Remembering George MacDonald Fraser

I just learned that screenwriter and novelist George MacDonald Fraser, author of the “Flashman” ribald historical romps and screenwriter of Richard Lester’s The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers (not mention Lester’s screen version of Frasier’s Flashman novel Royal Flash), died Wednesday at the age of 82.

His major claim to fame is a dozen comic novels featuring Sir Harry Flashman, accidental hero and rotter of the first order whose instinct for self-preservation was matched only by his blind lust and sexual adventures. the character, appropriated from “Tom Brown’s School Days” (he was the school bully who tormented hero Tom), winds up at the center of major historical events in each novel, such as the Charge of the Light Brigade in “Flashman at the Charge.” He brought that same sensibility and penchant for deflating heroic postures and aristocratic dignity to his collaborations with Richard Lester.

But in addition to these (and other) cheeky historical satires, he wrote serious memoirs (such as “Quartered Safe Out Here,” about his experience as soldier in Burma in World War II) and even a book on Hollywood’s historical epics (“The Hollywood History of the World“) that arrived at the almost contrarian conclusion that, for all of the liberties that studio costume dramas have taken with history, they got it right more than they got it wrong. Considering how much Fraser loved and respected history, his argument demands some attention at the very least.

Obituary in the Telegraph:

The fag-roasting bully of Tom Brown’s Schooldays, Thomas Hughes’s 1857 tribute to Dr Arnold’s Rugby, was last seen being expelled for drunkenness. Age had not improved him. Fraser’s appropriation in 1969, Flashman, joyously confirmed him as a thoroughgoing rotter and cad of the first water.

The book and its 11 sequels purported to be the memoirs of General Sir Harry Flashman, VC, discovered in a saleroom at Ashby-de-la-Zouch and entrusted to Fraser for editing.

This device allowed Fraser to pilot Flashman through a picaresque series of encounters with some of the choicest episodes of Victorian history. Thus, the first novel took as its background the First Afghan War – for Flashman an odyssey of self-preservation justified by his being the sole survivor of the Retreat from Kabul.

(…)

George MacDonald Fraser was born at Carlisle on April 2 1925. His father was a doctor, his mother a nurse. George was educated at Carlisle Grammar School and Glasgow Academy, where his performance as Laertes was distinguished by his unscripted defeat of Hamlet in the pair’s duel.

In 1943 he joined the Border Regiment and served as an infantryman in North Africa and with the “Forgotten” Fourteenth Army in Burma. He was eventually commissioned in the Gordon Highlanders.

Some of his finest writing is contained in his graphic recollections of his Burma service, Quartered Safe Out Here (1992), in which the affectionate portrait of his Cumbrian comrades demonstrated his keen eye for character and acute ear for dialogue. John Keegan, in The Sunday Telegraph, justly called it “one of the great personal memoirs of World War II”.

Read the complete obituary here. Also, obituaries in The Guardian, the New York Times, and The Washington Post.

For more background and information, check out The Flashman Society, and the GMF biography therein.

Thanks for the heads up on this, Nick!

Author: seanax

I write the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website (www.streamondemandathome.com). I’m a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, Keyframe, Independent Lens, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View (www.parallax-view.org).. I’ve written for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Weekly, GreenCine.com, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, and Psychotronic Video, among other publications, and I am a contributing editor to Parallax View.

I currently live and work in Seattle, Washington, with my two cats, Hammet and Chandler.

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