Robert Rhodes James
Family and early life
He was born in India, the third son of Colonel William and Violet Rhodes James. His father's brother was M.R. James, of ghost-story fame, and the family had links to clergy, lawyers, diplomats, soldiers and sailors who had served across the British empire.
Two older brothers, William and Richard, served in Burma with the Gurkhas and later became schoolteachers. Richard produced several books, including Chindit which chronicled his wartime experiences. His sister, Iris, also became a writer, as an historian and translator of Gaelic and Assamese folk tales.
He married Angela Robertson in 1956 and they had four daughters.
He wrote his first book, a much-acclaimed biography of Lord Randolph Churchill, in 1959 whilst working as a Clerk of the House of Commons, the equivalent of Parliament's own internal civil service. He was a Clerk between 1955 and 1964, being promoted to Senior Clerk in 1961. He won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize for his next book, An Introduction to the House of Commons. His following two books, a biography of Rosebery, and a reappraisal of the Gallipoli campaign, resulted in his being made a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, where he engaged in full-time research on the papers of J.C.C. Davidson between 1965 and 1968.
He then became Director of the Institute for the Study of International Organisation at the University of Sussex from 1968 to 1973, before working as Principal Officer in the Executive Office of the Secretary General of the United Nations, Kurt Waldheim. In 1970 he wrote a particularly influential revisionist biography of Winston Churchill for the years 1900-1939, arguing that there were substantial reasons why Churchill's judgement was questioned by his contemporaries. He also edited the definitive edition of Churchill's speeches, in eight volumes.
During his time in Parliament, he wrote two further highly-praised biographies, both of them 'official' works with exclusive access to private papers - a sympathetic biography of the Prime Minister Anthony Eden, and an account of the life of the maverick backbencher Robert Boothby.
He was elected to the House of Commons at a by-election in 1976 for the marginal seat of Cambridge, and held that seat until his retirement at the 1992 general election, despite a strong Social Democratic Party challenge in the seat in the 1983 and 1987 general elections. The seat was finally lost to Labour when he stood down.
A self-described moderate, 'One Nation' Tory, his views found little favour with Conservative leader Margaret Thatcher, and he came to resent his lack of promotion in Parliament, never progressing beyond being PPS at the Foreign Office, and dubbing his own political career "A study in failure", borrowing the subtitle of his Churchill biography.
In March 2013, certain documents were released from Margaret Thatcher's private archive, among them a note from the Government Chief Whip to the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. The document described prevailing attitudes among a list of current Tory MPs. It described him as 'hopelessly defeatist, depressed and disloyal'.
After he stood down from Parliament, he lobbied unsuccessfully for a peerage, and held several visiting professorships at American universities. He died in 1999.
- Lord Randolph Churchill (1959)
- Introduction to the House of Commons (1961)
- Rosebery, ABiography of Archibald Philip, Fifth Earl of Rosebery (1964)
- Gallipoli (1965)
- (ed.) Chips: The Diaries of Sir Henry Channon (1967, edited by)
- Standardization and Common Production of Weapons in NATO (1967)
- Suez Ten Years After (1967, contributor)
- Essays from Divers Hands (1967, contributor)
- Memoirs of a Conservative: J.C.C. Davidson's memoirs and papers, 1910–37 (1969, edited by)
- (ed.) Churchill: Four Faces and the Man (1969, contributor)
- Churchill: A Study in Failure, 1900–1939 (1970)
- Staffing the United Nations Secretariat (1970)
- United Nations (1970)
- International Administration (1971, contributor)
- Ambitions and Realities; British Politics, 1964–70 (1972)
- (ed.) Winston S. Churchill: His Complete Speeches 1897–1963 (1974, edited by, and in eight volumes)
- The Prime Ministers, volume II (1975, contributor)
- The British Revolution: British Politics, 1880–1939 (1976, originally published in two volumes, later reprinted as one volume)
- Victor Cazalet: A Portrait (1976)
- Britain's Role in the United Nations (1977)
- Albert, Prince Consort: A Biography (1983)
- Anthony Eden (1986)
- Robert Boothby: A Portrait of Churchill's Ally (1991)
- Henry Wellcome (1994)
- A Spirit Undaunted: the political role of George VI (1998)
- Robert Rhodes James was the nephew of the M.R. James noted as an author of ghost stories.
- His brother Richard Rhodes James fought under Orde Wingate in Burma, and wrote an account of it, entitled Chindit.
- Obituary, The Guardian, May 22, 1999.
- Obituary, The Independent, May 24, 1999.
- Obituary, The Old Sedbergh Club, May 1999.
- Obituary, Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council, July 1999.
- Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by Robert Rhodes James
- Obituary of Richard Rhodes James, The Guardian, January 2, 2013
|Parliament of the United Kingdom|
|Member of Parliament for Cambridge