He was the son of W.J. James OBE. He was educated at Uckfield Grammar School and Keble College, Oxford where he received a 1st Class in Modern History. He was a Liddon Student and an Arnold Essay Prizeman.
He married, in 1939, Elisabeth Howroyd. They had one daughter.
The marriage was dissolved in 1956. He then married in 1957, Ann Jocelyn Burton. They had one daughter, one adopted son and two adopted daughters. She died in 2004.
He was Senior Demy of Magdalen College, Oxford, 1935; Scholar in Mediæval Studies, British School at Rome, 1935; He was on the Editorial staff, at the Manchester Guardian, 1937-46. NFS 1939-45.
He moved to London where he was Deputy Editor, The Times Educational Supplement, 1947-51, Editor, 1952–69; Special Advisor on Education, Times Newspapers, 1969-71; also Editor, Technology, 1957-60.
He was Reader in Journalism, at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand, 1971–74.
He was a Member of: BBC General Advisory Council, 1956–64; Council of Industrial Design, 1961–66; Council, Royal Society of Arts, 1964; Committee, British-American Associates, 1964; He was a Governor, Central School of Art and Design, 1966. Woodard Lecturer, 1965.
Both James and hist first wife, Elisabeth Howroyd were active in politics for the Liberal Party in the Manchester area.
He took a particular interest in the Liberal policy of Profit sharing. He was Liberal candidate for the Bury Division of Lancashire at the 1945 General Election.