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Compton Mackenzie’s Greek Tragedy

The author of Whisky Galore played an active role in the Great War, experiencing both the horror of the Dardanelles in 1915 and the intrigues of wartime Athens. Yet his diplomatic ham-fistedness forced his premature exit. Richard Hughes explains. 

Compton Mackenzie in uniform, 1917. Getty Images/Hulton ArchiveAt the head of a flotilla of steamships the  novelist Compton Mackenzie surveyed the Aegean Sea, or at least that part of it which was his domain. ‘Then he was in his glory’, wrote his biographer, Andro Linklater. It was December 1916 and Mackenzie had, within two years, transformed himself into the leader of a highly effective espionage network that had succeeded in promoting the writ of Britain and her allies within the cauldron that was the Greek political system in the First World War. His considerable achievements were admired and distrusted in equal measure and, while now he appeared at the zenith of his authority and influence, within a year he would be sailing home to London and the literary salons from whence he had sprung.

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