"The search for the truth is the most important work in the whole world, and the most dangerous." -- James Clavell
James Clavell, born Charles Edmund Dumaresq Clavell (10 October 1924 — 7 September 1994) was a British (later naturalized American) novelist, screenwriter, director and World War II veteran and prisoner of war. Clavell is best known for his epic Asian Saga series of novels and their televised adaptations, along with such films as The Great Escape and To Sir, with Love.
Born in Australia, Clavell was the son of Commander Richard Clavell, a British Royal Navy officer who was stationed in Australia on secondment from the Royal Navy to the Royal Australian Navy. In 1940, when Clavell finished his secondary schooling at Portsmouth Grammar School, he joined the Royal Artillery to follow his family tradition.
Following the outbreak of World War II, at the age of 16 he joined the Royal Artillery in 1940, and was sent to Malaya to fight the Japanese. Wounded by machine-gun fire, he was eventually captured and sent to a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp on Java. Later he was transferred to Changi Prison in Singapore.
Clavell suffered greatly at the hands of his Japanese captors. Changi was notorious for its poor living conditions, and according to the introduction to King Rat, written by Clavell, over 90% of the prisoners who entered Changi never walked out...although the actual mortality rate was under 1%. Clavell was reportedly saved, along with an entire battalion, by an American prisoner of war who later became the model for "The King" in Clavell's King Rat.
By 1946, Clavell had risen to the rank of Captain, but a motorcycle accident ended his military career. He enrolled at the University of Birmingham, where he met April Stride, an actress, whom he married in 1951.
Peter Marlowe is a character in the Clavell novels King Rat and Noble House, although he is also mentioned once (as a friend of Andrew Gavallan) in the novel Whirlwind. Featured much more prominently in King Rat, he is an English FEPOW in Changi prison during World War II. In Noble House, set two decades later, he is a novelist researching a book about Hong Kong. Ancestors of the character Peter Marlowe are also mentioned in other Clavell novels. The character of Marlowe as a novelist is a clear reference to Clavell; in Noble House he is mentioned as having written a novel about Changi which although fictionalized is based on real events (like Clavell and King Rat); when asked which character was based on him Marlowe answers "Perhaps I'm not there at all."
In 1953, Clavell and his wife emigrated to the United States and settled down in Hollywood. Clavell scripted the grisly science-fiction horror film The Fly and wrote a war film, Five Gates to Hell. Clavell won a Writers Guild Best Screenplay Award for the 1963 film The Great Escape. He also wrote, directed and produced a 1967 box office hit, To Sir, With Love, starring Sidney Poitier.
Clavell's daughter Michaela appeared briefly as Penelope Smallbone, Moneypenny's would-be successor, in the James Bond 007 movie Octopussy. The character, however, did not catch on and was dropped after that single picture.
The Fly (1958) (writer)
Watusi (1959) (writer)
Five Gates to Hell (1959) (writer and director)
Walk Like a Dragon (1960) (writer and director)
The Great Escape (1963) (co-writer)
633 Squadron (1964) (co-writer)
The Satan Bug (1965) (co-writer)
King Rat (1965) author of the novel (only)
To Sir, with Love (1966) (writer and director)
The Sweet and the Bitter (1967) (writer and director)
Where's Jack? (1968) (director)
The Last Valley (1970) (writer and director)
Tai-Pan (1986) author of the novel (only)
Noble House...miniseries (1988)
Tai-Pan and King Rat were adapted as feature films, but Clavell was not directly involved in their writing.
Clavell's first novel, King Rat, was a semi-fictional account of his prison experiences at Changi. When the book was published in 1962, it became an immediate best-seller and three years later, it was adapted for film. His next novel, Tai-Pan, was a fictional account of Jardine-Matheson's rise to prominence in Hong Kong, as told through the character who was to become Clavell's heroic archetype, Dirk Struan. Struan's descendants would inhabit almost all of his forthcoming books.
This was followed by Sh?gun in 1975, the story of an English navigator set in 17th century Japan, based on that of William Adams. When the story was made into a TV series in 1980, produced by Clavell, it became the second highest rated mini-series in history with an audience of over 120 million. In 1981, Clavell published his fourth novel, Noble House, which became a number one best seller during that year and was also made into a miniseries. Following the success of Noble House, Clavell wrote Whirlwind (1986) and Gai-Jin (1993) along with The Children's Story (1981) and Thrump-o-moto (1985).
The Asian Saga consisting of six novels:
King Rat (1962): Set in a Japanese POW camp, 1945
Tai-Pan (1966): Set in Hong Kong, 1841
Sh?gun (1975): Set in feudal Japan, 1600
Noble House (1981): Set in Hong Kong, 1963
Whirlwind (1986): Set in Iran, 1979
Gai-Jin (1993): Set in Japan, 1862
Several of Clavell's books have been adapted as films or miniseries; Sh?gun was also adapted into Interactive fiction.
Other books include:
The Children's Story (1980)
The Art of War, a translation of Sun Tzu's famous book (1983)
Thrump-O-Moto Illustrated by George Sharp (1986)
Escape (1994) — shorter novel adapted from Whirlwind
Politically, Clavell was said to have been an ardent individualist and proponent of laissez-faire capitalism, as many of his books' heroes exemplify.
Clavell admired Ayn Rand, founder of the Objectivist school of philosophy, and sent Ayn Rand a copy of Noble House in 1981 inscribed: "This is for Ayn Rand...one of the real, true talents on this earth for which many, many thanks. James C, New York, 2 September 81."
In 1963, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States.
He supposedly fathered a child with Caroline Barrett, who was Marlon Brando's assistant. The child, Petra Brando-Corval, was born in 1972 and was adopted by Brando.
He died of a stroke while suffering from cancer in Switzerland in 1994, one month before his 70th birthday.
Following generous sponsorship by his widow, the library and archive of the Royal Artillery Museum at Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, in London has been renamed the James Clavell library in his honour.