P.D. James OBE FRSA FRSL (Baroness James of Holland Park)

Prolific English Crime Novelist P.D.James OBE, FRSA, FRSL (Baroness James of Holland Park), sadly died at her home in Oxford on 27 November 2014, aged 94. Born 3 August 1920 in Oxford. She was educated at the British School in Ludlow and Cambridge High School for Girls. She had to leave school at the age of sixteen to work because her family did not have much money and her father did not believe in higher education for girls. She worked in a tax office for three years and later found a job as an assistant stage manager for a theatre group. In 1941, she married Ernest Connor Bantry White, an army doctor. They had two daughters, Clare and Jane. When White returned from World War II, he was badly affected by Post traumatic stress disorder, and James was forced to provide for the whole family until her husband’s death in 1964. James studied hospital administration and from 1949 to 1968 worked for a hospital board in London.

She began writing in the mid-1950s. Her first novel, Cover Her Face, featuring investigator and poet Adam Dalgliesh of New Scotland Yard, (named after a teacher at Cambridge High School), was published in 1962.Many of James’s mystery novels take place against the backdrop of UK bureaucracies, such as the criminal justice system and the National Health Service, in which she worked for decades starting in the 1940s. Two years after the publication of Cover Her Face, James’s husband died, and she took a position as a civil servant within the criminal section of the Home Office. She worked in government service until her retirement in 1979. The final Dalgleish novel was The Private Patient.

In 1991, James was made a life peer as Baroness James of Holland Park and sat in the House of Lords as a Conservative. She was an Anglican and a lay patron of the Prayer Book Society. Her 2001 work, Death in Holy Orders, displays her familiarity with the inner workings of church hierarchy. Her later novels were often set in a community closed in some way, such as a publishing house or barristers’ chambers, a theological college, an island or a private clinic.

She was also guest editor of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme in December 2009 and conducted an interview with the Director General of the BBC, Mark Thompson, in which she seemed critical of some of his decisions. Regular Today presenter Evan Davis commented that “She shouldn’t be guest editing; she should be permanently presenting the programme. In 2008, she was inducted into the International Crime Writing Hall of Fame at the inaugural ITV3 Crime Thriller Awards. James was also one of 200 public figures who were signatories to a letter opposing Scottish independence during the run up to the referendum. She is survived by her two daughters, Clare and Jane, five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

Many of James’s mystery novels have also been adapted for television Featuring Roy Marsden as Adam Dalgliesh including Death in Holy Orders in 2003, and The Murder Room in 2004, both as one-off dramas starring Martin Shaw as Dalgliesh. Her novel The Children of Men (1992) was the basis for the feature film Children of Men (2006), directed by Alfonso Cuarón which starred Clive Owen, Julianne Moore and Michael Caine.

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