P. D. James

Phyllis Dorothy James, Baroness James of Holland Park, OBE, FRSA, FRSL (3 August 1920 – 27 November 2014), known professionally as P. D. James, was an English crime writer. She rose to fame for her series of detective novels starring police commander and poet Adam Dalgliesh.[2]

Baroness James of Holland Park

James in 2013
BornPhyllis Dorothy James
(1920-08-03)3 August 1920
Oxford, England
Died27 November 2014(2014-11-27) (aged 94)
Oxford, England
GenreCrime fiction
dystopian fiction
SpouseErnest Connor Bantry White, an Army doctor (m. 1941–64, his death)
Children2 daughters, Clare (b. 1942) and Jane (b. 1944)

Life and career

James was born in Oxford, the daughter of Sidney James, a tax inspector, and educated at the British School in Ludlow and Cambridge High School for Girls.[3] 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 the Second World War, he was experiencing mental illness, and James was forced to provide for the whole family until her husband's death in 1964. With her husband in a psychiatric institution and their daughters being mostly cared for by his parents, James studied hospital administration and from 1949 to 1968 worked for a hospital board in London.[4] She began writing in the mid-1950s, using her maiden name ("My genes are James genes").[5][6]

Her first novel, Cover Her Face, featuring the investigator and poet Adam Dalgliesh of New Scotland Yard, named after a teacher at Cambridge High School, was published in 1962.[7] 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.

In 1991, James was created a life peer as Baroness James of Holland Park. She 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.[8] 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. Talking About Detective Fiction was published in 2009. Over her writing career, James also wrote many essays and short stories for periodicals and anthologies, which have yet to be collected. She revealed in 2011 that The Private Patient was the final Dalgliesh novel.[9]

As guest editor of BBC Radio 4's Today programme in December 2009, James 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."[10] In 2008, she was inducted into the International Crime Writing Hall of Fame at the inaugural ITV3 Crime Thriller Awards.[11]

In August 2014, James was one of 200 public figures who were signatories to a letter to The Guardian opposing Scottish independence in the run-up to September's referendum on that issue.[12]

James' main home was her house on Holland Park Avenue, the area from which she took her title: she also owned homes in Oxford, and Southwold.

James died at her home in Oxford on 27 November 2014, aged 94.[13] She is survived by her two daughters, Clare and Jane, five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.[14]

Film and television

During the 1980s, many of James's mystery novels were adapted for television by Anglia Television for the ITV network in the UK. These productions have been broadcast in other countries, including the US on the PBS network. They featured Roy Marsden as Adam Dalgliesh. According to James in conversation with Bill Link on 3 May 2001 at the Writer's Guild Theatre, Los Angeles, Marsden "is not my idea of Dalgliesh, but I would be very surprised if he were."[15] The BBC adapted 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 and starring Clive Owen, Julianne Moore and Michael Caine.[16] Despite substantial changes from the book, James was reportedly pleased with the adaptation and proud to be associated with the film.[17] James even has a cameo in the film's opening scene, watching the news while holding a dog.


TV and film adaptations

Adam Dalgliesh series

Other novels

Selected awards and honours


Honorary doctorates

Honorary fellowships


  • 1971 Best Novel Award, Mystery Writers of America (runner-up): Shroud for a Nightingale
  • 1972 Crime Writers' Association (CWA) Macallan Silver Dagger for Fiction: Shroud for a Nightingale[26]
  • 1973 Best Novel Award, Mystery Writers of America (runner-up): An Unsuitable Job for a Woman[23]
  • 1976 CWA Macallan Silver Dagger for Fiction: The Black Tower[27]
  • 1986 Mystery Writers of America Best Novel Award (runner-up): A Taste for Death[23]
  • 1987 CWA Macallan Silver Dagger for Fiction: A Taste for Death[28]
  • 1987 CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger (lifetime achievement award)[29]
  • 1992 Deo Gloria Award: The Children of Men[30]
  • 1992 The Best Translated Crime Fiction of the Year in Japan, Kono Mystery ga Sugoi! 1992: Devices and Desires
  • 1999 Grandmaster Award, Mystery Writers of America[23]
  • 2002 WH Smith Literary Award (shortlist): Death in Holy Orders[23]
  • 2005 British Book Awards Crime Thriller of the Year (shortlist): The Murder Room[23]
  • 2007 Theakston's Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award (longlist): The Lighthouse
  • 2010 Best Critical Nonfiction Anthony Award for Talking About Detective Fiction[23]
  • 2010 Nick Clarke Award for interview with Director-General of the BBC Mark Thompson whilst guest editor of Today radio programme.[31]
Coat of arms of P. D. James
Vert, between two oak trees eradicated Or a bend sinister wavy Argent, thereon another Azure charged with a quill pen Argent, the quill Or, a chief Azure issuant thereon a representation of Southwold Lighthouse proper.
On either side a tabby cat salient guardant Proper wearing a collar Vert, edged, buckled and studded Or, reposing the exterior paw upon an open book, the pages lettered Proper edged Or and bound Gules each upright on a set of two closed books edged Or, their spines outward, one bound Vert lying on top of the other Azure.
Gratus Erga Deum Beatitudine Vitae [32]



  1. "PD James". Front Row. 3 June 2013. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 18 January 2014.
  2. "Alphabetical List of Members", House of Lords, UK: Parliament.
  3. "Faber & Faber: P. D. James". Faber.co.uk. 22 September 2008. Retrieved 20 May 2010.
  4. Emma Brockes, The Guardian profile: P D James – "Murder She Wrote", 3 March 2001. Accessed 20 January 2013
  5. "P.D. James: About the Author P.D. James". randomhouse.com.
  6. Enright, Michael (30 December 2018) [2014]. The Sunday Edition - December 30, 2018 (Radio interview). CBC. Event occurs at 26:30.
  7. Reese, Jennifer (26 February 1998). "The Salon Interview – P.D. James – The Art of Murder". Salon. Archived from the original on 5 June 2011.
  8. "Why I am still an Anglican", Continuum, 2006, p. 16.
  9. Sarah Crown. "A life in writing: PD James". the Guardian.
  10. John Plunkett. "BBC director general Mark Thompson thrown by PD James's detective work". the Guardian.
  11. Allen, Katie (6 October 2008). "Rankin and P D James pick up ITV3 awards". theBookseller.com. Archived from the original on 9 April 2009. Retrieved 6 October 2008.
  12. "Celebrities' open letter to Scotland – full text and list of signatories | Politics". theguardian.com. 7 August 2014. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  13. "PD James, crime novelist, dies aged 94". BBC News. 27 November 2014. Retrieved 27 November 2014.
  14. Reynolds, Stanley (27 November 2014). "PD James obituary". Retrieved 27 November 2014.
  15. "P.D. James with Bill Link". Writers Bloc. 3 May 2001. Retrieved 27 November 2014.
  16. Children of Men at IMDB
  17. "P. D. James Pleased With Film Version of Children of Men". internetwritingjournal.com. 8 January 2007. Retrieved 20 May 2008.
  18. "No. 49375". The London Gazette (Supplement). 11 June 1983. p. 10.
  19. "P D James on Desert Island Discs". BBC. 27 October 2002.
  20. "No. 52448". The London Gazette. 13 February 1991. p. 2255.
  21. Reynolds, Stanley (27 November 2014). "PD James obituary". The Guardian. London.
  22. Flood, Alison (25 March 2013). "Philip Pullman to be Society of Authors' new president". The Guardian. London.
  23. "Baroness James of Holland Park P. D. James". British Council. Retrieved 27 November 2014.
  24. Stafford, Sandra (2008), "The puzzle beneath the prize", The Downing College Magazine, 19: 4–6
  25. British Council. "Baroness James of Holland Park P. D. James - British Council Literature". contemporarywriters.com.
  26. "The Dagger Awards Winners Archive – 1972". Crime Writers' Association. Retrieved 27 November 2014.
  27. "The Dagger Awards Winners Archive – 1976". Crime Writers' Association. Retrieved 27 November 2014.
  28. "The Dagger Awards Winners Archive – 1987". Crime Writers' Association. Retrieved 27 November 2014.
  29. "The Cartier Diamond Dagger". Crime Writers' Association. Archived from the original on 4 December 2014. Retrieved 27 November 2014.
  30. "Deo Gloria Book Awards". Dio Gloria Trust. Retrieved 27 November 2014.
  31. "PD James wins BBC's Nick Clarke Award for journalism". New Statesman. UK. 12 October 2010.
  32. Debrett's Peerage. 2000.

Further reading

  • Gidez, Richard B. P. D. James. Twayne's English Authors Series. New York: Twayne, 1986.
  • Hubly, Erlene. "Adam Dalgliesh: Byronic Hero." Clues: A Journal of Detection 3: 40-46.
  • Knight, Stephen. “The Golden Age.” In The Cambridge Companion to Crime Fiction ed. by Martin Priestman, pp 77–94. (Cambridge University Press, 2003).
  • Kotker, Joan G. "PD James's Adam Dalgliesh Series." in In the Beginning: First Novels in Mystery Series (1995): 139+
  • Sharkey, Jo Ann. Theology in suspense: how the detective fiction of PD James provokes theological thought. (PhD Dissertation, University of St Andrews, 2011). online; with long bibliography
  • Siebenheller, Norma. P. D. James. (New York: Ungar, 1981).
  • Smyer, Richard L. “P.D. James: Crime and the Human Condition.” Clues 3 (Spring/Summer 1982): 49-61.
  • Wood, Ralph C. “A Case for P.D. James as a Christian Novelist.” Theology Today 59.4 (January 2003): 583-595.

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