Remember Harry Flash? A Tribute to George MacDonald Fraser

When I was at school decades ago, one of the text books we had was, “Tom Brown’s School Days” by Thomas Hughes. Set in the England of the 1830s it portrayed life at Rugby, one of the better known public schools. Studying in a public school myself,  I could quite easily relate to the ups and downs in the lives of Tom Brown and his friends. One of the memorable, or should I say, notorious characters in that book was the bully, Harry Flashman . He made life miserable for Tom Brown and his friends who had to “fag” for him. We know for certain that Flashman was expelled from the school for being drunk by the venerable Headmaster, Dr Thomas Arnold.

What became of Flashman? He would have perhaps disappeared into oblivion had it not been for George MacDonald Fraser (1925-2008) who in 1969 wrote the first of twelve books featuring him as an anti-hero. Scoundrel, coward, bully, rascal, funk, call him what you will but Harry Paget Flashman is a colourful man who cannot be ignored.

By a brilliant piece of improvisation, Fraser wrote of the “discovery” of the “Flashman Papers” in an old chest in Leicestershire. These “papers” constituted the rich material for all the books which, without exception have been written in the first person narrative. These diaries hadn’t apparently been discovered for 50 years.

Fraser was a journalist with the Glasgow Herald till he decided to become a full time novelist. His first book, titled just, “Flashman” was rejected by many publishers until it was accepted by Barrie & Jenkins, who published it in 1969. Flashman , we gather, joins the Army and then follows a series of events adventures which take him to many parts of the world in the 19th century.

As a result, we have Flashy telling us about his travails and triumphs with (amongst others) Bismarck and the Schleswig-Holstein affair;  the US Civil War and the rampant slave trade of those times; with Lord Cardigan and the Light Brigade at Balaclava; with General Wheeler in the Indian Mutiny of 1857, and being widely travelled man, with General Custer in his famous Last Stand!! Who would have imagined that the bully from Rugby would one day become the celebrated Victorian hero, General Sir Harry Paget Flashman VC, KCB, KCIE.

Having been a big fan of Fraser as a novelist, I have loved all his books. From his author page in Amazon, you can see that he wrote a number of books apart from the Flashman series for which he is better known. His characterization of Flashman has been a classic.  Immense effort has gone into the compilation of Notes to supplement/explain historical events and characters as they appear in the books. They provide a wonderful commentary of life in Victorian times when Britannia ruled the waves. Indeed, in one of his books we see Flashy at Balmoral, no less, as Her Majesty’s guest.

A deft touch by Fraser describes Flashman meeting his old Rugby school mates in at least two of his books. In one, he meets Tom Brown in London and scandalizes him with his plans for the evening! In another, he comes across “Scud” East during the Indian Mutiny!!

Fraser passed away in 2008 aged 82 having published his last Flashman book in 2005. I like to think that Flashy would have waited for him, in the world beyond, to unleash another set of “diaries” upon him!!!

 

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