2nd February 1987

Author Alistair MacLean dies in West Germany

With more than 150 million copies of his books in print, Daviot-born Alistair MacLean is one of the best-selling and widest-read English-language authors of all time. Several of his books, including Where Eagles Dare, Ice Station Zebra and The Guns of Navarone, were made into blockbusting films.

He served in the Royal Navy during the Second World War and didn’t embark on his writing career until nearly ten years after his discharge from service.

Short story writer

The Dundee Courier, in its obituary of 3 February 1987, described how “after the war, he graduated with honours in English at Glasgow University and became an English master at Gallow Flat School, near Glasgow. He wrote short stories in his spare time, one winning him £100 in a newspaper competition.”

His first full-length novel, HMS Ulysses, was an immediate success. He wrote it, said the Irish Independent of 3 February 1987, “during the evenings over three months in 1955, launching his career as an international novelist. The book sold an unprecedented 250,000 hard-back copies in six months. A year later, he wrote The Guns of Navarone, based on the six months he spent in the Aegean on HMS Royalist. That was another record-breaker, selling more than 400,000 in the six months.”

MacLean the hotelier

This would have allowed him to devote his life to writing if he wanted. He was a fast worker and claimed that it took just over a month to finish a book, but he also claimed not to enjoy it, and, in the early 1960s, spent several years running his own hotels, including Jamaica Inn, the Cornish hotel made famous by Daphne Du Maurier’s book. He returned to writing in the 1970s and published almost 30 novels during his lifetime.

MacLean died in a Munich hospital, after suffering a stroke. The following day’s Aberdeen Press and Journal said that, “asked about his success in one of his last interviews in 1985, he replied: ‘All I do is write simple stories. There is enough real-world violence in the world without my adding to it’.”

Although several papers reported that his body would be brought back to Scotland for burial, his remains lie in Switzerland, where he had moved after The Guns of Navarone had been published to reduce his tax burden.



Other events that occured in February

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