Polly (the true story behind whisky galore)
Roger Hutchinson – Mainstream publishing. 1990. 143 pages. No index or glossary but does have a bibliography and monochrome illustrations.
For those who do not know ‘Whisky Galore’ was a book written by Compton Mackenzie about a ship that ran aground off the coast of the outer Hebrides. The residents of the local island then ‘rescued’ the cargo of whisky and hid it from the Police and excise officers. This was then made into a famous film by the Ealing Studios and into a number of stage plays. The story is based on a true story and this is the book about that.
I once read a review of this book that said it was ‘boring’. Let me put that straight – this is not a boring book. However, if one is expecting to find a book full of humour and laughs then this is not the book for you. This is the true story. It is well researched and it is methodical in its presentation. ‘Polly’ is the nickname of the ship the SS Politician on which Compton Mackenzie based his ship, the SS Cabinet Minister, on. The book is about this ship and as such it informs the reader about the ships history and form etc. It also describes the situation that the ship was in during a period of world war as well as explaining why the journey and cargo was important – not just whisky but other goods as well as crisp new Jamaican money.
The book is not just about the ship, it is primarily about the events that inspired ‘Whisky Galore’ and as such there is detail about the islands, the residents and their history as well as the politics and people that were also to be involved. It gives insight into the troubles and betrayals that had to be suffered. Far from the comedy of ‘Whisky Galore’ this is a story of drama and, at times, hostility. It is a story of over zealous intervention and human suffering – tempered by others humility and proportion.
The book does also have a section about how the film was made, which itself is interesting. It does not, however, make the most of describing Compton Mackenzie’s life which I am sure would have been an interesting addition.
Well worth a read even if one is not interested in ‘Whisky Galore’ as it is an interesting illumination into island life, history and culture.