1954: How it all began for Alistair MacLean

A SHORT-story competition run by the Glasgow Herald’s Weekend page in 1954 attracted 942 entries from as far away as India, Canada, and the United States.

Some, we observed, did not really qualify as short stories, being straightforward accounts of holidays at home or abroad, or narratives of true incidents at a conversational rather than a literary level (an assertion that was speedily challenged by one reader in a letter to the paper).

All 942 entries were read and assessed. And, once that had been done, the judges awarded the prizes.

The authors of the fourth- and third-placed entries, respectively, Henry R. Saunders, of Gartocharn, and D.R. Miller, Greenock, both received £25. The runner-up, Iris I.J.M. Gibson, of Paisley, was given £50.

The winner, who received £100, was a 30-year-old Rutherglen schoolteacher who after his war-time naval service had studied for a degree at Glasgow University. He had had short stories published in a couple of periodicals but, until The Herald contest, he had not written one for several years. His winning entry was entitled The Dileas (‘The faithful one’). His name: Alistair MacLean.

The story, about a shipwreck off the West Highlands, was published in the Saturday edition of the Herald, on March 6, 1954. “Three hours gone, Mr MacLean, three hours – and never a word of the lifeboat”, it began.

A Herald reader, Marjory Chapman, mentioned the story to her husband Ian, who worked for Collins’s Bible department. With The Herald’s assistance he contacted MacLean and, over dinner at the old Royal Restaurant, asked if he had thought of writing a novel. No, came the reply; but Chapman persisted and, at length, MacLean gave him the manuscript of a novel, HMS Ulysses. Published in October 1955, it had sold 25,000 copies by Christmas.

His next work, The Guns of Navarone, came out the following year.

A few years before his death in 1987 MacLean asked The Herald if he could have the copyright of The Dileas. It was willingly granted, in exchange for an exclusive article that he wrote for this newspaper.

Written by By Russell Leadbetter

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