at January 2, 2008 11:41 PM