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.
Early life and World War II
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."
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