Alistair MacLean


1922 - 1987

Best-selling novelist. Born in Shettleston (Glasgow), the son of the parish minister, MacLean brought up in Daviot (Highland). The family were forced to return to Glasgow after his father died when MacLean was aged just 13 and 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. While living in Burnside, 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 (with a top rate of 98%). He had a home in Switzerland, but also lived in Cannes in the South of France and eventually settled in Dubrovnik (Yugoslavia).

MacLean became well known for his twenty-eight 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). The Way to Dusty Death (1973) was inspired by his friend the Scottish motor racing driver Jackie Stewart (b. 1939). It is estimated that more than 200 million copies of his books have been sold, while the films starred some of the top actors of the time, including Richard Burton, Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson. Maclean also wrote biographies of Captain James Cook, the explorer, and T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia).

Rather the epitomy of the 'dour Scot', MacLean was a modest man, who hated insincerity and showing his wealth. He shunned fame and publicity. He had been forced to speak Gaelic by his father and this caused resentment of Highland culture. He was not much more positively disposed towards Glasgow. His marriage, to Gisela Heinrichsen, who had come to Scotland to study English, eventually failed. His second marrige was a disaster and MacLean consoled himself in drink while re-kindling a friendship with his first wife. He died in Munich (Germany) and is buried at Celigny (Switzerland), although there was a memorial service in Daviot Parish Church and a stone in the kirkyard there. His niece Shona (S.G.) MacLean (b. 1966) became a successful author.


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