James Clavell, born Charles Edmund Dumaresq Clavell (1924–1994) 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.
Born in Australia, Clavell was the son of Cdr. Richard Clavell RN 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 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.
In 1953, Clavell and his wife emigrated to the United States and settled down in Hollywood where he scripted the grisly science-fiction horror film The Fly and wrote a war film, Five Gates to Hell. Clavell won a Writers Guild Best Screenplay Award for the 1963 film The Great Escape. He also wrote, directed and produced a 1967 box office hit, To Sir, With Love, starring Sidney Poitier.
Clavell's first novel, King Rat, was a semi-fictional account of his prison experiences at Changi. When the book was published in 1962, it became an immediate best-seller and three years later, it was adapted for film. His other novels turned into screenplays include, Tai-Pan and Shōgun.