Donald James (1931-2008)

The death of Donald James, one of the key scriptwriters working on Gerry Anderson productions from Joe 90 to Space:1999has been announced. Born Donald James Wheal in 1931, he read history at Cambridge, and gained his first credits on the long running ITV police series No Hiding Place in 1963, contributing four episodes to that series before gaining his first film credit for The Limbo Line, adapting Victor Canning’s novel. James then moved on to the then-booming area of filmed television, becoming one of the main writers on The Champions and writing his only episode of The Avengers Have Guns, Will Haggle, which had the misfortune of being filmed during John Bryce’s short reign as Producer.

His association with Gerry Anderson began with Joe 90, for which he wrote the stories Trial At Sea, Test Flight and The Professional. The hiring of a writer such as Donald James, with his background in adult adventure series, was perhaps emblematic of Joe 90‘s status as a more character-based series than the previous Anderson shows, and a desire to move on to producing series aimed at an older audience. This was even more apparent in the next Supermarionation series, The Secret Service, for which he wrote The Deadly Whisper and A Question Of Miracles.

The 1968/69 period was to be his busiest as a scriptwriter, with two scripts also being written for Department S and no less than eleven for its sister series Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), plus an episode of Paul Temple and the script to Gerry Anderson’s first feature film, Doppelgänger.

James remained close to Century 21 productions, being intimately involved in their first fully live-action TV series, UFO. Although he was only credited for one script, Kill Straker!, he acted as the show’s unofficial script editor during its early stages, and many early scripts will have been polished and rewritten by him. He moved on to other ITC series, namely The Persuaders!, Jason King and The Adventurer, returning to work for Anderson for The Protectors, for which he wrote seven scripts.

After a break from scriptwriting, he returned to pen three episodes of Space:1999‘s second year, The Seance Spectre, Journey To Where and The Exiles. Production of British filmed adventure series has almost dried up by this point, and he began to move into other areas, having an instant hit with his first novel in 1977, A Spy At Evening, which was turned into a BBC serial. He wrote extensively, both under his own name and with fellow Anderson writer Tony Barwick, their publishers giving this joint enterprise the authorial name James Barwick.

In the 1990s he had great success with his ‘Vadim’ trilogy of novels, set in a future Russia under totalitarian rule, and had just completed his latest, as yet unpublished political thriller at the time of his sudden death.

Originally published in FAB 61.