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 and biographies.
His works included Passport to Oblivion (which sold over 4 million copies around the World and was filmed as Where the Spies Are, starring David Niven), the first of nine 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 Doctor Robert Gunn 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 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 a Canadian mining entrepreneur in the Bahamas,
He wrote a number of books about different 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 1941; 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 decieived Hitler into thinking that the D-Day invasion was a diversion for the main assault near Calais; and The Uninvited Envoy, which told the story of Rudolph Hess’ solo mission to Britain in 1941.
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 was torpedoed 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.
After the war he read English at Oriel College, Oxford 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 love was a series of cars, including a 1937 Cord and a Jaguar SS100 which both featured in several of his books.
He married barrister Joan Bevan on 1st December 1951 and they had three sons.
He lived for his last 40 years at Swallowcliffe Manor, near Salisbury in Wiltshire. He died on 10th September 2007.
Where to find James Leasor online
A Week of Love
Seven short stories featuring Dr Jason Love, the country doctor, old car lover and sometime spy in which he solves cases in Giglio off Italy, Praia da Luz in Portugal, Amsterdam, the Highlands, Spain, England and at home in Stogumber in Somerset. Travelling in his famous supercharged Cord again and again battles a range of villains in his efforts to crack a myriad of mysteries.
To the powerful and arrogant Dr. Robert Gunn, life 'might be likened to a fierce race for enormous prizes'. No prize could be richer than the discovery of coal on Jade Gate Island - but then no race could be fiercer, more uncertain, or more violent....
The Chinese Widow
When doctors in England pronounced his death sentence, Robert Gunn-founder of Mandarin-Gold, one of the most prosperous Far Eastern trading companies of the nineteenth century-vowed to spend his final year in creating a lasting memorial to leave behind him... He had a plan...
Passport in Suspense
When a German submarine mysteriously disappears on a NATO exercise in the North Sea, and a beautiful girl was brutally murdered in the Bahamas, there at first seemed little connection between the two events. But Dr Jason Love gets drawn into the web of ex-Nazis, in Nassau, Mexico and the West Coast in a desperate mission to foil a terrifying plot to destroy Western civilisation as we know it…
NTR: Nothing to Report
In the early spring of 1944, when the British fortunes of war in the East were low, the Japanese invaded India. From GHQ - the invasion must be stayed whatever the cost and thus the men of draft RAKXK were sent to one of the unknown, unheard of places in India to defend one of the smaller sectors of the front. NTR is their story and tells of their battles, their loves, their deaths.
The Red Fort
A year after the Crimean War ended, an uprising broke out in India which was to have equal impact on the balance of world power and the British Empire's role in world affairs.
The revolt was against the East India Company which, not entirely against its will, had assumed responsibility for administering large parts of India.
Host of Extras
The bawdy, wise-cracking owner of Aristo Autos is offered two immaculate vintage Rolls straight out of a collector’s dream: one is a tourer, the other an Alpine. The cars, and Aristo, get in on a shady film deal which leads to a trip to Corsica with the imperturbable Dr Jason Love, his Cord and the infinitely desirable Victoria – and to the cut and thrust of violent international skulduggery.
It was the year of 1833 when Robert Gunn arrived on the China coast. Only the feeblest of defences now protected the vast and proud Chinese Empire from the ravenous greed of Western traders, and their opening wedge for conquest was the sale of forbidden opium to the native masses.
This was the path that Robert Gunn chose to follow...
Max Cornell had survived the Katyn massacre and the Russian camps. Now he wanted a new life - and the money to enjoy it - in England. And the price of a passport was three years’ work for British Intelligence, running the Russian codenamed Butcher.
In the post-war world of high politics and backstreet crime, they are linked by an explosive truth which could rock governments.
War at the Top (The Clock with Four Hands)
Based on the experiences of General Sir Leslie Hollis, who served at the centre of British power for nine years from 1936 to 1945. It includes first-hand accounts of the most momentous moments of WW2 with personal recollections of meetings held underground in the Cabinet War Rooms, in the USA, at the major conferences – Cairo, Tehran, Yalta and Potsdam – from the position of a true insider.
The Marine from Mandalay
This is the true story of a Royal Marine wounded by shrapnel in Mandalay in WW2 who undergoes a long solitary march to the Japanese through the whole of Burma and then finds his way back through India and back to Britain to report for duty in Plymouth. On his way he has many encounters and adventures and helps British and Indian refugees.
Follow The Drum
India, in the mid-nineteenth century, was virtually run by a British commercial concern, the Honourable East India Company, whose directors would pay tribute to one Indian ruler and then depose another in their efforts to maintain their balance sheet of power and profit. But then came the Mutiny.
Rhodes & Barnato - The Premier and The Prancer
Cecil Rhodes and ‘Barney’ Barnato were born within a year of each other, one the son of a Hertfordshire clergyman, the other in the East End of London. They helped transform a minor pastoral colony into a major industrial nation and became two of the most influential people in the world. This is the story of how they grew in parallel – two giants at the end of the Nineteenth Century.
The Plague and The Fire
This book chronicles the horror and human suffering of two of the most terrible years in London's long history. 1665 brought the plague and cries of "Bring Out Your Dead" echoed the city. A year later, the already decimated capital was reduced to ashes in four days by the fire that began in Pudding Lane. James Leasor weaves in the first-hand accounts of Daniel Defoe and Samuel Pepys, among others.
Who Killed Sir Harry Oakes?
James Leasor cleverly reconstructs events surrounding a brutal and unusual murder. It is 1943 and Sir Harry Oakes, the richest man in the British Empire, lies horrifically murdered at his Bahamian mansion. Although a self-made multi-millionaire, Sir Harry is an unlikely victim there are no suggestions of jealousy or passion. The Duke of Windsor gets involved.
Passport to Peril
Passport to Peril is Dr Jason Love's second brilliant case history in suspense. An adventure that sweeps from the gentle snows of Switzerland to the freezing peaks of the Himalayas, and ends in a blizzard of violence, hate, and lust on the roof of the world. Guns, girls and gadgets all play there part as the Somerset doctor, old car expert and amateur secret agent uncovers the mystery
Passport To Oblivion (filmed as Where The Spies Are)
Passport to Oblivion is the first case book of Dr. Jason Love . . . country doctor turned secret agent. Multi-million selling, published in 19 languages around the world and filmed as Where the Spies Are starring David Niven.
The Millionth Chance: The Story of the R. 101
The R101 airship was thought to be the model for the future, an amazing design that was ‘as safe as houses. . .except for the millionth chance’. On the night of 4 October 1930 that chance in a million came up however.
James Leasor brilliantly reconstructs the conception and crash of this huge ship of the air with compassion for the forty-seven dead, including a cabinet minister.
Singapore - The Battle That Changed The World
When Singapore fell to the Japanese on 15 February 1942, it was a devastating blow to the Allies, the British Empire and signalled a turning point in history. James Leasor’s story begins as far back as the early nineteenth century. He charts the years leading up to Singapore’s defeat and the realisation that the West was not invincible.
Wheels to Fortune: The Life and Times of William Morris, Viscount Nuffield
William Richard Morris, later Viscount Nuffield, set up business as a cycle agent and manufacturer in Oxford, in 1893, at the age of sixteen. He went on to become Britain’s largest motor manufacturer. This is an account of his life and of his vision: ‘the £100 car’, a car the public could afford to buy. Leasor tells of the success, the millions he made and the millions he gave away.
Never Had a Spanner on Her
In the sequel to “They Don’t Make Them Like That Any More” our vintage car dealer gets involved in a scheme to import some vintage cars from Nasser’s Egypt. Leasor combines his proven thriller writing skills with an encyclopaedic knowledge of vintage cars to deliver a real page turner.
Rudolf Hess: The Uninvited Envoy
Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s Deputy Führer, Leader of the Nazi Party, flew alone in an unarmed aeroplane, through a night of fire and ruin, on the most dangerous flight of his life. This is an amazing true story of his secret peace mission in 1941, with plans to end the war but on Germany’s terms.
The Unknown Warrior
The Unknown Warrior is the true story of one man and his amazing part in the deception plans to persuade the Germans that the invasion would happen near Calais and not in Normandy and thus ensure that they did not commit their reserves until too late. Born to a humble German background, with a Jewish father and Catholic mother, he volunteers for an unknown secret mission that saved many lives.
In 1942 radar expert Jack Nissenthall volunteered for a suicidal mission to join a combat team who were making a surprise landing at Dieppe in occupied France. His assignment was to penetrate a German radar station. Because he knew the secrets of the Allies radar technology, he had a personal bodyguard. Their orders were to protect him, but in the event of possible capture to kill him.
The One That Got Away
Franz von Werra was the only German prisoner of war to escape and return to Germany after being captured by the Allies. An incredibly charismatic, inventive and self-confident man, he was a Luftwaffe ace shot down in the Battle of Britain. The One that Got Away tells the full and exciting story of his two daring escapes in England and his third and successful escape in Canada.
They Don't Make Them Like That Any More
They don't make them like that any more. Cars, that is. They don't, and they never will again. Which accounts for the enormous world-wide interest in old motors of every description, and the fantastic prices that they fetch.
This book is set in the 1960s classic car trade - a time capsule of the era.
Boarding Party (The Sea Wolves)
Filmed as The Sea Wolves, this is the story of the undercover exploit of a part time unit in WW2. A group of civilian bankers, merchants and solicitors were tasked with going to neutral Goa and blowing up some German merchant ships that were transmitting information about allied shipping to U-boats.
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