John Quigley: Whisky novelist

The Arts
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john_quigleyA GRAPHIC picture of Helensburgh and Garelochside in its more genteel days over a century earlier was painted in two successful novels in the 1970s.

The large mansions, the servants, the steamers racing each other in the Gareloch for pier cargoes, the carriages at Helensburgh Central Station were all vividly portrayed and formed the setting for much of the action in ‘King’s Royal’ and its sequel ‘Queen’s Royal’.

They were both written in his Garelochhead home by former newspaperman turned author John Quigley, who also owned a pub in Glasgow, and both he and the books achieved nationwide prominence when BBC TV turned ‘King’s Royal’ into two drama series.

John, a friend of Helensburgh Advertiser founder Craig M.Jeffrey and a regular visitor to the then East King Street office and printworks, lived at Glenald in the village for nine years from June 1965.

An employee of Beaverbrook Newspapers, publishers of the Scottish Daily Express, in Glasgow for 17 years, he was fascinated by the whisky industry from the day he was sent as a young reporter to interview a leading distiller.

He left the newspaper business in 1963 when his first novel, ‘To Remember With Tears’, was published.

Although he always wanted to write a book about whisky, his early novels, ‘To Remember With Tears’, ‘The Bitter Lollipop’, and ‘The Secret Soldier’ — the first to be written in Garelochhead — were on other subjects.

It was in 1970 that his ambition was realised with the publication of ‘The Golden Stream’. His next book in 1972 was ‘The African Violet’, written in only six days and six nights. It featured Uganda but also had connections with the whisky industry.

But his major international success was ‘King’s Royal’, published in 1977, set in Victorian Glasgow and in the Helensburgh area, and the story focused on the King family of whisky distillers, from the humble beginnings of their business to their pinnacle of affluence and prestige.

Alas, the family was doomed to disintegration because of a deadly feud between two ruthless cousins, not to mention the sexual peccadilloes of the other members of the clan.

The BBC made it into a TV series, starring Tom Bell in the title role, which made its BBC debut on January 10 1982 and unfolded over ten 50-minute instalments.

The producer was Geraint Morris, who also produced the highly popular “The Onedin Line’. Series two in 1983 had eight episodes, and for both much of the filming was done in the Loch Lomond area.

In the next book, ‘Queen’s Royal’, John followed the fortunes of the King dynasty into the period of Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee. By now he was a director of a whisky exporting company and a liquor manufacturing company, and he used his long experience in the business to provide a fascinating picture of the inside operation of a great whisky manufacturer.

John, who was born in Glasgow in 1925, and his wife Betty moved to Killearn in the summer of 1974 to be nearer the city and his business interests.

But he said at the time: “Since ‘King’s Royal’ is only the first instalment, I’ll be back and forward to Helensburgh and the Gareloch for a long time to come for background and research.”

In March 1979 he received the Frederick Niven Award and a cheque for £500 from the Scottish Pen Club’s honorary president, fellow novelist Nigel Tranter, for ‘King’s Royal’. By then he had moved to Aberfoyle, but still owned the Smugglers Inn in Dumbarton Road, Glasgow.