PD James- 1920 – 2014

Like many, many crime readers across the globe, I was saddened to hear of the death of P. D. James today- a consistently entertaining and hugely influential crime writer whose books have been a constant source of pleasure for readers and fellow authors alike. I can offer no better tribute to this remarkable writer than this selection of her finest moments broadcast across the BBC that perfectly illustrate her talent, integrity and  the wonderful feistiness that defined her character. She will be greatly missed.

P D JAMES at the BBC

Famous for her detective Adam Dalgliesh, James penned more than 20 books which sold millions around the world, with many adapted for film and TV. Her best known novels include The Children of Men, The Murder Room and her Pride and Prejudice continuation Death Comes to Pemberley. BBC Arts presents a selection of PD James highlights from the archive.

From the archive

PD James (Getty)

About the author

PD James always rejected the notion that detective novels were not proper literature. She proved her point with a string of well-researched and beautifully constructed crime stories.

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Born in Oxford on 3 August, 1920, from her early days at Cambridge High School for Girls, Phyllis Dorothy James nurtured an ambition to write.

The daughter of a civil servant, she was forced by her family’s financial circumstances to leave school at 16 and find a job as a filing clerk.

Baroness James of Holland Park, as she was latterly known, began writing seriously in the mid-1950s, composing parts of her first novel during her commute to work.

The resulting book Cover My Face, published in 1962, introduced readers to Adam Dalgliesh, the intellectual, poetry-writing senior officer of the Metropolitan Police who would feature in most of her crime novels.

Dalgliesh was the latest incarnation of that bastion of English crime writing, the gentleman detective, epitomised by Lord Peter Wimsey and Albert Campion. However, unlike them, Dalgleish was a serving police officer – as was Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse, who would follow a decade later.

But it was not until 1980, with the publication of her eighth book Innocent Blood, that her small but loyal following exploded into mass international popularity.

Her books were not cosy in the style of Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. Her victims died in brutal and often shocking ways and the perpetrator was not always brought to justice.

Speaking to the BBC in November 2013, the author said she was hard at work on a new detective novel.

Credit: Simon Richardson, BBC Readings Unit