James Leasor


James Leasor
James Leasor.jpg
Born(1923-12-20)20 December 1923
Erith, Kent, England[1]
Died10 September 2007(2007-09-10) (aged 83)
Wiltshire, England
Pen nameJames Leasor;
Andrew MacAllan
GenreFiction, History

James Leasor (20 December 1923 – 10 September 2007) was a prolific British author, who wrote historical books and thrillers. A number of Leasor's works were made into films, including his 1978 book, Boarding Party, about an incident from the Second World War that until that time was secret, which was turned into The Sea Wolves (1980) starring Gregory Peck, Roger Moore and David Niven.


Leasor was born in Erith, Kent, in 1923, and was educated at the City of London School.[2]

On leaving school, whilst waiting to join the army, he had his first foray into journalism as a cub scout reporter for the Kent Messenger. As soon as he was old enough, he enlisted into the Buffs (Royal East Kent Regiment). He was then commissioned into the Royal Berkshire Regiment and volunteered for service in the Far East, where he served in Burma with the Lincolnshire Regiment during World War II.[1] Whilst serving with the Lincolns he saw action in the Battle of the Admin Box. In the Far East, whilst sailing in convoy HC-44 from Calcutta to Chittagong, his troopship, the El Madina, was torpedoed on 16 March 1944 [3] and he spent 18 hours adrift in the Indian Ocean. Ten crew, six gunners and 364 troops perished in the incident.

He 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.[1][2] He was wounded in action (injuries from a shell) on 8 May 1944, in the Arakan, and treated at 25 Indian Casualty Clearing Station. In November 1944 he left Burma to become a sub-editor of Contact, a bi-weekly newspaper for the forces of India Command in Delhi and South East Asia Command, under the inspirational editorship of Frank Owen. He returned to Burma as an Army Observer for the 12th Army, then in Rangoon. In February 1946 he was transferred to HQ Malaya Command in Kuala Lumpur. During his time as an observer, he travelled throughout Burma, Malaya, the Shan States and the Andaman Islands by plane and jeep. He reckoned that he had visited practically every town in these regions by the time he returned to the UK in mid-1946. His official record shows that he wrote over 300 news stories on the Burma campaign, and also contributed features for the BBC, All India Radio, as well as for virtually every British national newspaper. His novel, NTR: Nothing to Report, is a semi-autobiographical account of some of his experiences in India and Burma during the war.

After the war, he went to Oriel College, Oxford, where he read English and edited The Isis magazine. He joined the Express after university and soon became private secretary to Lord Beaverbrook, the proprietor of the newspaper, and then a foreign correspondent.[2]

He first came to notice as an author with a number of critically acclaimed histories. These included The Red Fort, his account of the Indian Mutiny, on which Cecil Woodham-Smith commented in the New York Times: "Never has this story of hate, violence, courage and cowardice been better told";[4] The One That Got Away, about the only German prisoner of war, Franz von Werra, to escape from Allied territory during World War 2, which was later filmed starring Hardy Kruger; The Plague and the Fire, about London's twin tragedies in the 17th century; The Millionth Chance about the loss of the R101 airship; and Singapore: The Battle that Changed the World, on the Battle of Singapore in 1942.

He became a full-time author in the 1960s, after the success of his novel Passport to Oblivion, one of the best selling books of the 1960s, a thriller featuring Dr Jason Love. The story was filmed as Where the Spies Are in 1965 starring David Niven. An audio version of Passport to Oblivion was produced and released in 2019 starring George Lazenby[5][6] as Dr Jason Love. He wrote nine more thrillers featuring Jason Love, as well a string of other novels. He continued to write historical books, and later titles included Green Beach, about the Dieppe Raid in 1975; Boarding Party in 1978, which was filmed as The Sea Wolves, based on the real events of Operation Creek; The Unknown Warrior, about an agent who was a major part of the D-Day deception plans; Who Killed Sir Harry Oakes?, made into a TV mini-series in 1989, called Passion and Paradise, starring Armand Assante, Catherine Mary Stewart, Mariette Hartley and Kevin McCarthy, with Rod Steiger playing Sir Harry Oakes; and Rhodes and Barnato, which examined the lives of two men, Cecil Rhodes and Barney Barnato, who were major figures in the history of South Africa. This was his final book, published in 1997.

He wrote a number of books under the pseudonym Andrew MacAllan,[7] and ghosted a number of 'autobiographies' for people as diverse as King Zog of Albania, and British actors Kenneth More and Jack Hawkins.[2]

He had a great interest in cars, and owned some pre-war specimens such as a rare Cord roadster, which appeared in the Jason Love novels,[8][9] and an SS Jaguar 100 which featured in his Aristo Autos series.

Leasor married barrister Joan Bevan on 1 December 1951 and they had three sons. He lived for his last 40 years at Swallowcliffe Manor, near Salisbury in Wiltshire. He died in Salisbury on 10 September 2007, aged 83, and is buried in the churchyard of St. Peter's Church in Swallowcliffe.

Andrew MacAllan

Anecdotally the pseudonym 'Andrew MacAllan' was conceived by Leasor and his literary agent, Gillon Aitken, during a long lunch. Leasor was now in his sixties and finding it harder to interest publishers in new book projects. They were happy to publish some of his proven successes, such the Jason Love thrillers – but even then they would limit their print runs to 20,000 in hardback, which would virtually all be snapped up by libraries. They would then say that few had been sold to retailers and that therefore there was no popular demand for a larger run.

Leasor was also frustrated by people accosting him at drinks parties claiming that it was now virtually impossible for a new author to get published on merit alone, without some fashionable backstory to excite the publisher’s interest. Aitken and Leasor wanted to overcome these obstacles. But how could a ‘new’ author get a book published without revealing who he was? Their idea involved an author who, with a credible reason, was unable to meet the publisher.

The narrative was developed that MacAllan was a successful businessman based in the Far East, but who, because of the nature of his work, travelled frequently. He would be hard to tie to any particular location or schedule. All contact would be via the agent – Gillon Aitken.

Leasor wrote the first three chapters and a synopsis of an epic historical saga, loosely based on the origins of Hong Kong-based trading companies like Jardine Matheson and Swire. Gillon Aitken took it, along with the agreed story about MacAllan, around a number of London-based publishers. It was snapped up by the fairly recently-launched – and very ambitious – Headline Publishing Group, with a healthy advance.

During his travels around the world, Leasor had collected hotel headed writing paper from various places, and 'MacAllan' used these to correspond with the publisher. He was introduced to a branch manager of the Royal Bank of Scotland in Pall Mall, who agreed to open a bank account in the name of Andrew MacAllan, so any royalty payments could be paid without arising suspicion; the bank could also act as a forwarding address.

The first book, Succession, a 700 page blockbuster, was published in 1989 and sold well. An initial print run of 50,000 in hardback quickly sold out, and reprints swiftly followed, making it Headline's biggest seller that year. A sequel, Generation, came out the following year, and similar sales success resulted.

The pressure from the publishers for them to meet their star author became overwhelming. Who was this unknown writer who could so effortlessly turn out bestsellers, with supposedly no previous experience? Numerous meetings had been scheduled, and then cancelled at short notice due to 'MacAllan's hectic travel schedule. But Aitken and Leasor realised that this could not go on for ever – and so they revealed everything to Headline. Headline, now part of the Hachette publishing group, published four more MacAllan bestsellers, Diamond Hard, Fanfare, Speculator and Traders.


Jason Love novels

  • Leasor, J. (1964). Passport to Oblivion. London: Heinemann. OCLC 11919382.
  • Leasor, J. (1966). Passport to Peril. London: Heinemann. ISBN 0-434-41019-5. OCLC 3505645. Published in the U.S. as Leasor, J. (1966). Spylight. Philadelphia: Lippincott. OCLC 1378217.
  • Leasor, J. (1967). Passport in Suspense. London: Heinemann. OCLC 28535433. Published in the U.S. as Leasor, J. (1967). The Yang Meridian. New York: Putnam. OCLC 408333.
  • Leasor, J. (1968). Passport for a Pilgrim. London: Heinemann. ISBN 0-434-41013-6. OCLC 41039.
  • Leasor, J. (1969). A Week of Love : Being Seven Adventures of Dr. Jason Love. London: Heinemann. ISBN 0-434-41014-4. OCLC 59215589.
  • Leasor, J. (1971). Love-all. London: Heinemann. ISBN 0-434-41017-9. OCLC 16196092.
  • Leasor, J. (1979). Love and the Land Beyond. London: Heinemann. ISBN 0-434-41027-6. OCLC 63827505.
  • Leasor, J. (1989). Frozen Assets. London: Grafton. ISBN 0-246-13310-4. OCLC 19671462.
  • Leasor, J. (1992). Love Down Under. London: HarperCollins. ISBN 0-246-13713-4. OCLC 26358996.

Jason Love and Aristo Autos novel

  • Leasor, J. (1973). Host of Extras. London: Heinemann. ISBN 0-434-41020-9. OCLC 667816.

Aristo Autos novels

  • Leasor, J. (1969). They Don't Make Them Like That Any More. London: Heinemann. OCLC 78482.
  • Leasor, J. (1970). Never Had a Spanner on Her. London: Heinemann. OCLC 29647906.

Robert Gunn novels

  • Leasor, J. (1973). Mandarin-Gold. London: Heinemann. ISBN 0-434-41022-5. OCLC 806328.
  • Leasor, J. (1975). The Chinese Widow. London: Heinemann. ISBN 0-434-41023-3. OCLC 2074606.
  • Leasor, J. (1976). Jade Gate. London: Heinemann. ISBN 0-434-41025-X. OCLC 2646806.

Other novels

  • Leasor, J. (1946). Not Such a Bad Day.
  • Leasor, J. (1951). The Strong Delusion. London: Harrap. OCLC 1872596.
  • Leasor, J. (1955). NTR : Nothing to Report. London: Werner Laurie. OCLC 14350159.
  • Leasor, J. (1972). Follow the Drum. London: Heinemann. ISBN 0-434-41019-5.
  • Leasor, J. (1982). Open Secret. London: Collins. ISBN 0-00-222336-8. OCLC 10057404.
  • Leasor, J. (1984). Ship of Gold. London: Collins. ISBN 0-00-222797-5. OCLC 12502794.
  • Leasor, J. (1986). Tank of Serpents. London: Collins. ISBN 0-00-222915-3. OCLC 13158926.

As Andrew MacAllan (novels)

  • MacAllan, A. (1989). Succession. London: Headline. ISBN 0-7472-0094-7. OCLC 18321969.
  • MacAllan, A. (1990). Generation. London: Headline. ISBN 0-7472-0116-1. OCLC 20564160.
  • MacAllan, A. (1991). Diamond Hard. London: Headline. ISBN 0-7472-0346-6. OCLC 22623910.
  • MacAllan, A. (1992). Fanfare. London: Headline. ISBN 0-7472-0476-4. OCLC 26357827.
  • MacAllan, A. (1993). Speculator. London: Headline. ISBN 0-7472-0731-3. OCLC 29222039.
  • MacAllan, A. (1994). Traders. London: Headline. ISBN 0-7472-0995-2. OCLC 30778975.

Short stories

  • Leasor, J. At Rest at Last - first published in The Rigby File (1989), ed. Tim Heald


  • Leasor, J. (1951). The Monday Story. Oxford University Press. OCLC 30190895.
  • Leasor, J. (1952). Author by Profession. London: Cleaver-Hume Press. OCLC 1925903.
  • Leasor, J. (1954). Wheels to Fortune; a brief account of the life and times of William Morris, Viscount Nuffield. London: The Bodley Head. OCLC 14118317.
  • Leasor, J. (1955). The Serjeant-major; a biography of R.S.M. Ronald Brittain, M.B.E., Coldstream Guards. London: Harrap. OCLC 2154501.
  • Leasor, J. (1956). The Red Fort; an account of the Siege of Delhi in 1857. London: W. Laurie. OCLC 2514152.
  • Burt, K.; Leasor, J. (1956). The One That Got Away. London: Collins. OCLC 2071959.
  • Leasor, J. (1957). The Millionth Chance: The Story of the R.101. London: H. Hamilton. OCLC 2216706.
  • Leasor, J.; Hollis, L. (1959). War at the Top; based on the experiences of General Sir Leslie Hollis. London: Michael Joseph. OCLC 385375.
  • Eton, P.; Leasor, J. (1960). Wall of Silence. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill. ISBN 0-434-41019-5. OCLC 1609399.
  • Leasor, J. (1961). The Plague and the Fire. New York: McGraw-Hill. OCLC 6683903.
  • Leasor, J. (1962). Rudolf Hess : The Uninvited Envoy. London: Allen & Unwin. OCLC 1373664.
  • Leasor, J. (1968). Singapore: The Battle that Changed the World. London: Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN 0-340-04434-9. OCLC 23377403.
  • Leasor, J. (1975). Green Beach. London: Heinemann. ISBN 0-434-41024-1. OCLC 1354236.
  • Leasor, J. (1978). Boarding Party. London: Heinemann. ISBN 0-434-41026-8. OCLC 4191743. Republished in paperback 1980 as The Sea Wolves with a special foreword by Lord Mountbatten of Burma.
  • Leasor, J. (1980). The Unknown Warrior. London: Heinemann. OCLC 6869173. Republished in paperback as Leasor, J. (1980). X-Troop. London: Heinemann. OCLC 16603611.
  • Leasor, J. (1983). Who Killed Sir Harry Oakes?. London: Heinemann. ISBN 0-434-41029-2. OCLC 10520894.
  • Leasor, J. (1988). The Marine from Mandalay. London: Leo Cooper. OCLC 29637493.
  • Leasor, J. (1997). Rhodes & Barnato : The Premier and the Prancer. London: Leo Cooper. ISBN 0-85052-545-4. OCLC 37321005.

See also


  1. ^ a b c Adrian, Jack (22 December 2007). "James Leasor: Journalist and thriller writer". The Independent. Retrieved 23 November 2016.
  2. ^ a b c d "Obituary: James Leasor". The Daily Telegraph. 14 September 2007. Retrieved 13 January 2016.
  3. ^ https://www.wrecksite.eu/wreck.aspx?57986
  4. ^ Woodham-Smith, Cecil (21 April 1957). "A greased cartridge set it off" (PDF). New York Times. p. Book Review section.
  5. ^ "George Lazenby: 'They offered me £1 million cash to do a second Bond film – I walked away'".
  6. ^ "George Lazenby: 'Being a ladies man is one of the best things in the world'".
  7. ^ "Obituary: James Leasor". The Times. London. 22 September 2007. Archived from the original on 24 May 2011. Retrieved 23 September 2007.
  8. ^ Cathcart, Brian (13 November 2006). "The man with the golden typewriter". New Statesman. Retrieved 13 July 2021.
  9. ^ Masterton, Graham (10 September 2001). "Letter to the Editor – Placing products".

External links

  • Official website