James Leasor was one of the bestselling British authors of the second half of the 20th Century. He wrote over 50 books including a rich variety of thrillers, historical novels, histories and biographies.
His works included Passport to Oblivion (one of the best selling books of the 1960s and filmed as Where the Spies Are, starring David Niven), the first of ten novels featuring Dr Jason Love, a Somerset GP called to aid Her Majesty’s Secret Service in foreign countries, and another series about the Far Eastern merchant Robert Gunn set in the 19th century. There were also sagas set in Africa and Asia, written under the pseudonym Andrew MacAllan, and tales narrated by an unnamed vintage car dealer in Belgravia.
Among non-fiction works were lives of Lord Nuffield, the Morris motor manufacturer, Wheels to Fortune and RSM Brittain, who was said to have the loudest voice in the Army, The Sergeant-Major; The Red Fort, which retold the story of the Indian Mutiny, and the Siege of Delhi in particular; and Rhodes and Barnato, which brought out the different characters of the great South African diamond millionaires. Who Killed Sir Harry Oakes? was an investigation of the unsolved murder of the Canadian mining entrepreneur, the richest man in the British Empire, in the Bahamas, and the part that the then Governor, the Duke of Windsor, played in the whole affair. He wrote a number of books about particularly interesting events in the Second World War, including Green Beach, which revealed an important new aspect of the Dieppe Raid, when a radar expert landed with a patrol of the South Saskatchewan regiment, which was instructed to protect him, but also to kill him if he was in danger of falling into enemy hands; The One that Got Away (later filmed with Hardy Kruger in the starring role) about fighter pilot, Franz von Werra, the only German prisoner of war to successfully escape from British territory; Singapore – the Battle that Changed the World, on the fall of Singapore to the Japanese in 1942; Boarding Party (later filmed as The Sea Wolves with Gregory Peck, David Niven and Roger Moore) concerned veterans of the Calcutta Light Horse who attacked a German spy ship in neutral Goa in 1943; The Unknown Warrior, the story about a member of a clandestine British commando force consisting largely of Jewish exiles from Germany and eastern Europe, who deceived Hitler into thinking that the D-Day invasion was a diversion for the main assault near Calais and was then pursued both by the Germans and the French Resistance as he sought the safety of the Allied Lines; and The Uninvited Envoy, which told the story of Rudolf Hess’ solo mission to Britain in 1941, and features first hand accounts from many of the players involved.
Thomas James Leasor was born at Erith, Kent, on December 20 1923 and educated at the City of London School. He was commissioned into the Royal Berkshire Regiment and served in Burma with the Lincolnshire Regiment during World War II. In the Far East his troopship, the El Madina, was torpedoed in March 1944 whilst sailing from Calcutta to Chittagong, and he spent 18 hours adrift in the Indian Ocean. He also wrote his first book, Not Such a Bad Day, by hand in the jungles of Burma on airgraphs, single sheets of light-sensitive paper which could be reduced to the size of microdots and flown to England in their thousands to be blown up to full size again. His mother then typed it up and sent it off to an agent, who found a publisher who sold 28,000 copies, although Leasor received just £50 for all its rights. He later became a correspondent for the SEAC, the Services Newspaper of South East Asia Command, under the inspirational editorship of Frank Owen, after being wounded in action. His novel, NTR: Nothing to Report, is a semi-autobiographical account of many of his experiences in India and Burma during the war.
After the war he read English at Oriel College, Oxford, where he edited the Isis magazine, before joining the Daily Express, then the largest circulation newspaper in the free world. He was soon appointed private secretary to Lord Beaverbrook, the proprietor of the newspaper, and later became a foreign correspondent.
He became a full-time author in the 1960s. He also ghosted a number of autobiographies for subjects as diverse as the Duke of Windsor, King Zog of Albania, the actors Kenneth More and Jack Hawkins and Rats, a Jack Russell terrier that served with the British Army in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.
Perhaps his greatest interest was “old cars”, of which he owned quite a number over the years. His collection included a 1937 Cord – as driven by Dr Jason Love – and a Jaguar SS100 – as driven by the narrator in his Aristo Autos series.