Alistair Stuart MacLean (or Alasdair MacGill-Eain in Gaelic) lived from 28 April 1922 to 2 February 1987. He achieved great success as the author of a series of thrillers and adventure stories written between 1955 and 1986, many of which were also made into films. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Alistair MacLean was born in Glasgow but brought up in Daviot, south of Inverness, where his father was the Parish Minister. As a child he spoke both Gaelic and English. At the age of 19 in 1941, MacLean joined the Royal Navy, serving on a number of ships which saw action in the North Atlantic, Arctic and Mediterranean, before being posted to the Far East towards the end of the war.
After the war, MacLean studied English at Glasgow University, graduating in 1953 before becoming a teacher. In 1954 he won a competition with a short story based on his naval experiences, and when the publishers Collins asked him to expand it into a novel, he produced "HMS Ulysses". This proved a great success, selling 250,000 hardback copies in the first six months, and he became a full time writer, producing five more novels by the end of the 1950s, including one of his best known, "The Guns of Navarone".
In all, MacLean wrote 29 books, including two under the pseudonym Ian Stuart, and biographies of Lawrence of Arabia and Captain Cook. His style varied at different times in his career, but a common factor in all his novels was the usually compelling storyline driven by relentless action. Another was the near total absence of romantic diversion. Many of MacLean's books were made into blockbuster films, perhaps none more so than "Where Eagles Dare", published in 1967 and made into a film the following year. The success of "Where Eagles Dare" on which he produced the screenplay, led MacLean to focus on writing screenplays, with 14 emerging in all, some of which later also became novels.
In 1980 he was commissioned by a US film production company to produce a series of plot outlines for stories involving a fictional organisation called the United Nations Anti-Crime Organization. 15 of these were produced as novels by other authors, most after MacLean's death in 1987.
Despite spending three years in the 1960s running a hotel in England, MacLean increasingly lived in Switzerland. He married twice and had three sons. In 1983 he was awarded a Doctorate of Literature by Glasgow University. He died in Munich in Germany and is buried at Céligny in Switzerland, by coincidence quite close to the last resting place of Richard Burton, one of the stars of "Where Eagles Dare".