Alec Waugh was born in Hampstead, London, and educated at Sherborne School, a public school in Dorset, and at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. While only 17, he wrote The Loom of Youth (1917), a novel about public school life that created a considerable stir and was responsible for his brother Evelyn's being sent to Lancing rather than following him to Sherborne.
The Loom of Youth was so controversial at the time (it mentioned homosexual relationships between boys, albeit in a very understated, staid fashion) that Waugh remains the only former pupil to be dismissed from the former students society (The Old Shirburnian Society). It was also a best seller. The Society's website gives a different version: Alec and his father resigned and were not reinstated until 1933, while Evelyn went to a different school. In the mid-1960s Alec donated the original manuscript, press clippings and correspondence with the publisher to the Society.
Waugh served in the army in France in the First World War, being commissioned in the Dorset Regiment in May 1917, and seeing action at Passchendaele. Captured by the Germans near Arras in March 1918, Waugh spent the rest of the war in prisoner-of-war camps in Karlsruhe and in the Mainz Citadel.
He later had a career as a successful author, although never as successful or innovative as his younger brother. He lived much of his life overseas, in exotic places such as Tangier - a lifestyle made possible by his second marriage to a rich Australian, Joan Chirnside. He married three times, the last to U.S. novelist and prize-winning children's author Virginia Sorenson.
His work, possibly in consequence, tends to be reminiscent of W. Somerset Maugham, although without Maugham's huge popular success. Nevertheless, his 1955 novel Island in the Sun was a best-seller. It was filmed in 1957 with the same title, securing from Hollywood the greatest amount ever paid for the use of a novel to that time. His 1973 novel A Fatal Gift was also a success.
Alec Waugh was the author of In Praise of Wine & Certain Noble Spirits (1959), an amusing and discursive guide to the major wine types, and Wines and Spirits , a 1968 book of the Time-Life series Foods of the World . This was not an unfamiliar topic as he was a noted connoisseur.
Waugh also merits a mention in the history of reggae music. The success of the movie adaptation of Island in the Sun and the Harry Belafonte title track provided inspiration as well as the name for the successful Island Records record label.
Alec Waugh died in Tampa, Florida.