Robert Rhodes James
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Family and early life
Rhodes James was born in India as the third son of Colonel William and Violet Rhodes James. His father's cousin was the ghost-story writer M. R. James and the family had links to clergy, lawyers, diplomats, soldiers and sailors who had served across the British Empire.
Having begun his education in private schools in India, Rhodes James returned to England to attend Sedbergh School and then Worcester College at Oxford University. In 1956, he married Angela Robertson. They had four daughters.
Career to 1976
Between 1955 and 1964, Rhodes James worked in the Clerk's Department (the internal civil service) of the House of Commons, first as a Clerk and then, from 1961, as a Senior Clerk. During this time, his first book, a biography of Lord Randolph Churchill, was published in 1959. His next book, An Introduction to the House of Commons (1961) was awarded the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. Following two more books – Rosebery (1964), a biography of Archibald Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery; and Gallipoli (published 1965), a reappraisal of the ill-fated World War I campaign – he became a fellow of All Souls College in Oxford. There, having left his Commons post, in 1964, he engaged in researching the papers of J. C. C. Davidson full-time between 1965 and 1968.
In 1968, he became Director of the Institute for the Study of International Organisation at the University of Sussex, before moving to work as Principal Officer in the Executive Office of the then Secretary General of the United Nations, Kurt Waldheim, in 1973. While at Sussex, he wrote a revisionist biography of Winston Churchill's years between 1900 and 1939, arguing that there were substantial reasons why Churchill's judgement was questioned by his contemporaries. He also edited eight volumes of Churchill's speeches (published 1974).
Member of Parliament
In 1976, Rhodes James became a Conservative Member of Parliament after winning the by-election for the marginal seat of Cambridge vacated by David Lane. Despite strong challenges from the Social Democratic Party in the subsequent 1983 and 1987 general elections, he held the seat until his retirement at the 1992 general election.
A self-described moderate one-nation Tory, Rhodes James's views found little favour with Conservative leader Margaret Thatcher and he never progressed beyond the post of Parliamentary Private Secretary at the Foreign Office. He came to resent his lack of promotion and, using the subtitle of his Churchill biography, dubbed his political career "a study in failure". He was, however, knighted in 1991.
Among his works written and published while an MP, Rhodes James wrote two more highly praised biographies, both with official and exclusive access to private papers: Anthony Eden (1986), a sympathetic biography of the former prime minister; and Robert Boothby: A Portrait of Churchill's Ally (1991), an account of the life of the maverick backbencher. Several of his biographies, and particularly his edition of the diaries of Sir Henry 'Chips' Channon, were later criticised for suppressing their subject's homosexuality or bisexuality.
In March 2013, documents released from Margaret Thatcher's private archive included a note from the Government's Chief Whip to the Foreign Secretary describing prevailing attitudes among some Tory MPs at the time.[when?] It described Rhodes James as "hopelessly defeatist, depressed and disloyal".
After standing down from Parliament in 1992, Rhodes James lobbied unsuccessfully for a peerage. He later held several visiting professorships at American universities before his death, aged 66, in 1999.
- Lord Randolph Churchill (1959)
- Introduction to the House of Commons (1961)
- Rosebery, A Biography of Archibald Philip, Fifth Earl of Rosebery (1964)
- Gallipoli (1965)
- Chips: The Diaries of Sir Henry Channon (editor; 1967)
- Standardization and Common Production of Weapons in NATO (1967)
- Suez Ten Years After (contributor; 1967)
- Essays from Divers Hands (contributor; 1967)
- Memoirs of a Conservative: J.C.C. Davidson's memoirs and papers, 1910–37 (editor; 1969)
- Churchill: Four Faces and the Man (contributing editor; 1969)
- Churchill: A Study in Failure, 1900–1939 (1970)
- Staffing the United Nations Secretariat (1970)
- United Nations (1970)
- International Administration (contrributor; 1971)
- Ambitions and Realities; British Politics, 1964–70 (1972)
- Winston S. Churchill: His Complete Speeches 1897–1963 (editor; 1974, in eight volumes)
- The Prime Ministers, Volume II (contributor; 1975)
- The British Revolution: British Politics, 1880–1939 (1976; originally published in two volumes, later reprinted as one)
- 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), London: Hodder & Stoughton ISBN 978-0-340-60617-9
- A Spirit Undaunted: The political role of George VI (1998)
- Bloch, Michael "Closet Queens: Some 20th Century British Politicians"London: Little, Brown, 2015
- Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by Robert Rhodes James
- Obituary in The Guardian, 22 May 1999.
- Obituary in The Independent, 24 May 1999.
- Obituary by The Old Sedbergh Club, May 1999.
- Obituary by the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council, July 1999.
- Brother (Richard)'s obituary in The Guardian, 2 January 2013.
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