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Francis James

Alfred Francis James (21 April 1918 – 24 August 1992) was an Australian publisher known for being imprisoned in China as a spy.


Early lifeEdit

James was born in Queenstown, Tasmania, the son of an Anglican priest. His early life was unsettled as his father moved between parishes. In 1934 he started at Canberra Grammar School, meeting his lifelong friend Gough Whitlam (who later became Prime Minister of Australia). He was expelled the next year after a theological dispute with the headmaster and later attended Fort Street High School. He completed his Leaving Certificate in 1936.

Between 1937 and 1939 James served with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). At the outbreak of World War II, James travelled to Britain and joined the Royal Air Force, enlisting on the last day of the Battle of Britain. After pilot training and operations, he was shot down over France on Anzac Day, 25 April 1942, receiving severe burns to his face and eyes. He was captured, caused a great deal of trouble in German military hospitals and POW camps, and was then repatriated, through Cairo Red Cross, because of his injuries. He was formally invalided out of the Royal Air Force in April 1945 and received a Totally and Permanently Incapacitated pension from the British Government for the rest of his life. In the same month he married Joyce Staff in London.

Publishing careerEdit

After returning to Australia, James was employed as a journalist with The Sydney Morning Herald in 1950. He was a distinctive figure, habitually wearing a black broad-brimmed hat and a cloak.

In 1952, James took over management of The Anglican, a publication of the Church of England. In 1960, The Anglican was subject to a takeover bid by Frank Packer's Australian Consolidated Press (ACP), which culminated in a street brawl in which Packer's forces unsuccessfully attempted to occupy the building.

Controversy continued when in 1964, James was fined 50 pounds for the offensive publication of the Oz magazine.

During the 1960s he used The Anglican to campaign against the Vietnam War and in 1966 stood as a candidate for the Liberal Reform Group in the federal election. He visited North Vietnam twice.

Imprisonment in ChinaEdit

In 1969, James was arrested in China for alleged spying. The reasons for his behaviour remain unclear, but it is often thought he was playing a practical joke.

After four years' imprisonment, he was released and expelled in 1973 after lobbying by his old friend Gough Whitlam, who was then Prime Minister.

Francis James died in 1992, aged 74.

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