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Mackenzie in 1914

Sir Edward Montague Compton Mackenzie (pronounced /ˈkʌmptən məˈkɛnzɪ/; 17 January 1883, West Hartlepool, England – 30 November 1972, Edinburgh, Scotland) was an English-born Scottish novelist and nationalist.



Compton Mackenzie was born into a theatrical family. His father, Edward Compton, was an actor and theatre company manager; his sister, Fay Compton, starred in many of James M. Barrie's plays, including Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up. His grandfather was Henry Compton, a well-known Shakespearean actor of the Victorian era. He was educated at St Paul's School and Magdalen College, Oxford where he graduated with a degree in Modern History.

Author and other accomplishments

Sir Compton Mackenzie is perhaps best known for his Hebridean comedy Whisky Galore and for Monarch of the Glen (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 (1963-1971). Of his fiction, The Four Winds Of Love is considered to be his magnum opus. It is described by interviewee Dr John MacInnes (formerly of The School of Scottish Studies) as "one of the greatest works of English literature produced in the twentieth century."

He also published the novels The Passionate Elopement in 1911, Carnival in 1912, Sinister Street in 1913/1914, Extremes Meet in 1928, Whisky Galore in 1947 and Rockets Galore in 1957.

He also worked as an actor, political activist and broadcaster. He served with British Intelligence in the Eastern Mediterranean during World War I, later publishing four books on his experiences. He was also the co-founder in 1923 (with his brother-in-law Christopher Stone) of The Gramophone, the still-influential British classical music magazine.


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 in the programme, "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, a Catholic convert (in 1914), and a co-founder of the Scottish National Party. Mackenzie built a house on the island of Barra in Scotland in the 1930s, just one of the islands in Europe where he established a temporary residence. It was on Barra that he gained much inspiration and creative solitude, and where he befriended a great number of people in the community that he described as "the aristocrats of democracy". One such friend was John MacPherson, known as "The Coddy". MacPherson's son, Neil, recalled Mackenzie as a man of huge imagination, generosity, and talent.

Private life

Grave of Compton MacKenzie, Eolaigearraidh, Barra

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

Compton Mackenzie was from 1920–1923 Tenant of Herm and Jethou and he shares many similarities to the central character in D. H. Lawrence's short story "The Man Who Loved Islands", despite Lawrence saying "the man is no more he than I am." Mackenzie at first asked Secker, who published both authors, not to print the story and it was left out of one collection.

Such was Sir Compton Mackenzie's love of the Scottish Highlands that he is buried in Barra.

Select bibliography

  • The Gentleman in Grey (1907)
  • The Passionate Elopement (1911)
  • Carnival (1912)
  • Sinister Street (1914)
  • Guy and Pauline (1915)
  • The Early Life and Adventures of Sylvia Scarlett‎ (1918), filmed in 1935 as Sylvia Scarlett
  • The Altar Steps (1922)
  • Santa Claus in Summer (1924)
  • The Old Men Of the Sea (1924)
  • Vestal Fire (1927)
  • Extraordinary Women (1928)
  • Gallipoli Memories (1929)
  • Athenian Memories (1931)
  • Greek Memories (1932)
  • Water on the Brain (1933): An absurdist spy novel parody.
  • The Monarch of the Glen (1941)
  • Wind of Freedom: The history of the invasion of Greece by the Axis powers, 1940-1941 (1944)
  • The Four Winds of Love (6 volumes 1937–45)
  • Whisky Galore (1947), filmed in 1948 as Whisky Galore!
  • Hunting the Fairies (1949)
  • The Rival Monster (1952)
  • Rockets Galore (1957), filmed in 1958 as Rockets Galore!
  • Thin Ice (1956)
  • The Lunatic Republic (1959)
  • Cats' Company (1960) with photos by Harrison Marks
  • The Stolen Soprano (1965)
  • The Stairs That Kept Going Down (1967)
  • My Life and Times (1971)

External links

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


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