George Macdonald Fraser, who died on Wednesday aged 82, revived in a long-running series of novels the career of one of fiction's most infamous characters, Flashman.
The fag-roasting bully of Tom Brown's Schooldays, Thomas Hughes's 1857 tribute to Dr Arnold's Rugby, was last seen being expelled for drunkenness. Age had not improved him. Fraser's appropriation in 1969, Flashman, joyously confirmed him as a thoroughgoing rotter and cad of the first water.
The book and its 11 sequels purported to be the memoirs of General Sir Harry Flashman, VC, discovered in a saleroom at Ashby-de-la-Zouch and entrusted to Fraser for editing.
This device allowed Fraser to pilot Flashman through a picaresque series of encounters with some of the choicest episodes of Victorian history. Thus, the first novel took as its background the First Afghan War - for Flashman an odyssey of self-preservation justified by his being the sole survivor of the Retreat from Kabul.
In Royal Flash (1970), which was later made into a film, he floundered his way through the Schleswig-Holstein Question, engaging Bismarck in fisticuffs and dallying with Lola Montez. Flashman at the Charge (1973) saw him accidentally lead the Light Brigade into the "Valley of Death".
So successfully did Fraser bring off the conceit that some critics, especially in America, believed the memoirs to be authentic. A debate ensued in the New York Times, and Flashman's concocted curriculum vitae found its way into works of biographical reference.
Yet Fraser had initially struggled to find a publisher. By profession a journalist, he had started to write the first book in the small hours after work, but had abandoned the project on breaking his arm. His wife, however, read the unfinished manuscript and persuaded him to complete it.
For two years he received rejections from publishers, with one American house adding that Flashman was the wrong name for the character. The book was finally accepted by the small firm of Barrie and Jenkins.
Although some critics saw the series as a satire on Victorian morality, its continued popular success was due to Fraser's ability to make learning history enjoyable.
The richly comic narrative moved with a military dash worthy of Anthony Hope or Rafael Sabatini while spoofing the wholesome sensibilities of the heroes of Buchan and Henty.
Though later installments perhaps strove for effect, with some critics tiring of Flashman's priapism and finding him braver than of old, the broad comedy was always underpinned by Fraser's meticulous research.
On Desert Island Discs he chose to take with him the Oxford English Dictionary, and he rightly prided himself on his command of 19th-century trivia and slang, often drawn from contemporary issues of Punch.
Fraser's Lord Cardigan, with his Cavalry drawl ("Fwashman's wife? Her father is a Gwasgow weaver"), might have stepped straight out of Thackeray's Book of Snobs.
George MacDonald Fraser was born at Carlisle on April 2 1925. His father was a doctor, his mother a nurse. George was educated at Carlisle Grammar School and Glasgow Academy, where his performance as Laertes was distinguished by his unscripted defeat of Hamlet in the pair's duel.
In 1943 he joined the Border Regiment and served as an infantryman in North Africa and with the "Forgotten" Fourteenth Army in Burma. He was eventually commissioned in the Gordon Highlanders.
Some of his finest writing is contained in his graphic recollections of his Burma service, Quartered Safe Out Here (1992), in which the affectionate portrait of his Cumbrian comrades demonstrated his keen eye for character and acute ear for dialogue. John Keegan, in The Sunday Telegraph, justly called it "one of the great personal memoirs of World War II".
On leaving the Army in 1947 Fraser worked as a reporter on the Carlisle Journal, where he met his wife, Kathleen. After they married they emigrated to Canada, where Fraser briefly sold encyclopedias and lasted three hours working for the Canadian Pacific Railway before the pair got jobs on the Regina Leader-Post in Saskatchewan.
The couple returned home after a year and Fraser became a sub-editor for the Glasgow Herald in 1953. He was later its features editor, and finally deputy editor from 1964 to 1969.
Fraser wrote a number of other books, notably a series of comic novels that drew on his time in the Gordon Highlanders and centered on Private John McAuslan, "the dirtiest soldier in the world".
He wrote a scholarly and well-received history of the Anglo-Scottish Border Reivers, The Steel Bonnets (1971), and several historical novels. These included a boisterous romp, The Pyrates (1983), and The Candlemass Road (1993), an Elizabethan adventure set in Fraser's beloved Border country.
He also wrote several screenplays, mainly for historical flummery like Richard Lester's Musketeers films and The Prince and the Pauper, as well as for the James Bond film Octopussy.
A short, heavily-built man, Fraser held unashamedly reactionary views on law and order. He was particularly firm in his conviction that the use of the atomic bomb at Hiroshima was justified, believing that among the lives it had saved had been his own.
Nor did he have much time for fashionable attitudes about the emotional delicacy of soldiers and their need for counseling.
His experience, in what he acknowledged was another age, was that war was a job that needed to be done, one accomplished by his generation without relish but with a common sense and resolve since vanished from the public spirit.
He aired his views in Quartered Safe Out Here and was touched when many young people wrote to agree with his sentiments.
Fraser moved to the Isle of Man for tax reasons in 1970, but despite the wealth Flashman brought him lived in modest style. One concession to his success was to exchange his half-size billiard table for one of full length.
He was appointed OBE in 1999.
In 2002 Fraser published a book of reminiscences, The Light's on at Signpost; and the last in the Flashman series - Flashman on the March - appeared in 2005.
Last year he brought out a novel set in Elizabethan England, The Reavers.
George MacDonald Fraser married Kathleen Hetherington in 1949. They had two sons and a daughter.