P.D. James spent most of her life working in hospital administration and the civil service. She continued in her bureaucratic role until her retirement in 1979.

James left school at 16 to earn money to support her family when her mother was institutionalised: her husband would also later suffer from mental illness. She published her first novel, Cover Her Face, which introduced her fabled detective Adam Dalgleish, in 1962. Thirteen more would eventually follow and the series was televised, while Children of Men (1992) was made into a feature film. James was ennobled as Baroness James of Holland Park, of Southwold in the County of Suffolk and became a much-loved, and respected, critic of authority.