Saturday, December 27, 2008

Alistair MacLean cover gallery

Alistair MacLean was one of the finest thriller writers Britain has ever produced. Critics over the years have said that his talents were in creating gripping situations rather than any particular writing ability: his style of storytelling was fairly straightforward, setting up a series of situations which would climax with a revelation, somewhat akin to the crime novels frof the golden age. MacLean himself was modest about his writing talents and insisted that he was a storyteller rather than a novelist. His talent was to grab you with the opening paragraphs and never lessen the grip until the last page.

Alistair Stuart MacLean was born in Glasgow on 28 April 1922, the third of four children born to the Reverend Alistair MacLean, a Church of Scotland minister, and Mary Lamont MacLean, a singer. Alistair grew up in Daviot, near Inverness, speaking Gaelic in the family home until he was 15. He was educated at the local primary school and, following his father's death and a move back to Glasgow, obtained a bursary to Hillhead High School. He left school in 1939 and took a job with a shipping firm before enlisting in the Royal Navy in 1941.

His experiences as a torpedo operator aboard HMS Royalist, an escort ship for convoys taking supplies to Russia, were later vividly recreated in his first novel, H.M.S. Ulysses. The Royalist also served in the Mediterranean and the Aegean, taking part, in September 1944, in the bombardment of Nazi-occupied Greek islands—the setting for The Guns of Navarone—and subsequently in the Far East, taking part in the liberation of Singapore. This latter provided background for South by Java Head.

Released from the Navy in 1946, he began studying English at Glasgow University, supporting himself with work in a post office and sweeping streets. He obtained a second-class honours degree and graduated with an M.A. in 1950. By then he had met his future wife, a nurse called Gisela Heinrichsen, who moved to Glasgow and worked at Mearnskirk Hospital while MacLean studied to be a teacher. They married in July 1953 by which time MacLean was teaching English, history and geography at the all-boys Gallowflat Secondary School in Rutherglen.

He began writing in his spare time and his first story appeared in Blackwood's Magazine in 1954. Another story, "The Dileas", a tale of a dramatic rescue off the West Highland coast, won a £100 prize in a competition run by the Glasgow Herald. The story had a great emotional impact on the wife of Ian Chapman, then working at the Glasgow offices of Collins, who decided to track down the author. He invited MacLean to write a novel and, although reluctant at first, the birth of his son (Lachlan, named after his late elder brother who had died some years earlier from cancer) persuaded him to begin H.M.S. Ulysses in September 1954. Published a year later, it sold a quarter of a million copies within six months.

MacLean was catapulted into the ranks of best-sellers: serial rights were sold to Picture Post, an American edition appeared in 1956, and movie rights were sold for £30,000, although no movie was ever made. With the success of his second novel, The Guns of Navarone, MacLean gave up teaching to write full-time, moving his family to Switzerland to escape British taxes ahead of the publication of South by Java Head. Collins almost rejected the novel and had sent Ian Chapman to Switzerland to demand major changes but Chapman arrived to find a telegram awaiting him: the movie rights to the manuscript had sold and Collins would publish it unchanged.

The majority of MacLean's future novels would be adventure-thrillers: The Last Frontier concerned a British agent sent behind the Iron Curtain; Night Without End a murder-mystery set in the Arctic as a small group survive a plane crash and make a grueling journey to safety; Fear is the Key is a story of vengence set on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

Although financially successful, MacLean was stung by criticism of his writing and set out to publish future books under a pen-name to prove that his writing alone would sell books, not his name. As Ian Stuart, The Dark Crusader and The Satan Bug appeared to poor sales and he returned to his own name for the publication of The Golden Rendezvous and Ice Station Zebra, the latter considered one of his best.

MacLean delivered the latter novel with the intention that it would be his last. He returned to England, buying Jamaica Inn (made famous in the novel by Daphne du Maurier) and two other hotels. The venture proved a financial disaster and MacLean moved back to Switzerland and began writing When Eight Bells Toll. Approached by an American film producer, MacLean then began work on an original screenplay which he turned into another best-selling novel, Where Eagles Dare.

Thereon, MacLean averaged a book a year, writing them at his home at Villa Murat, near Geneva. By 1971 he had sold 23 million copies of his books and his next work was a biography of Captain Cook. During this period his marriage finally broke down and his divorced in 1972; he married former actress Marcelle Georgeus that same year, although they separated in 1976 and divorced in 1977.

One noticeable thing about MacLean's novels around this period are the number of cynical drunks. MacLean was himself a heavy drinker and from the mid-1970s on, his novels began to show a decline in quality. Although he claimed to dislike the film industry—and poked fun at it in one of his last good novels, Bear Island—too many of his later books read like novelisations of potential screenplays. He certainly churned out a great many scenarios for movies. Burt Nodella had the task of turning one, Air Force One is Down, into a screenplay and described the MacLean of 1978 as "charming, articulate and bright when he's sober. But difficult otherwise." Nodella also quoted MacLean drunkenly saying "I'm the world's greatest living writer but I write rubbish."

With Nodella, MacLean wrote eight scenarios for a series featuring UNACO (the United Nations Anti-Crime Organization). MacLean cannily retained all book rights to these and to other scenarios and screenplays he created or co-wrote.

Separated from his second wife and re-aquainted with his first, MacLean bought a flat in Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia, in 1978 where he was to now spend the majority of the year, taking trips elsewhere to research his novels (he had first visited Dubrovnik whilst researching Partisans, which was to appear four years later). However, despite his heavy research, the resulting books seemed to lack the realism that had carried the plots of earlier novels. Too many revolved around the popular movie notion of disasters, ranging from Goodbye California's terrorist attempt to cause an earthquake along the San Andreas Fault, to the sinking of Schiphol Airport in Floodgate. MacLean tried to recapture some of his earlier success with titles like Seawitch and San Andreas with their familiar settings (oil rig, World War II convoy), but the results compared badly. They still sold incredibly well: in 1978, his novels had sold 21 million in paperback, equalling Fontana's sales of Agatha Christie; by 1983 it was reported that at least 16 of his novels had sold over a million copies.

In 1983, aged 61, MacLean was awarded an honourary doctorate by Glasgow University; it was one of the few rewards, beyond the obvious financial rewards, that he was to receive for his writing. 27 years earlier, another Scottish institution, the Daily Record, had called his first novel "drivelling melodrama" and stated that it was an insult to the Royal Navy. MacLean ignored his critics, trusting in his talents to tell a story. Although it was a talent that was diminished by the later books, his ability to entertain and thrill readers was undeniable.

MacLean suffered a series of strokes in January 1987 whilst on holiday in Munich with Gisela. He was taken to hospital in a coma from which he did not recover. He died on 2 February 1987. He was buried after a private funeral at Celigny, Switzerland.

The first MacLean novel I read was When Eight Bells Toll and it has one of the finest openings of a thriller. After briefly outlining the history of the Peacemaker Colt in the first paragraph, it continues:
[W]hen a Peacemaker's bullet hits you in, say, the leg, you don't curse, step into shelter, roll and light a cigarette one-handed then smartly shoot your assailant between the yes. When the Peacemaker bullet hits your leg you fall to the ground unconscious, and if it hits the thigh-bone and you are lucky enough to survive the torn arteries and shock, then you will never walk again without crutches because a totally disintegrated femur leaves the surgeon with no option but to cut your leg off. And so I stood absolutely motionless, not breathing, for the Peacemaker Colt that had prompted this unpleasant train of thought was pointed directly at my right thigh.
It's heading towards thirty-five years since I read that and it's still one of the best openings I can remember. MacLean wasn't a writer of literature but, once picked up, it's almost impossible to put one of his books down again until you've finished the last page.

H.M.S. Ulysses (London: Collins, 1955; Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1956)
Fontana 253, 1960, 319pp, 3/6.
Fontana 1013, 1964.
----, 23rd imp., Sep 1973, 287pp, 35p. Cover by Renato Fratini?
Fontana 0-00613512-9, 25th imp., Oct 1974. Cover by Paul Wright

The Guns of Navarone
(London, Collins, 1957; Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1957)
Fontana 332, 1959.
----, 2nd imp., Dec 1959
----, 3rd imp., Apr 1961, 255pp, 2/6. Cover: still
----, 4th imp., May 1961, 255pp.
----, 5th imp., Nov 1961.
----, 6th imp., May 1962
----, 7th imp., Sep 1962
----, 8th imp., Apr 1963
----, 9th imp., Jan 1964
----, 10th imp., Jun 1964
Fontana 1159, 11th imp., Aug 1965.
----, 12th imp., May 1966
----, 13th imp., Oct 1966
----, 14th imp., Apr 1967
----, 15th imp., Jul 1967
Fontana [for Scholastic Publications] nn, 16th imp., Oct 1967, 255pp, 3/6. Cover: still
Fontana 2507, XXth imp., 1971. Cover: photo
Fontana, 41st imp, Sep 1977.

Fontana, 45th imp., 0-00615400-X, Dec 1978, 254pp, 85p. Cover: film still.
Fontana 0-00616160-X, 1980.
Fontana 0-00617247-4, 1985.

South by Java Head (London, Collins, 1958; Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1958)
Fontana 457, 1961.
----, 2nd imp., Aug 1961, 2/6.
----, 3rd imp., Oct 1963.
----, 4th imp., May 1964
Fontana 1160, 5th imp., Aug 1965. Cover by Renato Fratini
----, 6th imp., May 1966, 254pp, 3/6.
Fontana 1904, 1968.
----, 12th imp.,1969.
----, 15th imp., Jun 1970, 254pp, 5/-. 
Fontana 3395, c.1973. Cover by Paul Wright
----, 26th imp., Feb 1974, 254pp, 35p. Cover by Paul Wright
Fontana 0-00617248-2, c.1985.

The Last Frontier (London, Collins, 1959; as The Secret Ways, Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1959)
Fontana 540, 1961.
----, 2nd imp., Jul 1961
----, as The Secret Ways, 3rd imp., May 1963, 253pp, 2/6.
Fontana 978, 5th imp., Mar 1964, 253pp, 3/6. Cover by Renato Fratini
----, 6th imp., Jun 1964.
----, 7th imp., Apr 1965.
----, 8th imp., Jul 1965.
----, 9th imp., Apr 1966.
Fontana 2741, 19th imp., 1971, 253pp.
Fontana 0-00615749-1, 1981.

Night without End (London, Collins, 1960; Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1960)
Fontana 665, 1962, 221pp, 2/6. Cover by Henry Fox?
----, 2nd imp., Nov 1962.
Fontana 937, 3rd imp., Mar 1964, 221pp, 3/6. Cover by Renato Fratini
----, 4th imp., Jun 1964.
----, 5th imp., Apr 1965.
----, 6th imp., Jul 1965.
----, 7th imp., May 1966.
----, 8th imp., Dec 1966.
----, 9th imp., Jul 1967.
----, 10th imp., May 1968.
----, 11th imp., May 1968.
----, 12th imp., Nov 1968, 221pp, 5/-.
Fontana 1911, [c.1969]
----, 18th imp., Mar 1971, 221pp, 30p.
Fontana 0-00614185-4, 29th imp., May 1976, 221pp, 65p. Cover by Paul Wright
Fontana 0-00616122-7, [c.1980].

Fear Is the Key (London, Collins, 1961; Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1961)
Fontana 790, 1963.
Fontana 1014, 2nd imp. Aug 1964, 224pp, 3/6. Cover by Renato Fratini
----, Xth imp., 1967.
Fontana 0-00613255-3, 24th imp., Oct 1973, 224pp, 35p. Cover: photo
Fontana 0-00615991-5, c.1979/80.
----, 30th imp., Jun 1986, 224pp, £2.50.

The Dark Crusader by Ian Stuart (London, Collins, 1961; as The Black Shrike, New York: Scribners, 1961)
Fontana 771, 1963, 2/6. Cover by Unknown
----, 2nd imp., May 1963
----, 3rd imp., Jan 1964.
----, 4th imp., Feb 1964.
----, 5th imp., Jul 1964.
----, 6th imp., Jan 1965.
----, 7th imp., Jun 1965.
----, 8th imp., Jul 1965.
----, 9th imp., May 1966.
----, 10th imp., Aug 1966.
----, 11th imp., Nov 1966.
----, 12th imp., Mar 1967, 223pp, 3/6. Cover by Renato Fratini
Fontana 2059. c.1969.
----, 21st imp., Dec 1970, 223pp, 6/-.
Fontana 00-0616543-5, 1982, 223pp.

The Satan Bug by Ian Stuart (London, Collins, 1962; New York: Scribners, 1962)
Fontana 915, 1964.
----, 2nd imp., Feb 1964.
----, 3rd imp., Jun 1964.
----, 4th imp., Jan 1965.
----, 5th imp., Jul 1965.
----, 6th imp., Sep 1965.
----, 7th imp., May 1966.
----, 8th imp., Dec 1966.
----, 9th imp., Apr 1967.
Fontana 1730, 10th imp., Jun 1968, 223pp, 3/6. Cover by Renato Fratini
Fontana 2510, Xth imp., 3/6. 1970. 
----, 17th imp., 1971. Cover: photo
 ----, 24th imp., 223pp, 35p. Cover: photo
Fontana 0006-15750-5, 1980.
----, 38th imp., Nov 1981.

The Golden Rendezvous (London, Collins, 1962; Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1962)
Fontana 932, 1964, 223pp, 3/6. Cover by Renato Fratini
----, 2nd imp., Jun 1964. 
Fontana 1725 [14th imp.] 1970. Cover by Renato Fratini
Fontana 2561, 26th imp., 1971, 223pp, 35p. Cover: photo
Fontana 0-00615069-1, 1977.
Fontana 0-00616259-2, 1981.

Ice Station Zebra (London, Collins, 1963; Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1963)
Fontana 1105, 1965, 254pp, 3/6. Cover by Renato Fratini?
----, 2nd imp., Jul 1965.
----, 3rd imp., Nov 1965.
----, 4th imp., Aug 1966.
----, 5th imp., Nov 1966
Fontana 1838, c.1968. Cover: film still

----, 16th imp., Jan 1975, 254pp, 45p. Cover: film still
Fontana 0-00614421-7, 21st imp., Jun 1978, 254pp, 80p. Cover by Paul Wright
Fontana 0-00616141-3, c.1980

When Eight Bells Toll (London, Collins, 1966; Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1966)
Fontana 1611, 1967, 223pp, 5/-. Cover by Renato Fratini?
----, 2nd imp., Apr 1968.
----, 3rd imp., Apr 1968.
----, 4th imp., Apr 1968.
----, 5th imp., May 1968.
----, 6th imp., Sep 1968.
----, 7th imp., Nov 1968.
Fontana 2483, 1971. Cover: film still
----, 19th imp., Jan 1975, 223pp, 40p. Cover: film still
Fontana 0-00615811-X, 1980.

Where Eagles Dare (London, Collins, 1967; Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1967)
Fontana 1961, 1969. Cover: film still
----, 20th imp., Sep 1974, 219pp, 40p. Cover: film still
Fontana 0-00615804-8, 1980.

Force 10 from Navarone (London, Collins, 1968; Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1968)
Fontana 2272, 1970, 223pp, 5/-. Cover: photo
Fontana 2824, 5th imp. 1972.
Fontana 0-00616433-1, 1979.

Puppet on a Chain
(London, Collins, 1969; Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1969)
Fontana 2741, 1971. Cover: photo
Fontana 0-00615751-3, 1981.

Caravan to Vaccarès (London, Collins, 1970; Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1970)
Fontana 2851, 1972, 189pp, 30p. Cover: photo
Fontana 0-00615748-3, 1980, 189pp.

Bear Island (London, Collins, 1971; Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1971)
Fontana 0-00613186-7, 1973, 288pp, 40p. Cover by Paul Wright
----, 9th imp., Sep 1974.
Fontana 0-00615829-3, 1979.
Fontana 0-00616434-X, 1981.

The Way to Dusty Death (London, Collins, 1973; Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1973)
Fontana 0-00613529-3, 1974, 190pp, 40p. Typographical cover [Continental Edition]
Fontana 0-00613835-7, 1975, 190pp, 50p. Cover photo by Andy Seymour

Fontana 0-00615135-3, c.1977.
----, 21st imp., nd (1986?), 223pp, £3.50.

Breakheart Pass
(London, Collins, 1974; Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1974)
Fontana 0-00614132-3, 1975, 192pp, 60p. Cover: still [FC: Charles Bronson]. *MTI edition; *Continental edition
Fontana 0-00615905-6, 1976.
----, 9th imp., May 1981, 192pp, £1.25. [FC: Charles Bronson]. *MTI edition
----, 13th imp., Apr 1986, 192pp, £2.50. Cover by Segrelles

Circus (London, Collins, 1975; Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1975)
Fontana 0-00614889-1, 1977, 191pp, 70p. Cover photo by Malcolm Easter
Fontana 0-00616735-7, 5th imp., 1982, 191pp, £1.50.

The Golden Gate (London, Collins, 1976; Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1976)
Fontana 0-00614494-2, 1976, 224pp, 80p. Cover photo by Andy Seymour

Goodbye California (London, Collins, 1977; Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1978)
Fontana 0006-15360-7, 1980, 256pp. Cover photo
Fontana [15th imp.] n.d., 330pp, £3.50.
HarperCollins 0006-15360-7, Apr 2009.

Seawitch (London, Collins, 1977; Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1977)
Fontana 0-00616474-9 1979. Cover: photo
----, 7th imp., 1982, 192pp, £2.50.

Athabasca (London, Collins, 1980; Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1980)
Fontana 0-00616266-5, 1981, 252pp, £1.35. Cover: photo
----, 15th imp., nd (c.1987?), 252pp, £4.99.

River of Death (London, Collins, 1981; Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1982)
Fontana 0-00616496-X, 1982, 216pp, £1.50. Cover by Paul Wright

Partisans (London, Collins, 1982; Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1983)
Fontana 0-00616763-2, 1983. 
----, 9th imp., Aug 1988, 224pp, £2.95.

Floodgate (London, Collins, 1983; Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1984)
Fontana 0-0061911-2, 1984, 315pp, £1.75.

San Andreas (London, Collins, 1984; Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1985)
Fontana, 1985. Cover by Paul Wright

The Lonely Sea: Collected Short Stories (Glasgow: Collins, 1985; Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1986)
Fontana 0-00617277-6, 1986, 222pp, £2.50. Cover by Paul Wright

Santorini (London, Collins, 1986; Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1987)
Fontana 0-00617453-1, 1987, 220pp, £2.95.

(* Spin-off novels will be covered in another post.)





  2. The Richard Widmark cover looks very cool.

  3. Awesome post...I check your blog regularly and really enjoy it. Thank you.

  4. A few years on since you originally posted, but plenty of people I'm sure (including me!) still enjoy and appreciate this page - great scans, and helped me confirm that Paul Wright was artist of 'South by Java Head'. cheers!



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