SAS: Rogue Heroes: Who was Paddy Mayne and how did he die?

His life outside the SAS was both interesting and tragic

Jack O/Connell as Paddy Mayne in SAS: Rogue Heroes, and the real Paddy Mayne
(Image credit: Robert Viglasky/BBC/Twitter/Future)

His life in the SAS has been reimagined for TV in SAS: Rogue Heroes - but who was Paddy Mayne outside of the famed regiment, and how did he die? 

Television shows based on real events can ignite hours of internet searching - about the events themselves, and the people behind the action. Steven Knight’s historical drama SAS: Rogue Heroes, is no different. Based on a book of the same name by Ben Macintyre, the show has caused a surge of interest in the founding members of the SAS and their lives outside of the regiment. Lieutenant Colonel Robert Blair "Paddy" Mayne is one of the real life characters under focus in the series. The British Army officer had many talents, and was one of the British Army's most highly decorated soldiers. He was also followed by controversy - read on to find out who Paddy Mayne was, and what happened to him when he left the SAS. 

The SAS: Rogue Heroes release date (opens in new tab) was hotly anticipated, and now the show has landed viewers can't wait to wade through the available episodes. With a lot of hot and dusty backdrops, SAS: Rogue Heroes filmed (opens in new tab) across a variety of settings to achieve authenticity. We have the full lowdown of exactly where filming took place - some locations are surprising. For more history coming to life, The Crown cast (opens in new tab) members for season 5 have all been announced. We have a handy guide to the cast of all seasons from 1 through to 5, for those wanting a recap before the new series lands.   

Who was Paddy Mayne in SAS: Rogue Heroes?

Robert Blair Mayne was born in Newtownards, County Down, Ireland in 1915. He was the 6th child of 7 born in a Protestant family, and was always known as “Paddy”.

Mayne attended Regent House Grammar School, where his talent for rugby became evident early on - he also played cricket and golf, and was part of a rifle club. Once he left school, he chose to study law at Queen's University of Belfast, with the aim of becoming a solicitor. While at university he was a keen boxer, and was the Irish Universities Heavyweight Champion in August 1936. 

By 1937, Mayne was playing rugby for Ireland, playing his first match for the team against Wales. By 1938, he was selected for the British Lions tour to South Africa - once back from South Africa, he joined the Malone RFC in Belfast. When Mayne graduated University in 1939, he continued to play rugby for Ireland, alongside his job as a solicitor at Maclaine & Co in Belfast. Both his legal and sporting careers were put on hold when the Second World War broke out, and he was posted away to fight.

He was 24-years-old when the war began, and joined the Royal Ulster Rifles in 1940. In 1941, he was recruited to join the newly formed Special Service Brigade, receiving the Distinguished Service Order for a raid behind enemy lines in Libya. He was made commander of the newly formed 1st SAS Regiment, and promoted to lieutenant colonel in 1944.  He was recommended for the Victoria Cross in a commendation signed by Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery - he was controversially denied the accolade. 

Why was Paddy Mayne denied the Victoria Cross?

It is unknown why the decision was made to deny Paddy Mayne the Victoria Cross, and a controversy that remains ongoing to this day. 

According to Den of Geek (opens in new tab), there is speculation Mayne’s reputation as a troublemaker could be to blame - he was prone to regular outbursts of violence, especially after drinking. Other sources have argued that downgrading a Victoria Cross to a fourth DSO was standard practice, and Mayne was not the only soldier this happened to. 

The  injustice surrounding the denial of the award was raised as an Early Day Motion before the House of Commons in 2005, and over 100 MPs signed it. King George IV was even quoted in it, who reportedly was open in expressing his surprise that Mayne was downgraded from the Victoria Cross. The government ignored the call to reinstate Mayne with the award, which has again come to the forefront of the public's minds with the release of SAS: Rogue heroes.  

Mayne's tough and hard drinking image shouldn't be all he is remembered for. He was passionate about poetry, always carrying the poetry book Other Men’s Flowers into battle. When his best friend Eoin McGonigal was killed in action, Paddy gave up his leave to search for his friend's grave. This put him in considerable danger - once found, he penned a heartfelt letter to Eoin’s mother offering condolences. It is argued that this side of Mayne's personality isn't depicted on the show and is not publicly known as much as his drinking and anger issues.

Cast sat in a military vehicle for SAS Rogue Heroes

(Image credit: BBC)

Was Paddy Mayne Gay?

Paddy Mayne didn't ever confirm his sexuality, and rumours he was gay appear to be speculation arising from authors and historians that has never been substantiated.

According to the Irish Post (opens in new tab), Eoin McGonigal was Mayne’s best friend and possibly his only confidante. Accompanied by Mayne's shyness around women and drunken outbursts, historians have questioned the relationship between the pair. Some believed Mayne managed his feeling with alcohol, because he was a repressed homosexual. 

Author Martin Dillon was one of the first to question Mayne's sexuality. He told the Belfast Telegraph (opens in new tab) "Raising questions about his personal life, and conflicted sexuality, were not intended to besmirch his reputation. As I pointed out, there was no evidence he was a practicing homosexual, but I raised questions about his sexuality, as did some of those who served with him."

He added "Sometimes, questions encourage us to look deeper into the personal behaviour of our heroes, in order to better understand what motivated or shaped them. If Blair Mayne hid aspects of his sexuality, it does not erode my respect for him, and his crucial role in the Second World War."

However, biographer Hamish Ross points out that with no evidence at all, it is unfair to make such a claim about Mayne's life. He argued Mayne was a deeply private and misunderstood person, devastated by the loss of his best friend. Because he dealt with his grief differently, Ross asks that speculation regarding his sexuality be left out of the discussion.  

How did Paddy Mayne die?

Paddy Mayne died in a car crash on Tuesday December 13, 1955. When the war came to an end, he returned to his hometown of Newtownards and resumed his work as a solicitor. He also became Secretary of the Law Society of Northern Ireland.

He was unable to begin playing rugby or any other sport on his return, due to a severe back injury sustained during the war. On the night he died, Mayne had been drinking heavily at a Masonic Lodge with a friend in nearby Bangor.  He drove home in the early hours, and was found dead at 4am in his Riley roadster. It was reported that he collided with a farm vehicle.

Alfie Allen as Jock Lewes, Connor Swindells as David Stirling and Jack O'Connell as Paddy Mayne in SAS: Rogue Heroes

(Image credit: BBC/Kudos/Robert Viglasky)

Where is Paddy Mayne buried?

Paddy Mayne is buried in the Mayne Family burial plot at Movilla Cemetery, Newtownards.

His funeral funeral drew hundreds of mourners to pay their respects. Following his death his masonic jewel was kept by an old schoolfriend before being given to Newtownards Borough Council - it is now displayed in the Mayoral Chamber of the Council Offices. 

A bronze statue of Mayne has been erected in Conway Square, Newtownards in 1997. A bypass constructed around the town was also named in his honour. In 2003 a temporary British Army base in Kuwait, was named Camp Blair Mayne after him. 

See more

Paddy Mayne: Book

A total of 7 books have been written about, or including, Paddy Mayne. 

  • Colonel Paddy by Patrick Marrinan (1960)
  • Rogue Warrior of the SAS: the Blair Mayne legend by Roy Bradford and Martin Dillon (1989, updated 2003)
  • Paddy Mayne by Hamish Ross (2004) 
  • Stirling's Men: the inside history of the SAS in World War Two, by Gavin Mortimer (2004)
  • The Regiment by Michael Asher (2007)
  • SAS: The History of the Special Raiding Squadron: Paddy's Men by Stewart McClean (2006)
  • Legendary Warrior of the SAS by John O'Neill (2012)

Jack O'Connell as Paddy Mayne and Connor Swindells as David Stirling in SAS: Rogue Heroes

(Image credit: BBC/Kudos/Rory Mulvey)

Is Tom Hardy playing Paddy Mayne?

Jack O'Connell plays Paddy Mayne in SAS: Rogue Heroes, but Tom Hardy was originally reported to be taking the role, which was incorrect. 

Hardy was never slated for the role, which was always going to be O'Connell's. Series writer Steven Knight told The Times (opens in new tab) the show would highlight the psychology of the men behind it. 

He said "This will be a secret history telling the story of exceptional soldiers who decided battles and won wars only to then disappear back into the shadows. We will shine a light on remarkable true events informed by the people who shaped them".

Related BBC Features:

Video of the Week