Best-selling novelist. Born in Shettleston (Glasgow), the son of the parish minister, MacLean brought up in Daviot (Highland) before returning to Glasgow where he attended Hillhead School. MacLean served in the Royal Navy during World War Two, escorting convoys to Murmansk. Thereafter he entered Glasgow University and taught English and History at Gallowflat School in Rutherglen before embarking on his writing career. He was surprised when he won a short story competition run by the Glasgow Herald in 1954 and was persuaded to write a novel based on his wartime experiences. The result, HMS Ulysses, sold 250,000 copies within three months and MacLean was soon a wealthy man. He moved to Clarkston (East Renfrewshire) but soon was forced to leave Scotland due to the oppressive tax regime at the time (98%) and eventually settled in Switzerland.
MacLean became well known for his action-adventure novels, many of which have been made into popular films. His most notable works include The Guns of Navarone (1957), Ice Station Zebra (1963), When Eight Bells Toll (1966), set in the Scottish islands, Where Eagles Dare (1967) and Breakheart Pass (1974). It is estimated that more than 200 million copies of his books have been sold.
Maclean also wrote biographies of Captain James Cook, the explorer, and T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia).
He died in Munich (Germany) and is buried at Celigny (Switzerland).