P. D. James

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The Right Honourable
The Baroness James of Holland Park
PD James Cologne.JPG
Born Phyllis Dorothy James
(1920-08-03) 3 August 1920 (age 94)
Oxford, England
Occupation Novelist
Nationality British
Genre Crime fiction
Dystopian fiction
Spouse Dr. Ernest Connor Bantry White, an Army doctor (m. 1941–1964, his death)
Children 2 daughters, Claire, (b. 1942) and Jane, (b. 1944)
from the BBC programme Front Row, 3 June 2013.[1]

Phyllis Dorothy James, Baroness James of Holland Park, OBE, FRSA, FRSL (born 3 August 1920), usually known as P. D. James, is an English crime writer and a life peer in the House of Lords. She rose to fame for her series of detective novels starring policeman and poet Adam Dalgliesh.[2]

Life and career[edit]

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]

James 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. James 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 have two daughters, Claire and Jane.

When White returned from the Second World War, he was suffering from mental illness and James was forced to provide for the whole family until her husband's death in 1964. With White 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]

James began writing in the mid-1950s.[5] 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.[6] Many of James's mystery novels take place against the backdrop of the UK's bureaucracies, such as the criminal justice system and the National Health Service, in which James 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. James worked in government service until her retirement in 1979.

In 1991, she was made a life member of the House of Lords, where she sits for the Conservative Party.

James is 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 .[7] Her later novels are 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 has also written 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.[8]

As guest editor of BBC Radio 4's Today programme in December 2009, James conducted an interview of BBC Director General 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".[9] In 2008, she was inducted into the International Crime Writing Hall of Fame at the inaugural ITV3 Crime Thriller Awards.[10]

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.[11]

Film and television[edit]

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 USA on its PBS network. These productions featured Roy Marsden as Adam Dalgliesh. According to P.D. James in conversation with Bill Link on 3 May 2001 at the Writer's Guild Theatre, Los Angeles, Roy Marsden "...is not my idea of Dalgliesh, but I would be very surprised if he were." The BBC has 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.[12] Despite substantial changes from the book, James was reportedly pleased with the adaptation and proud to be associated with the film.[13]



Adam Dalgliesh mysteries

  1. Cover Her Face (1962)
  2. A Mind to Murder (1963)
  3. Unnatural Causes (1967)
  4. Shroud for a Nightingale (1971)
  5. The Black Tower (1975)
  6. Death of an Expert Witness (1977)
  7. A Taste for Death (1986)
  8. Devices and Desires (1989)
  9. Original Sin (1994)
  10. A Certain Justice (1997)
  11. Death in Holy Orders (2001)
  12. The Murder Room (2003)
  13. The Lighthouse (2005)
  14. The Private Patient (2008)

Cordelia Gray mysteries

Miscellaneous novels

Omnibus editions

  • Crime Times Three (1979), later reprinted as Three Complete Novels (1988), comprising Cover Her Face, A Mind to Murder, and Shroud for a Nightingale
  • Murder in Triplicate (1980), later reprinted as In Murderous Company (1988), comprising Unnatural Causes, An Unsuitable Job for a Woman, and The Black Tower
  • Trilogy of Death (1984), comprising Innocent Blood, An Unsuitable Job for a Woman, and The Skull Beneath the Skin
  • A Dalgliesh Trilogy (1989), comprising Shroud for a Nightingale, The Black Tower, and Death of an Expert Witness
  • A Second Dalgliesh Trilogy (1993), comprising A Mind to Murder, A Taste for Death, and Devices and Desires
  • An Adam Dalgliesh Omnibus (2008), comprising A Taste for Death, Devices and Desires, and Original Sin


TV and film adaptations[edit]

Selected awards and honours[edit]


Honorary Doctorates

Honorary Fellowships



  • 1971 Best Novel Award, Mystery Writers of America (runner-up): Shroud for a Nightingale
  • 1971 Crime Writers' Association (CWA) Macallan Silver Dagger for Fiction: Shroud for a Nightingale
  • 1973 Best Novel Award, Mystery Writers of America (runner-up): An Unsuitable Job for a Woman
  • 1975 CWA Macallan Silver Dagger for Fiction: The Black Tower
  • 1986 CWA Macallan Silver Dagger for Fiction: A Taste for Death
  • 1986 Mystery Writers of America Best Novel Award (runner-up): A Taste for Death
  • 1987 CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger (lifetime achievement award)
  • 1992 Deo Gloria Award: The Children of Men
  • 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
  • 2002 WH Smith Literary Award (shortlist): Death in Holy Orders
  • 2005 British Book Awards Crime Thriller of the Year (shortlist): The Murder Room
  • 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
  • 2010 Nick Clarke Award for interview with Director-General of the BBC Mark Thompson whilst guest editor of the Today programme[17]


  • Richard B Gidez. P. D. James. Twayne's English Authors Series, New York: Twayne, 1986.
  • Norma Siebenheller. P. D. James. New York: Ungar, 1981.

See also[edit]

  • Ruth Rendell, a writer of detective fiction who is also a member of the House of Lords


External links[edit]