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Modern Times: 1950s to The Present Day


Alistair MacLean

By Jack Webster

Alistair MacLean (1922-1987), born at the manse in Shettleston where his father was minister, became the biggest-selling novelist in the world writing thirty books in thirty years from 1955.

He studied at Hillhead School then, at the outbreak of the Second World War, he volunteered for the Navy and endured the living hell of the Murmansk Convoys to northern Russia. Back home, he graduated at the University of Glasgow and taught at Gallowflat School, Rutherglen, while also writing the occasional short story. In 1954 he won the Glasgow Herald short story competition and was finally persuaded by Ian Chapman of Collins, the publishers, to try a novel. HMS Ulysses, based on his naval experience, sold more than 250,000 hardback copies in three months.

Next, from his home in suburban Clarkston, came The Guns of Navarone, another wartime adventure which was made into a legendary film with Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn and David Niven. MacLean was on the road to the triumph of his career, but also to disaster in his private life. From Cannes to Marilyn Munroe's old house in Beverly Hills, he finally settled with his wife and family by Lake Geneva at Celigny and turned out thrillers such as Ice Station Zebra and Where Eagles Dare.

Drink and a disastrous second marriage took their toll and afterwards he craved another chance with his first wife. They remained friends but he saw out his days alone in Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia. He died in Munich age sixty-four and is buried at Celigny, a few feet from Richard Burton, star of his film Where Eagles Dare, with whom there was no love lost.

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