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Issue 33 - Whisky Galore

Whisky Magazine Issue 33
September 2003


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Whisky Galore

Gavin D. Smith looks at the event that inspired the world-famous whisky novel by Compton Mackenzie

Whisky Galore! The expression is familiar the world over, and conjures up images of cunning Hebrideans ‘liberating' whisky from a wrecked ship, and subsequently hiding bottles in a variety of ingenious places, including babies' cots, lobster creels, haystacks, peat bogs and even rabbit warrens around their beautiful island home.

These images come courtesy of the eponymous 1949 film, one of the most enduring of the Ealing comedies, starring Joan Greenwood, Basil Radford and Gordon Jackson. It introduced a somewhat caricatured version of the Outer Hebrides to a generation of cinema-goers and is still regularly shown on television, as well as being widely available on video.

The film was itself based on Compton Mackenzie's highly-successful humorous novel of the same name, which had been published two years earlier, and sold 33,500 hardback copies by the end of 1949. It was inspired by the real life wrecking of the SS Politician off the Hebridean island of Eriskay in February 1941.

The vessel was sailing from Liverpool to New Orleans by way of Kingston, Jamaica, carrying £3 million-worth of new Jamaican bank notes due to enter circulation, and an array of other goods needed in the West Indies or due to be sold in the USA.

Then there was the whisky.

This crucial element of the cargo was being exported partly in an attempt to raise much-needed funds to support the British war effort. It has been estimated that the spirit on board the SS Politician might have fetched up to ...

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