George MacDonald Fraser lived from 2 April 1925 to 2 January 2008. He was an author known both for his historical novels and his non fiction, and he also produced a number of film screenplays. But he will probably be best remembered as the author of the Flashman series of historical novels. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Fraser was born to Scottish parents in Carlisle, and educated at Carlisle Grammar School and Glasgow Academy. In 1943, at the age of 18, he joined the 9th Battalion of Border Regiment, fighting as an infantryman in North Africa and later in Burma after the Border Regiment became part of the Indian 17th Infantry Division. Selected for officer training, Fraser was commissioned into the Gordon Highlanders, serving in the Middle East and North Africa immediately after the end of the World War II.
After leaving the army, Fraser became a journalist at the Glasgow Herald newspaper, rising to become deputy editor from 1964 until 1969.
1969 was the turning point in Fraser's life, because that was the year in which his historical novel "Flashman" was published. The book was based on the premise that its author had in 1965 discovered a large cache of documents in some furniture brought at a sale in Leicestershire. These recounted episodes in the life of Harry Flashman, the bully in Thomas Hughes' 1857 classic tale of school life, "Tom Brown's Schooldays". It emerged that the antihero of Hughes' book had gone on to become Brigadier-General Sir Harry Paget Flashman VC KCB KCIE, and what Fraser had found were Flashman's own warts-and-all accounts of his later adventures, written between 1901 and 1905.
"Flashman" was an immediate success, in part because of the accuracy and detail of its historical background: and in part because of the character of its "hero", a womanising coward, who by good fortune emerged from a string of historically real military engagements and encounters with real people acclaimed as a hero. Eleven more Flashman books were to follow between 1970 and 2005. These found Flashman emerging as the only survivor from the Retreat from Kabul in the First Afghan War; as the inadvertent leader of the Charge of the Light Brigade; as making mortal enemies of men as diverse as Lord Cardigan and Otto von Bismarck; as surviving Custer's last stand at the Battle of Little Big Horn; and in just about every other corner of the Victorian world in which real conflict took place (which meant most of it). Though the books and their leading character were fictional, the premise of the Flashman Papers being real memoirs was maintained throughout, and at one stage there was even a debate in the New York Times about whether - or not - General Flashman had been a real person.
Between the production of his Flashman novels, Fraser turned his hand to a wide variety of other writing. The "McAuslan" series of stories were based on Fraser's experiences with the Gordon Highlanders, while his 1992 book "Quartered Safe Out Here " was an account of his time with the Border Regiment. He also wrote non fiction books about a range of historical subjects, especially the story of the Border Reivers.
George MacDonald Fraser was awarded an OBE in 1999. He died, aged 82, in the Isle of Man on 2 January 2008. His daughter is the novelist Caro Fraser.