Page last updated at 23:27 GMT, Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Author of Flashman stories dies

Griff Rhys Jones and George MacDonald Fraser in a 1999 BBC documentary
The novelist with Griff Rhys Jones in a BBC documentary in 1999

The novelist George MacDonald Fraser, author of the Flashman adventure stories, has died aged 82, his publisher has said.

The popular books saw womanising anti-hero Sir Harry Flashman, fight his way around the British Empire.

MacDonald Fraser, who was appointed an OBE in 1999, also wrote the screenplay for James Bond film Octopussy.

The Carlisle-born journalist turned author, who lived on the Isle of Man, had fought cancer for several years.

He was married and had three children.

Flash of inspiration

MacDonald Fraser served as a soldier in Burma and India during World War II and later rose to be deputy editor of the Glasgow Herald newspaper.

He was still working there when the first Flashman book was published in 1969.

A further 11 followed, the last in 2005.

The inspiration for Sir Harry Flashman came from the 19th century novel, Tom Brown's Schooldays, where the character features as the cowardly bully who torments the hero, Tom.

MacDonald Fraser based his tales on the idea that Flashman's "memoirs" had been unearthed in an old trunk in a Leicestershire auction room.

Despite being a vain, cowardly rogue, as well as a racist and a sexist, the character managed to play a pivotal role in many of the 19th Century's most significant events, always emerging covered in glory.

As well as Octopussy in 1983, MacDonald Fraser wrote other screenplays including The Prince and The Pauper and The Three Musketeers.

Fellow author Kingsley Amis called him "a marvellous reporter and a first-rate historical novelist".

The former news editor on the Herald, 83-year-old Bob Brown, described MacDonald Fraser as "a highly competent journalist".

"He was a smashing bloke, amiable, friendly and first-class company," he said.

Murray Ritchie, 66, was taught journalism by MacDonald Fraser on the Dumfries Standard in the 1960s.

"He was a brilliant journalist. He was a superbly gifted writer, he wrote with such clarity, and was a good leader writer and editor."

He added: "Way back in the '60s he was seen as the journalist of his generation in Scotland."

Read a selection of your comments on this story:

So it's true, egad! No more tales of galloping dusky beauties, thrashing minions and frantic poltroonery. A sad day indeed. GMF, I salute you, sir.
Barry Bootle, Bootle, Merseyside

The world is a little duller today. I count myself very lucky to have a signed copy of one of the Flashman books; as a professional historian specialising in one of the darker episodes of the Victorian Empire myself - the invasion of Zululand - I have often thought that GMF's view of history as dominated by charlatans, fools, cowards and egomaniacs offers more insights than a shelf-load of self-serving contemporary memoirs.
Ian Knight, Chichester UK

I've been a fan of the flashman books for years, and Fraser's works works are some of the few written stories where I've found myself laughing out load. The key for me was the clarity of writing, the historical accuracy and the way in which human weakness is portrayed in such a familiar terms. I'm unable to look at heroes in the same light after reading his Flashman books, and it's all to the good. I'm sorry to hear he has died.
Jason, Paris

How will I ever find out what my hero did with Garibaldi in Italy or Maximallan in Mexico, let alone in the American Civil War - How dare he die on us - Damn his eyes. Currently reading his latest the Reivers - a hugely enjoyable writer and will be much missed
Damien Dill, Lingfield

I've always considered any new installment of the Flashman Papers as a visit from an old friend, telling me about his latest adventures. It saddens me to realise that there will be no more new stories from Sir Harry. I thank George MacDonald Fraser for countless hours of sheer reading pleasure and the insight into how history works and reputations are made.
Paul Winsemius, Driebergen, the Netherlands

Not only were the Flashman books extremely funny Macdonald Frasers understanding and appreciation of the historical context within which they were set was masterful. His own autobiography of life with the Border Regiment in Burma in 1945 "Quartered Safe Over Here" is quite simply the most funny, poignant and moving firdt hand account of life in WW2 that I have read. He will be sadly missed - "blackbird bye bye".
Jamie Cameron, Huntingdon, England

I am so sorry for his family's loss. A fantastic writer, with an eye for humour and accuracy. He changed my view of history, made it an engaging subject AND provided the real history to back his stories. After avidly reading and collecting the Flashman novels, (plus the incredibly funny MacAuslan stories et al.) I can say they became the stimulus for further research from Red Indians, the Serbo Croat situation, slavery, the Afghanistan issue... The list is huge. Rest in peace and thank you
Francis Martin, London

The Flashman books are a brilliant antidote to dull old history books. I've read at least half a dozen and each one illuminated Victorian history for me in a fun way.

The footnotes are hilarious! As I've got older I've realised that MacDonald Fraser's view of history as the escapades of cads and villains is probably a lot more plausible than the airbrushed official accounts.
Brian Jenner, Bournemouth

I loved his MacAuslan stories about life in a Scottish regiment after the war. I always thought they should be televised.
mark, belfast

I have read a couple of the Flashman books and I found myself really hoping that he would get his comeuppance....when I realised that wasn't going to happen I stopped reading them. Most characters of his sort (in literature at least) turn out to be lovable rogue's but in Flashman I found nothing to like at all.
Matt Higgs, Lo

I went to see GMF speaking at the Oxford Literary Festival a couple of years ago, where he was unfortunately being "interviewed" by James Naughtie (who as usual was much more interested in the sound of his own voice) but on the few occasions he managed to get a word in, he was charming, erudite and funny. Also when I chatted to him afterwards (about the famous P.G.Wodehouse testimonial quoted on the front of his books) he was very kind and generous with his time.

A sad loss today of a very fine writer.
Griff Phillips, South Stoke

I have been fortunate in my life to have read all of GMF's books The one my wife remembers is "The general danced till dawn" because I kept her awake half the night laughing and causing the bed to shake. I could not put the book down. Thank you George Macdonald Fraser for your many gifts.
John a Ferguson, Isle of Lewis

I learned more about 19th century history from the Flashman novels than I did through the whole of my tedious A-level history course. I've read most of GMF's canon and loved them all - my particular favourite is 'Pyrates' which I had always hoped would be filmed but is probably too close in tone to Pirates of the Caribbean to be seen as a viable option. But Flashman certainly deserves another go at Big Screen glory after the awful 70's version of Royal Flash with Malcolm McDowall and Oliver Reed. It would be a brave studio who would tackle such un-PC material, but it's got huge franchise potential and I hope that there will be movies soon to bring the brilliant Flashman to a whole new audience. GMF will be sadly missed.
Keith Lucas, Ascot, UK

I am deeply sorry to hear of George MacDonald Fraser's paasing. I met him on a number of occasions over the years at literary festivals, and we spent some time discussing his soldiering career. He fought with distinction in Burma in WW2, and his post-war short stories - the Private McAuslan series - rank as some of the funniest anecdotes of the period. He was, in later years, a kind and contemplative man, with the same dry humour that delighted all of us old soldiers over the years. Godspeed.
Brian Payne, Oxford

I think I remember more "Imperial" history from reading the Flashman books than ever took hold in school. The original "Flashman" should be required reading for anyone considering an invasion of Afghanistan: so much of what he wrote then seems to hold true of tribal culture there today.

And all so refreshingly politically-incorrect, told with such wonderful humour.
Phil Alexander, High Wycombe, UK

What a sad day indeed. From the first moment of opening the pages of the Flashman books I was hooked, such an excellent blend of story and historical fact. As for Harry Flashman what a character I'm sure some of his traits have washed into my life. I'll raise a glass tonight, God, damn his eyes. Tally Ho
Steve Francis, London, UK

Very sad news. I have enjoyed his books immensely. Sadly this means we will never get the chance to read Flashman's adventures during the American Civil War .
Jonathan Ives, Fleet, UK

I loved all the "Flashman" novels, along with everything else GMF ever wrote, particularly "The Pyrates" which is hilarious.

Oh, the Flashman books! Genius. So beautifully researched, right down to what plays were scandalising London at that time, so well written and so very, very funny. What a hero! And what a writer. I see his influence in good writers all over the place, but none come close to matching him. He will never be bettered.
Sue Donnelly, Suffolk

This is sad news. I have long been a fan of the Flashman novels. Beautifully written, wonderfully funny, and a great way to learn some history. An auther who will be much missed.
David Pursey, Bath, UK

Having only recently stumbled across the Flashman novels, and having spent the last few months devouring them, I am absolutely gutted to hear this news. I picked up the first novel a few months ago, and since then I have read little else. All the books are fantastically well written, and amazingly detailed and researched. I've found myself Wikipediaing almost all of the characters Flashman meets just to find out if they were real or not. His novels have entertained me and rekindled my interest in history, and has even inspired me to book a holiday to Madagascar! A sad loss to the literary world, and it's with only 2 more Flashman books to read, I'm saddened to think there will be no more.
Gwilym Buckland, Bristol

Words can't express how sad I am at his passing. Without doubt the most addictive, marvellously written books I have ever read - and there will be no more. I saw George at a literary festival a couple of years ago. He was utterly lucid, and full of energy and enthusiasm for his anti-hero. An absolute inspiration at the age of 80, and fighting cancer. I have never introduced anyone to Flashman who didn't become an addict!
Will Pank, Oxford

Very sad news. Sincere thanks to GMF for such fantastically entertaining books. Informative, educational, funny, saucy and un-politically correct with a capital U. Flashy and George will be greatly missed.
Danny Kirk, Kent, England

Sad to hear that. Brilliant writer, brilliant historian.
Allen, Livnim, Israel

What a sad day, I loved the Flashman novels (except the John Brown one) and it is very disappointing that there will never be another one. GMF is a sad loss to the literary world
Chris Parry, Abu Dhabi, UAE

This is a very sad day. The Flashman books are brilliant and it is a shame there will not be any more as I was hoping to find out how Flashy got a Medal of Honour and fought for both sides at Gettysburg! Thanks for 12 great books!
David Broadbent, Durham, England

GMF was a fine author whose books can be read and re-read. I am currently reading his latest novel, published only last year, and it is as good as any of his other works. His motivation seems to have been to entertain, which he did with intelligence, wit and gusto in all his novels. Rest in peace.
Andy Crick, Oxfordshire, UK

i only discovered the flashman papers a year or so ago, but after a few paragraphs i was hooked.. george frasers writing style had a way of doing that. every book ive read is filled with historical content, most of which the avergae reader would have no knowledge of, as well as a very typical british humour.. george fraser created a character in 'flashy' it was impossible not to love, shabash george.. shabash!!!
michael wheeler, london

Very sad news indeed. I learnt more from Harry Flashman than I ever did from A Level history - and reading him was far more fun to boot! As a 26 year old, modern-thinking feminist, I may not have been a target audience, but I love his books, and will continue to read and re-read these very intelligent romps through the victorian era. "Mr American" is also a cracking read.
Helen H, Wimbledon

This is a sad loss to anyone who has read any one of his many books - RIP George, you will be sorely missed. I will re-read the series in his honour.
Ben, UK

A pity that our leaders didn't read the first Flashman book before embarking on the Afghanistan fiasco. They/we should all read his book "The Light's on at Signpost". You don't have to agree with everything but 'tis food for thought in this mad, mad world!
Thos. Aldridge, West Sussex

Come back, MacDonald Fraser, damn your eyes!
Richard Taylor, Farnham, UK

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