09 July, 2008

Sir Compton Mackenzie

Sir Edward Montague Compton Mackenzie was an English-born Scottish novelist and nationalist.

He was educated at St Paul's School and Magdalen College, Oxford where he obtained a degree in Modern History. Mackenzie was married three times and aside from his writing 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. 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.

Sir Compton Mackenzie is perhaps best known for his Hebridean comedies Whisky Galore and 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, 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.

Among his many other achievements, he was the co-founder in 1923 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, and a co-founder of the Scottish National Party. Mackenzie built a house on the Isle 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.

Such was Sir Compton Mackenzie's love of the Scottish Highlands that he is buried in Barra, where he is still very fondly remembered.

He died on November 30,1972 at the age of 88.

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