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Compton Mackenzie

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Compton Mackenzie

Sir Compton Mackenzie
Born Edward Montague Compton Mackenzie
(1883-01-17)17 January 1883
West Hartlepool, County Durham, England, UK
Died 30 November 1972(1972-11-30) (aged 89)
Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
Cause of death Natural causes
Resting place Barra, Scotland, UK
Occupation Scottish croquet player, actor, broadcaster, writer and political activist
Years active 1907–1971
Notable work Whisky Galore
The Monarch of the Glen
Home town Barra
Spouse(s) Faith Stone (1905–60; her death)
Christine McSween (1962–63; her death)
Lillian McSween (1965–1972; his death)
Relatives Fay Compton (sister)
Viola Compton (sister)
Henry Compton (grandfather)

Sir Compton Mackenzie, OBE (; 1883–1972) was a prolific writer of fiction, biography, histories and a memoir, as well as a cultural commentator, raconteur and lifelong Scottish nationalist. He was one of the co-founders in 1928 of the Scottish National Party along with Hugh MacDiarmid, RB Cunninghame Graham and John MacCormick. He was knighted in 1952.


  • Background 1
  • Writing 2
  • Greek Memories 3
  • Capri 4
  • Scottish identity 5
  • Private life 6
  • Death and taxes 7
  • Select bibliography 8
    • Novels and romances 8.1
    • Plays 8.2
    • Verse 8.3
    • History and biography 8.4
    • Essays and criticism 8.5
    • Children's stories 8.6
    • Autobiography 8.7
  • References 9
  • External links 10


Edward Montague Compton Mackenzie was born in West Hartlepool, County Durham, England, into a theatrical family of Mackenzies, many of whose members used Compton as their stage surname, starting with his grandfather Henry Compton, a well-known Shakespearean actor of the Victorian era. His father, Edward Compton, and mother, Virginia Bateman, were actors and theatre company managers; his sister, Fay Compton, starred in many of J. M. Barrie's plays, including Peter Pan. He was educated at St Paul's School, London, and Magdalen College, Oxford, where he graduated with a degree in modern history.[1]


Sir Compton Mackenzie is perhaps best known for two comic novels set in Scotland—Whisky Galore (1947) set in the Hebrides, and The Monarch of the Glen (1941) set in the Scottish Highlands. They were the sources of a successful film and a television series respectively. He published almost a hundred books on different subjects, including ten volumes of autobiography: My Life and Times (1963–71). He wrote history (on the Battle of Marathon and the Battle of Salamis), biography (Mr Roosevelt, a 1943 biography of FDR), literary criticism, satires, apologia (Sublime Tobacco 1957), children's stories, poetry and so on. Of his fiction, The Four Winds of Love is sometimes considered his magnum opus.[2]

He was admired by Cyril Connolly, who both read it as schoolboys.[4][5] Max Beerbohm praised Mackenzie's writing for vividness and emotional reality.[6] Frank Swinnerton, a literary critic, comments on Mackenzie's "detail and wealth of reference". John Betjeman said of it, "This has always seemed to me one of the best novels of the best period in English novel writing." Henry James thought it to be the most remarkable book written by a young author in his lifetime.

After his conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1914, Mackenzie explored religious themes in a trilogy of novels, The Altar Steps (1922), The Parson's Progress (1923) and The Heavenly Ladder (1924). Following his time on Capri, socialising with the gay exiles there, he treated the homosexuality of a politician sensitively in Thin Ice (1956). He was the literary critic for the London-based national newspaper Daily Mail.[7]

Greek Memories

Mackenzie worked as an actor, political activist and broadcaster. He served with British Intelligence in the Eastern Mediterranean during the First World War, later publishing four books on his experiences. According to these books, he was commissioned in the Royal Marines, rising to the rank of captain. His ill-health making front-line service impractical, he was assigned counter-espionage work during the Gallipoli campaign,[8] and in 1916 built up a considerable counter-intelligence network in Athens, Greece then being neutral.[9] While his secret service work seems to have been valued highly by his superiors, including Sir Mansfield Smith-Cumming, his passionate political views, especially his support for the Venizelists, made him a controversial figure and he was expelled from Athens following the Noemvriana.[10]

In 1917, he founded the Aegean Intelligence Service, and enjoyed considerable autonomy for some months as its director. He was offered the Presidency of the Republic of Cerigo, which was briefly independent while Greece was split between Royalists and Venizelists, but declined the office. He was recalled in September 1917. Smith-Cumming considered appointing him as his deputy, but withdrew the suggestion after opposition from within his own service, and Mackenzie played no further active role in the war. In 1919, be was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE), and was also honoured with the French Legion of Honour, the Serbian Order of the White Eagle, and the Greek Order of the Redeemer.[11]

After the publication of his Greek Memories in 1932, he was prosecuted at the Old Bailey under the Official Secrets Act for quoting from supposedly secret documents. His account of the trial, vividly described, is in Octave Seven (1931–38) of his autobiography: the result was a fine of £100 and (prosecution) costs of £100. His own costs were over £1,000. Mackenzie states that a plea-bargain (described in the text as "an arrangement") had been reached with the judge prior to the trial: in exchange for his pleading guilty, he would be fined £500 with £500 costs. However Sir Thomas Inskip, then attorney general who prosecuted the case, succeeded in annoying the trial judge to such an extent that he then reduced the penalties to a token amount. The – still banned – 1932 edition of Greek Memories was published in 2011 by Biteback, including the Secret Intelligence Service memo detailing the offending passages of the book.[12]

He was president of the Croquet Association from 1953-66. He was president of the Siamese Cat Club.[13] He was the subject of This Is Your Life in 1956 when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews at the King's Theatre, Hammersmith, London. In 1923 he and his brother-in-law Christopher Stone founded The Gramophone, the still-influential classical music magazine.[14]

A strong supporter of Edward VIII, Mackenzie was a leading member of the Octavians, a minor society that campaigned in support of Edward VIII and for his return to the UK after he became the Duke of Windsor.[15] According to a 1938 Time article Mackenzie had intended to write a book in support of Edward but abandoned the plan when the Duke of Windsor asked him not to publish.[16]


Between 1913 and 1920 he lived with his wife, Faith, on

Academic offices
Preceded by
Stanley Baldwin
Rector of the University of Glasgow
Succeeded by
Iain Colquhoun

External links

  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ Frank Norris and Scott Fitzgerald, by Henry Dan Piper. Huntington Library Quarterly. Vol. 19, No. 4 (August 1956), pp. 393–400 (article consists of 8 pages), University of California Press [see]
  4. ^ Cyril Connolly, Enemies of Promise (White Samite), Routledge, London, 1938.
  5. ^ Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus, The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell Volume I Letter to Connolly 14 December 1938, Secker & Warburg, 1968.
  6. ^ "On Compton Mackenzie" by Allan Massie,; accessed 10 August 2014.
  7. ^
  8. ^ Sir Compton Mackenzie: Gallipoli Memories
  9. ^ Sir Compton Mackenzie: Athenian Memories.
  10. ^ Sir Compton Mackenzie, Greek Memories
  11. ^ Sir Compton Mackenzie, Aegean Memories
  12. ^ backstoryGreek Memories,; accessed 10 August 2014.
  13. ^ Faber author page
  14. ^
  15. ^ Martin Pugh, "Hurrah for the Blackshirts!" Fascists and Fascism in Britain Between the Wars, Pimlico, 2006, p. 260
  16. ^ Foreign News: Want Him Back!,; accessed 10 August 2014.
  17. ^ Infinite variety: the life and legend of the Marchesa Casati, by Scot D. Ryersson, Michael Orlando Yaccarino, p. 99
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^ Profile,; accessed 10 August 2014.
  22. ^ Compton Mackenzie profile,; accessed 10 August 2014.
  23. ^
  24. ^ Profile,; accessed 10 August 2014.
  25. ^
  26. ^


  • My Life and Times in ten volumes each covering eight years, published as "Octave One" to "Octave Ten"(1963–1971)


  • Santa Claus in Summer (1924)
  • Told (1930), tales and verses
  • The Stairs That Kept Going Down (1967)
  • The Strongest Man on Earth (1967), mythology for young people

Children's stories

  • Gramophone Nights (1923), (with Archibald Marshall)
  • Unconsidered Trifles (1932), collected essays.
  • Literature in My Time (1933), criticism
  • Reaped and Bound (1933), collected essays
  • A Musical Chair (1939), essays
  • Echoes (1954), broadcast talks
  • On Moral Courage (1962)

Essays and criticism

  • Gallipoli Memories (1929)
  • First Athenian Memories (1931)
  • Greek Memories (1932), a continuation of First Athenian Memories
  • Prince Charlie (1932), biography
  • Marathon and Salamis (1934), history
  • Prince Charlie and His Ladies (1934), history
  • Catholicism and Scotland (1934), history
  • The Book of Barra (1936), (with J.L. Campbell)
  • Pericles (1937), history
  • The Windsor Tapestry Being a study of the life, heritage and abdication of HRH The Duke of Windsor (1938)
  • Aegean Memories (1940)
  • Calvary (with F.C. Mackenzie) (1942)
  • Wind of Freedom: The history of the invasion of Greece by the Axis powers, 1940–1941 (1943)
  • Mr Roosevelt (1943), biography
  • Brockhouse (1944), history
  • Dr Benes (1946), biography
  • The Vital Flame (1946) (on the gas industry)
  • All over the Place (1949), diary
  • Eastern Epic, an account of the part played by the Indian Army in the Second World War, Vol. I (1951)
  • I Took a Journey ... A tour of the National Trust Properties (1951)
  • The House of Coalport 1750–1950 (1951), history
  • The Queen's House. A history of Buckingham Palace (1953), history
  • Realms of Silver. One Hundred Years of Banking in the East (1954), a history of the Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China.
  • The Savoy of London (1953), history
  • My Record of Music (1955), musical autobiography
  • Sublime Tobacco (1957)
  • Cats' Company (1960) with photos by Harrison Marks
  • Greece in My Life (1960), essays
  • Catmint (1961), imaginary conversations
  • Look at Cats (1964)
  • Little Cat Lost (1965)

History and biography

  • Poems (1907)
  • Kensington Rhymes (1912)


  • The Gentleman in Grey (1907)
  • The Lost Cause (1931)


  • The Passionate Elopement (1911), a revision of the play The Gentleman in Grey
  • Carnival (1912), an early best-seller
  • Sinister Street (1914), 2 volumes, a bildungsroman
  • Guy and Pauline (1915), a sequel to Sinister Street
  • The Early Life and Adventures of Sylvia Scarlett (1918), a sequel to Sinister Street, filmed in 1935 as Sylvia Scarlett
  • Sylvia and Michael (1919), a sequel to Sylvia Scarlett
  • Poor Relations (1919)
  • The Vanity Girl (1920)
  • Rich Relatives (1921)
  • The Altar Steps (1922)
  • The Seven Ages of Woman (1923)
  • The Parson's Progress (1923), a sequel to The Altar Steps
  • The Heavenly Ladder (1924), a sequel to The Parson's Progress
  • The Old Men Of the Sea (1924)
  • Coral (1925), a sequel to Carnival
  • Fairy Gold (1926)
  • Rogues and Vagabonds (1927)
  • Vestal Fire (1927)
  • Extremes Meet (1928)
  • Extraordinary Women (1928)
  • The Three Couriers (1929)
  • April Fools, A farce of manners (1930), a sequel to Poor Relations
  • Buttercups and Daisies (1931)
  • Our Street (1931)
  • Water on the Brain (1933), an absurdist spy novel parody
  • The Darkening Green (1934)
  • Figure of Eight (1936)
  • The Four Winds of Love (6 volumes 1937–45)
  • The Red Tapeworm (1941)
  • The Monarch of the Glen (1941)
  • Keep the Home Guard Turning (1943)
  • Whisky Galore (1947), filmed in 1948 as Whisky Galore!
  • Hunting the Fairies (1949)
  • The Rival Monster (1952)
  • Ben Nevis Goes East (1954)
  • Thin Ice (1956)
  • Rockets Galore (1957), a sequel, filmed in 1958 as Rockets Galore!
  • The Lunatic Republic (1959)
  • Mezzotint (1961)
  • The Stolen Soprano (1965)
  • Paper Lives (1966), a sequel to The Red Tapeworm

Novels and romances


Select bibliography

After his retirement Mackenzie sold the entire copyright in 20 of his books for a lump sum of £10,000 arguing that this was a capital receipt and not the proceeds of the business. The Court of Appeal held that this was assessable income as part of the proceeds of his business: Mackenzie v Arnold (1952) 33 TC 363.[25]

He converted to Roman Catholicism in 1914. He died on 30 November 1972, aged 89, in Edinburgh and was interred at Eolaigearraidh, Barra.

Death and taxes

Mackenzie was a keen supporter of West Bromwich Albion Football Club. Although from the north east of England, he "was influenced in the choice of Albion as 'my' team by the fact that their ground was romantically called The Hawthorns and that they were nicknamed the Throstles".[24]

Mackenzie was married three times. In 1905, he married Faith Stone, who died in 1960; then in 1962, he married Christina MacSween – who died the following year. Lastly, he married his dead wife's sister, Lillian MacSween in 1965.[23]

Private life

From 1920-23, Mackenzie was the Tenant of Herm and Jethou. He built a house on Barra in the 1930s. On Barra he gained inspiration and found creative solitude, and befriended a great number of people that he described as "the aristocrats of democracy".

Mackenzie went to great lengths to trace the steps of his ancestors back to his spiritual home in the Highlands, and displayed a deep and tenacious attachment to Gaelic culture throughout his long and very colourful life. As his biographer, Andro Linklater, commented, "Mackenzie wasn't born a Scot, and he didn't sound like a Scot. But nevertheless his imagination was truly Scottish." He was an ardent Jacobite, the third Governor-General of the Royal Stuart Society, and a co-founder of the Scottish National Party. He was rector of University of Glasgow from 1931–34, defeating Oswald Mosley, who later led the British Union of Fascists, in his bid for the job.[22]

Grave of Compton MacKenzie, Eolaigearraidh, Barra

Scottish identity

Compton Mackenzie's observations on the local life of the Italian islanders and foreign residents led to at least two novels, Vestal Fire (1927) and Extraordinary Women (1928). The latter, a roman à clef about a group of lesbians arriving on the island of Sirene, a fictional version of Capri,[18][19] was published in Britain in the same year as two other ground-breaking novels with lesbian themes, Virginia Woolf's love letter to Vita Sackville-West, Orlando, and Radclyffe Hall's controversial polemic, The Well of Loneliness, but Mackenzie's satire did not attract legal attention.[20] He was a friend of Axel Munthe, who built Villa San Michele, and Edwin Cerio, who later became mayor of Capri.[21]

. Romaine Brooks who was connected to [17]

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