Bad boy Flashman star of politically incorrect paperbacks

WHY did I wait so long to meet Harry Flashman?

The question was asked by Robert Crampton, famed feature writer for The Times.

“I could kick myself. If I’d devoured Flashman 30 years ago I could be on my third re-reading,” he wrote in his column in The Weekend Australian.

He’s not alone in his praise for the series of Harry Flashman books by George MacDonald Fraser.

The Evening Standard’s Auberon Waugh said Fraser was a skilled and meticulous writer, “twice as good as Buchan and 20 times better than Fleming”.

The Daily Telegraph’s summary said: “Many popular novelists have written fictional heroes into great historical events, but few, if any, have done it as well as Fraser.” 

Five words summed up The London Sunday Times’ review: “Farcically outrageous and disgracefully entertaining.”

There are about a dozen Flashman books on the purported memoirs of Sir Harry Paget Flashman (1822-1915) VC, KCB, KCIE and many more decorations, all thoroughly undeserved and gained by deception and/or sheer luck as they trace the extremely active and eventful life of the expelled scholar turned soldier.

While serving during Britain’s 19th century empire building era, he blunders along from one international adventure to the next, with his true colours of a bully, coward, racist, cheat, liar and adulterer frequently coming to the fore.

He is, however, tall, handsome, an excellent equestrian and cricketer and a gifted linguist — he found it easier to converse with Indians than with Scots.

But apart from presenting some of the best comic reading on the planet, his travels include colourful and accurate descriptions of historic battles, political events and behind-the-scenes happenings — each book has a glossary and comprehensive notes.

They’re educational too.

George MacDonald Fraser 1
George MacDonald Fraser


I, for instance, had never heard of Queen Ranavalona of Madagascar, but the breathtakingly evil lady certainly existed, had countless people murdered and for years beat off British and French ambitions to colonise her island. 

Similarly, I was aware of Britain’s retreat from Kabul in 1842. It was the most notorious disaster in the history of the British Empire, but I didn’t know quite how or why it unfolded.

It all becomes chillingly clear in Flashman, the first of the books by Fraser on the colourful British scoundrel.

His romantic escapades often land him in trouble, which in turn take him to places and happenings far from home. 

In Flash for Freedom, he ends up in the slave state of Mississippi, in Flash for Freedom he tangles with Otto von Bismarck, while Flashman and the Tiger puts him in the midst of the Anglo-Zulu Wars.

Other editions put him at Harper’s Ferry, start of the American Civil War, and so on as he survives fearful ordeals and perils, not to mention incredible romances, on his global adventuress.

Some of the tales, like being aboard a ship conveying slaves to America, are quite confronting, but it’s part of history and can’t be ignored.

The paperbacks are becoming quite difficult to find these days but most can be had online at around $25 per title.

They’re also available through the Kindle and Kobo e-reader platforms.

A 1975 movie, Royal Flash, saw Malcolm McDowell cast as the dashing Captain Harry Flashman.

I’ve managed to get all the books, some imported from the US, and I’m on my fifth one at present.

They’re well worth getting because they’re from the pre-Political Correctness era; hence the beautiful and proper use of English of the time is liberally sprinkled with Sir Harry’s everyday language.  

For example, the N-word is in full use in his adventures in America and he uses others such as describing Queen Ranavalona as a huge, smelly, hairy ape and similar tell-it-like-it-is terms that would make today’s snowflakes blanch.

I doubt there’s a publisher today game enough to produce these wonderful stories.

Meanwhile, savour some of the world’s finest adventure stories and learn a lot about major events of the past — all in unsanitised form. 

Harry Flashman never disappoints, as proven in 1999 when George MacDonald Fraser was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his services to literature.

He also wrote the screenplay for the James Bond movie, Octopussy.

But Bond, sorry to say, is no Harry Flashman.


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Time out score

Final thoughts . . .

The only books I’ve ever read that have had me laughing out loud!


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