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Novelist Alistair MacLean Dies at 64

February 2, 1987 GMT

MUNICH, West Germany (AP) _ British novelist Alistair MacLean, whose popular thrillers of war and adventure included ″The Guns of Navarone″ and ″Ice Station Zebra,″ died Monday in a Munich hospital. He was 64.

William Collins and Sons, the writer’s publisher in London, said MacLean suffered a stroke three weeks ago while visiting a friend in Munich and died in a hospital of heart failure.

MacLean wrote 29 books, beginning with ″HMS Ulysses,″ based on his five years of wartime sea duty with the Royal Navy. His novels sold in the millions of copies and many were made into films, including ″Where Eagles Dare,″ ″Breakheart Pass,″ ″When Eight Bells Toll,″ ″Puppet On a Chain,″ and ″The Guns of Navarone.″

Although he was one of Britain’s bestselling writers, he once said: ″I’m not a novelist, I’m a storyteller... There’s no art in what I do, no mystique. It’s a job like any other.″

He allowed, however, ″I’m good at my job.″

″No, I’m very good at my job. I’m a thorough professional,″ MacLean told interviewer Barry Norman in 1971 at his home in Geneva.

In a 1985 interview, he said, ″All I do is write simple stories. There is enough real violence in the world without my adding to it.″

MacLean wrote ″HMS Ulysses″ in spare evenings over a three-month period in 1955. The book sold 250,000 hardback copies in six months.

A year later, he wrote ″The Guns of Navarone,″ drawing from his World War II experiences in the Aegean Sea aboard the warship Royalist. The book sold 400,000 copies in six months.

″The Guns of Navarone″ tells the tale of a Allied commando force that slips onto a Nazi-occupied Greek island and blows up a clifftop artillery base. The guns guarded sea approaches to an area being approached by Allied forces.

The novel was made into a successful motion picture starring Anthony Quinn and Gregory Peck.

MacLean also wrote ″South by Java Head″ (1958), ″Night without End″ (1960), ″Fear is the Key (1961), and ″Where Eagles Dare″ (1967). His later works include ″Goodbye, California″ (1977) and ″Athabasca″ (1980).

By 1973, MacLean’s works had sold more than 24 million copies.

Besides turning out a string of best-sellers, MacLean was much sought after by film producers and directors.


″I’m an extraordinarily ordinary man,″ he once said, adding that he didn’t consider himself a natural writer.

″The plotting, yes, I enjoy that. But the writing is a pain. . .. Putting it all down on paper is boring. I try to get it over as quickly as I can.″

Hearing himself described once as a jetsetter, he joshed, ″My idea of a big day out is to go to the local cafe and play table-football with my sons.″

He lived in Geneva many years and regularly visited Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia. Twice married, he leaves three sons,Lachlan, Michael and Alistair.

MacLean was born in 1922 in Daviot in the Scottish highlands. He joined the Royal Navy in 1941 and spent five years on convoy escorts.

After the war, he graduated with honors in English from Glasgow University and became an English teacher at Gallow Flat School near Glasgow.

He wrote short stories in his spare time, and won a newspaper competition with one of them. Ian Chapman, who worked for Collins, spotted the story and encouraged MacLean to write a book.

Chapman said Monday in London: ″We will miss him terribly. As an adventure-thriller writer, his loss is a great one, but thank heavens he has left us such a marvelous legacy - wonderful escapist adventure stories.″