George MacDonald Fraser OBE
Born: 2 April, 1925, in Carlisle. Died: 3 January, 2007, on Isle of Man, aged 82.
THE adventures of Flashman made George MacDonald Fraser a worldwide best-selling author. His robust ability – and delight – in telling rip-roaring yarns captured readers' imagination and his 12 Flashman books earned him renown and considerable sums. Fraser's wit and energetic style made the ne'er-do-well Sir Harry Paget Flashman VC, KCB, KCIE a cult hero and there was often talk that the rogue's exploits would be turned into a series of films. Flashman gloried in his cowardly exploits and was involved in some of the great moments of history: always emerging with his reputation enhanced. He saved King and Empire on numerous occasions and was much honoured and praised. Fraser admitted in a BBC interview: "I was always on the side of the villain when I was a child and went to the movies. People like rascals: they like rogues."
Fraser was also a distinguished soldier, and an assistant editor on the Glasgow Herald as well as writing the scripts of several major movies, the biggest being the 1983 James Bond film, Octopussy. His writings were admired by such esteemed colleagues as PG Wodehouse and Kingsley Amis. The latter said of Fraser's work: "I will follow (Flashman] in the confident expectation of being uninterruptedly entertained, as well as providing a fine assortment of treats. Fraser is a marvellous reporter and a first-rate novelist."
George MacDonald Fraser was the son of a Scottish doctor and born in Carlisle, where he attended the Grammar School before moving to Glasgow Academy. He wanted to follow his father into medicine but in 1943 joined the 9th Border Regiment and initially served in India. There, Fraser saw combat against the Japanese in Burma and was involved in the intense fighting at Imphal.
He was later transferred to the Gordon Highlanders and completed the war as a lieutenant in the Middle East.
Forty years later Fraser captured those wartime experiences in Quartered Safe out Here. It is an emotional and telling account of both the fear and heroics of warfare, which Fraser told with a committed honesty.
Fraser worked on the Carlisle Journal for some years, covering sporting events. After a few years in Canada he returned to Glasgow and worked for the Glasgow Herald, starting out as a sub-editor. His abilities as a wordsmith and at recognising the potential of a story ensured he rose through the ranks and was a much respected assistant editor. He served briefly as the paper's editor in 1966.
With the encouragement of his wife in 1969 Fraser decided to forsake journalism and write a Victorian novel based on the character of Flashman in Thomas Hughes's classic novel Tom Brown's Schooldays set at Rugby School. Each instalment purported to come from "legitimate" papers discovered in the 1960s written under the title of The Flashman Papers, "found" in a saleroom in Ashby-de-la-Zouch and entrusted to Fraser to publish. Such subterfuge gave the stories a certain authenticity and authority.
From the outset the books sold well and continued the rogue's adventures after his expulsion from Rugby, working as a spy in Afghanistan, duelling at dawn, taking a prominent part in the Charge of the Light Brigade and womanising whenever possible. Indeed, on one epic occasion Flashman seduced his father's mistress. In Royal Flush (1970) he engaged Bismark in a punch-up: this was his only book to be filmed (with Malcolm McDowell as Flashman and Oliver Reed as Bismark).
There was often talk that David Niven would play the cad, but he was considered too old. At one stage, apparently, Fraser was keen that John Cleese should be cast but that never materialised.
The books were considered a comic satire on Victorian novels written by the likes of Anthony Hope, but Fraser's research and immaculate sense of pace allied to his keen sense of comedy gave the books an added impetus.
Whatever the critics said, the public loved the Flashman books. They were bold and brassy; the humour was quirky and displayed a vivid imagination. Fraser said of them: "They may be tripe – but it's my tripe."
His story-telling abilities brought Fraser to the attention of the film industry. The director Richard Lester commissioned Fraser to write a treatment of The Three Musketeers in the early 1970s and with a cast led by Michael York and Oliver Reed there was much bravado and action. Royal Flush followed in 1975 before Fraser scripted Octopussy in 1983.
Fraser remained devoted to the Borders and wrote with passion about the area. The Candlemass Road (1993) told of the Border Reivers of the 16th century while last year's The Reavers, a tale of espionage and intrigue, was set in Cumberland and the Borders in Elizabethan England.
Fraser created in Flashman one of the enduring love-hate figures of fiction – the archetypal anti-hero.
Fraser was awarded the OBE in 1999. He is survived by his wife, Kathleen Hetherington, whom he married in 1949, and their three children.