John Prebble

John Prebble

John Edward Curtis Prebble, FRSL, OBE (June 23, 1915 - January 30, 2001) was an English/Canadian journalist, novelist, documentarian and historian. He is best known for his studies of Scottish history.

Early life

He was born in Edmonton, Middlesex, England, but he grew up in Saskatchewan, Canada, where his father had a brother. His parents emigrated there after World War I. Returning to England with his family, he attended Latymer's day school. He joined the Communist Party of Britain but abandoned it after World War II.


He became a journalist in 1934 and served during World War II with the Royal Artillery. His wartime experiences led to his novels, "Where the Sea Breaks" (1944), and "The Edge of Darkness", published in 1947. His Canadian prairie experience influenced two of his works, "The Buffalo Soldier" an historical novel about the American West, and "Culloden", about the famous 1745 battle which resulted in the defeat of the Jacobite uprising. The story of Culloden had been part of the family lore when he grew up in the predominantly Scottish township of Sutherland, in rural Saskatchewan. His interest in the American West was also inspired by the fact that part of his family lineage was Native American: his 1958 book, "My Great-Aunt, Appearing Day, and other stories" tells of a Native American relative. One of his first big successes was "The High Girders" (1956), a description of the Tay Bridge Disaster, involving the collapse of the first Tay rail bridge to Dundee. It has remained a popular work ever since publication.

"Fire and Sword Trilogy"

The "Fire and Sword Trilogy" is about the fall of the clan system in Scotland. "Culloden" was the first book and it chronicles the defeat of the clans by the British in one pivotal battle. The two other works were "The Highland Clearances" (1963) and "Glencoe" (1966). "Glencoe" was a study of the causes and effects of the Glencoe massacre in 1692. His later works, "Mutiny" (1975) and "The King's Jaunt" (1988) would extend the theme. "The Highland Clearances" remains his best known work perhaps because the subject of the Highland clearances as a discrete historical event remains a subject of debate.

Prebble makes a strong case that there was a conscious effort to remove Highlanders and Islanders from Scotland. Others dispute that it was purely economic and social factors which led to the population decline in rural Scotland. The Historiographer Royal in Scotland Gordon Donaldson was particularly cutting in his criticism and declared Prebble's books to be "utter rubbish" . [cite web| url =| title ="The Independent" Obituary| accessdate =2006-06-14] . Prebble followed this series with other titles on Scottish history and other subjects.

Other media

He wrote the article on which the film "Zulu" (1964) was based, and co-wrote the screenplay with the director, Cy Endfield. He also wrote radio dramas and documentaries for the BBC. They were usually, but not always, based on his published works. For example, in 1977, he wrote an adaptation of John Buchan's "The Three Hostages". [cite web| url =| title =Richard Hannay in The Thirty Nine Steps by John Buchan on BBC Radio & in other media| accessdate =2006-06-14]


He was married to the artist Betty (Golby) Prebble. He had a daughter, Sarah Prebble, and two sons Jolyon and Simon, an actor and narrator Simon Prebble. His first wife died in 1993 and he was remarried to Jan Reid in 1994.

Publications include


* "Where the Sea Breaks", Secker & Warburg, 1944
* "Edge of Darkness", Secker and Warburg, 1947
* "Age without Pity", Secker & Warburg, 1950
* "The Brute Streets", Secker & Warburg, 1954
* "The Mather Story", Secker & Warburg, 1954
* "My Great-Aunt, Appearing Day, And Other Stories", Secker and Warburg, 1958
* "The Buffalo Soldier", New York Harcourt, Brace & Company, 1959
* "Spanish Stirrup, and other stories", Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1973


* "Disaster at Dundee", Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1956 (also published as "High Girders: The Tay Bridge Disaster, 1879", Secker and Warburg, 1975)
* "Culloden", Atheneum, 1962
* "The Highland Clearances", Secker & Warburg, 1963
* "Glencoe: The Story of the Massacre", Secker & Warburg, 1966
* "The Lion in the North: A Personal View of Scotland's History", Penguin Books, 1973, ISBN 0-14-003652-0
* "Darien: The Scottish Dream of Empire" (also published as "Darien: A Scots Colony in the New World, 1698-1700"), 1968
* "Mutiny: Highland Regiments in Revolt, 1743-1804", 1975, ISBN 0-14-004328-4
* "The King's Jaunt: George IV in Scotland, August, 1822,", Birlinn Limited, Edinburgh, 2000, ISBN 1-84158-068-6 (originally published in 1988)

Other books

* "Elephants and Ivory: True Tales of Hunting and Adventure", John Alfred Jordan (as told to John Prebble); also published as "Mongaso Man Who Is Always Moving: The Story of an African Hunter John Alfred Jordan" (1956)
* "John Prebble's Scotland", Secker & Warburg, 1984, ISBN 0-436-38634-8
* "Landscapes and Memories, An Intermittent Autobiography", Harper Collins, London, 1993 ISBN 0-00-215184-7


* Culloden, BBC documentary, 1964 written by John Prebble and directed by Peter Watkins [cite web| url =| title =Peter Watkins films - "Culloden"| accessdate =2006-06-14] .
* "Zulu", screenplay

Honours and awards

*FRSL (1963)
*OBE (1998)


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