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03 November 2013

Jan Morris (1926 - 2020) Part 1: youth and journalism

Part 1: youth and journalism.
Part 2: transition and empire.
Part 3: travel writer.

James Humphrey Morris was born in Clevedon, Somerset, the youngest son of a Welsh father and an English mother. His prep school education was at Christ Church Cathedral School in Oxford, during which time his father died.

In 1939 he attended Lancing College, which is in Sussex, but after the War started was moved to Ludlow in Shropshire. He participated in the standard homosexual play in public schools, mainly in that he was treated as a girl by older boys. Morris left at 16 and worked unpaid for six months for the Western Daily Press in Bristol.

In 1942 he then volunteered for the army and with his class background was sent for officer training at the Royal Military College at Sandhurst. Despite being only 16, he was assigned to the 9th Queen's Royal Lancers (founded 1715) as a subaltern, which took him to Italy, Egypt and in Palestine he was the regimental intelligence officer.
"In the Army as at Lancing, I was never short of protectors. … Such kindnesses were seldom exactly homosexual. I still did not look effeminate, and certainly did not feel myself to be homosexual. … It was a harmless quixotry, part of a game, part I suppose a compensation, and if it ever went beyond the platonic I never experienced it myself."
He was demobbed in 1947 and in London met Elizabeth Tuckniss, the daughter of a Ceylon tea planter. They married in 1949. After a short period of employment with the Arab News Agency in Cairo, Morris went up to Christ College, Oxford to read English. He graduated with a BA, second class after two years, and with an introduction to the editor of The Times.

For five years he worked at The Times, going from trainee sub-editor to correspondent. He made his name attached to the 1953 British Mount Everest expedition, when his coded message to The Times enabled the story of the successful ascent by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay to be announced on the morning of the Coronation. This despite opposition by the expedition leader, John Hunt, who thought him unsuitable.

By 1956 Morris was working for The Guardian, and as their war correspondent during the Suez crisis he provided the first evidence that Anglo-French forces were in collusion with the Israelis. He reported on the Adolf Eichman trial in Israel in 1960 and the Gary Powers trial in Moscow also in 1960.

James and Elizabeth had five children, one of whom died in infancy.

In 1960 Morris won the George Polk Memorial Award for Journalism.
In 1962 he resigned from The Guardian and became a freelance writer.


  1. Wow what a life. He really has accomplished a nice amount in the journalism world. Being a freelancer can be tough as there is no guarantee from one job to the next but it looks like Jan Morris rose to the challenge.

    1. Not at all. Morris constantly used class privilege to get opportunities not open to most people. See my comments to part 3 which will be up in a few days time.

  2. I can't wait to read everything, all parts, Zagria.


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