P.D. James Biography
Phyllis Dorothy James, Baroness James of Holland Park OBE, better known as P. D.
James, was born on August 3 1920 in Oxford, the eldest daughter of an Inland
Revenue Official. The family moved first to Wales and then, when she was
11, to Cambridge where she
attended the Cambridge High School for Girls. Due to financial pressures
at home she left school when she was 16, first following her father into the tax
office, then working in a theatre where she met her husband, Ernest Connor
Bantry White, who was training to be a doctor.
They married in 1941 and had two daughters during the war years - she named her
second daughter after her favorite author, Jane Austen. Connor was sent to
India during World War II with the Royal Army Medical Corps and returned
mentally disabled. He was repeatedly hospitalized and finally institutionalized,
before he passed away in 1964.
Taking on the financial responsibility for the family, James (who had been a
nurse during the war) found work as a hospital clerk and through sheer
persistence and intelligence worked her way up to principal hospital
administrator at the North West Regional Hospital Board, London, in charge of
five psychiatric hospitals. She wrote her first novel, Cover Her Face
(the first in the Adam Dalgliesh series) on the train to and from work; it was
published in 1962. In 1968, she became a principal in the criminal policy
department of the British Home Office, where she worked until she was able to
retire in 1979 to write full-time.
She was a Governor for the BBC (1988-93), and Chairman of the Literature
Advisory Panel at both the Arts Council of England (1988-92) and the British
Council (1988-93). She was awarded the OBE in
1983 and created a Life Peer (Baroness James of Holland Park) in 1991.
She sits in the House of Lords (the upper house of the Parliament of the United
Kingdom, comparable to the US Senate) as a Conservative. She is also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and a Fellow of the
Royal Society of Arts. She chaired the Booker Prize Panel of Judges in 1987
and was President of the Society of Authors from 1997 to August 2013. The President of the Society, a position first held by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, is considered the "ultimate honour" awarded by the British writers body. Baroness James has also
received honorary degrees from many universities including Downing College,
Cambridge; St Hilda's College, Oxford and Girton College, Cambridge.
She has been awarded major prizes for her crime writing in Great
Britain, America, Italy and Scandinavia. In 1999 she received the Mystery
Writers of America Grandmaster Award for long term achievement. She is published
widely overseas including the USA, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Japan,
Holland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Portugal, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and
She says that her influences include Dorothy L.
Sayers, Graham Greene and
Evelyn Waugh, but that her favorite novelist is Jane Austen ("an absolute
mistress of construction").
She is the author of more than 20 books, most of which have been adapted for TV.
Her autobiography, Time To Be In Earnest: A Fragment of Autobiography,
was published in 2000. In 2011 she commented that The Private Patient (2008) would be the final Dalgliesh novel.
This biography was last updated on 07/22/2013.
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