Jan Morris

Jan Morris CBE FRSL (born James Humphry Morris; 2 October 1926 – 20 November 2020) was a Welsh historian, author and travel writer. She was known particularly for the Pax Britannica trilogy (1968–1978), a history of the British Empire, and for portraits of cities, including Oxford, Venice, Trieste, Hong Kong, and New York City. She published under her birth name, James, until 1972, when she had gender reassignment surgery after transitioning from male to female.

Jan Morris
BornJames Humphry Morris[1]:4
(1926-10-02)2 October 1926
Clevedon, Somerset, England
Died20 November 2020(2020-11-20) (aged 94)[2]
Pwllheli, Wales
GenreNon-fiction, travel writing
Elizabeth Tuckniss
(m. 1949)

As James Morris, she was a member of the 1953 British Mount Everest expedition, which made the first ascent of the mountain.[3] She was the only journalist to accompany the expedition, climbing with the team to a camp at 22,000 feet on the mountain and famously having the successful ascent announced in The Times on 2 June 1953, the day of Queen Elizabeth II's coronation.[4]


Born in Clevedon, Somerset, England, to an English mother and Welsh father, Morris was a chorister in the choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, while boarding at Christ Church Cathedral School.[5] Morris then went on to be educated at Lancing College, returning to Christ Church, Oxford, as an undergraduate. Despite being born and largely raised in England, Morris always identified as Welsh.[6] In the closing stages of the Second World War, Morris served in the 9th Queen's Royal Lancers, and in 1945 was posted to the Free Territory of Trieste, during the joint British–American occupation.[3]


After the war Morris wrote for The Times, and in 1953 was its correspondent accompanying Edmund Hillary, whose expedition was the first to scale Mount Everest. Morris reported the success of Tenzing Norgay and Hillary in a coded message to the newspaper, "Snow conditions bad stop advanced base abandoned yesterday stop awaiting improvement",[7] and by happy coincidence the scoop was published in The Times on the morning of the coronation of Elizabeth II.[8] The message was initially interpreted to mean that Tom Bourdillon and Tenzing had reached the summit, but the first name was corrected before the story was broken. Claims that the news was held back ignore the communication problems of the time; it was quite an achievement to get the news to London by Coronation Day, as it had to be sent to Namche Bazaar by runner.[9]

Reporting from Cyprus on the Suez Crisis for the Manchester Guardian in 1956, Morris produced the first "irrefutable proof" of collusion between France and Israel in the invasion of Egyptian territory, interviewing French Air Force pilots who confirmed that they had been in action in support of Israeli forces.[10] Morris reported on the 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann.[11] Later Morris opposed the Falklands War.[12]

Personal lifeEdit

In 1949, Morris married Elizabeth Tuckniss, the daughter of a tea planter; they had five children together, including the poet and musician Twm Morys. One of their children died in infancy. They lived together in the village of Llanystumdwy, in North Wales, for over 50 years until Morris' death in November 2020, first at her ancestral home Plas Trefan, and latterly in a converted stable block, Trefan Morys, in the grounds.[13][14]

Morris began transitioning to life as a woman in 1964, one of the first high-profile people to do so.[1]:105[15] In 1972, Morris travelled to Morocco to undergo sex reassignment surgery, performed by surgeon Georges Burou,[1]:135–144 because doctors in Britain refused to allow the procedure unless Morris and Tuckniss divorced, something Morris was not prepared to do at the time.[1]:127 They divorced later, but remained together and on 14 May 2008 were legally reunited when they formally entered into a civil partnership.[3][16] After James became Jan, she detailed her transition in Conundrum (1974), her first book under her new name, and one of the first autobiographies to discuss a personal gender reassignment.[17][note 1]

Morris died on 20 November 2020 at Ysbyty Bryn Beryl (Bryn Beryl Hospital) in Pwllheli in North Wales, at the age of 94.[2] Her death was announced by her son Twm.[2]


Morris received honorary doctorates from the University of Wales and the University of Glamorgan, was an honorary fellow of Christ Church, Oxford, and was a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. She received the Glyndŵr Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Arts in Wales in 1996.[18] She accepted her CBE in the 1999 Birthday Honours "out of polite respect", but Morris was a Welsh nationalist republican at heart.[19] In 2005, she was awarded the Golden PEN Award by English PEN for "a Lifetime's Distinguished Service to Literature".[20][21] In January 2008, The Times named her the 15th greatest British writer since the War.[16] She has featured in the Pinc List of leading Welsh LGBT figures.[22] She won the 2018 Edward Stanford Outstanding Contribution to Travel Writing Award.[23]

In an interview with BBC in 2016 she told Michael Palin that she does not like to be described as a travel writer, as her books are not about movement and journeys; they are about places and people.[24]


Morris' 1974 best-selling memoir Conundrum documented her transition and was compared to that of transgender pioneer Christine Jorgensen (A Personal Autobiography). Later memoirs included Herstory and Pleasures of a Tangled Life. She also wrote many essays on travel and her life and published a collection of her diary entries as In My Mind's Eye in 2019.[25]

Morris wrote many books on travel particularly to Venice and Trieste. Her Pax Britannica trilogy, on the history of the British Empire, received praise.[26] Morris' 1985 novel Last Letters from Hav, an "imagined travelogue and political thriller" was shortlisted for that year's Booker Prize.[27] A second volume of diary entries is due to be published in January 2021. Allegorizings, a book of personal reflections written in and before the 2000s and that she stipulated not be published in her lifetime, is also due to be issued in 2021.[26]



  1. ^ The opening lines of Conundrum: "I was three or perhaps four years old when I realized that I had been born into the wrong body, and should really be a girl. I remember the moment well, and it is the earliest memory of my life."


  1. ^ a b c d Morris, Jan (2006). Conundrum. New York Review of Books. ISBN 978-1-59017-189-9.
  2. ^ a b c "Travel writer and journalist Jan Morris dies at 94". BBC News. Archived from the original on 20 November 2020. Retrieved 20 November 2020.
  3. ^ a b c Lea, Richard (20 November 2020). "Jan Morris, historian, travel writer and trans pioneer, dies aged 94". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 20 November 2020. Retrieved 20 November 2020.
  4. ^ Adams, Tim (22 November 2020) "Jan Morris: She sensed she was ‘at the very end of things’. What a life it was... ". The Observer. Retrieved 22 November 2020
  5. ^ Morris, Jan (3 February 2011). "2". Conundrum. Faber & Faber. ISBN 978-0-571-26600-5. Archived from the original on 22 November 2020. Retrieved 21 November 2020.
  6. ^ Johns, Derek (27 March 2016). "Jan Morris at 90: She has shown us the world". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 25 March 2018. Retrieved 27 March 2018.
  7. ^ Morris, Jan. Coronation Everest. Faber and Faber, 2003, p.149.
  8. ^ Venables, Stephen (2003). To the top: the story of Everest. London: Walker Books. p. 63. ISBN 0-7445-8662-3.
  9. ^ "The Press battle to report Everest climb". BBC News. 29 May 2013. Archived from the original on 26 July 2020. Retrieved 27 March 2020.
  10. ^ Rusbridger, Alan (10 July 2006). "Courage Under Fire". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 30 August 2013. Retrieved 12 March 2010.
  11. ^ A Writer's World: Travels 1950–2000. 2003.
  12. ^ "Authors Take Sides on the Falklands (Review)", W. L. Webb, The Guardian Weekly, 29 August, (p.21).
  13. ^ Lively, Penelope (23 February 2014). "A Writer's House in Wales". The Independent. Retrieved 22 November 2020.
  14. ^ Adams, Tim (1 March 2020). "You're talking to someone at the very end of things". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 November 2020.
  15. ^ "Obituary: Jan Morris, a poet of time, place and self". BBC News. 20 November 2020. Archived from the original on 20 November 2020. Retrieved 21 November 2020.
  16. ^ a b McSmith, Andy (4 June 2008). "Love story: Jan Morris – Divorce, the death of a child and a sex change... but still together". The Independent. Archived from the original on 2 July 2008. Retrieved 12 March 2010.
  17. ^ Shopland, Norena 'A tangle in my life' from Forbidden Lives: LGBT stories from Wales, Seren Books, 2017
  18. ^ "BBC Wales Arts: Jan Morris". www.bbc.co.uk. Archived from the original on 20 December 2018. Retrieved 21 December 2019.
  19. ^ Frost, Caroline. "Jan Morris:A Profile". BBC Four website. Archived from the original on 28 October 2011. Retrieved 21 December 2019.
  20. ^ "Golden Pen Award, official website". English PEN. Archived from the original on 21 November 2012. Retrieved 3 December 2012.
  21. ^ Gillian Fenwick (2008). "Chronology". Traveling Genius: The Writing Life of Jan Morris. Univ of South Carolina Press. p. XX. ISBN 9781570037474. Archived from the original on 26 February 2017. Retrieved 3 December 2012.
  22. ^ "Pinc List 2017". Wales Online. 19 August 2017. Archived from the original on 20 August 2017. Retrieved 20 August 2017.
  23. ^ "Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards 2018 winners". Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards. 1 February 2018. Archived from the original on 12 August 2018. Retrieved 11 August 2018.
  24. ^ "Artsnight: Michael Palin Meets Jan Morris". BBC two. BBC. 8 October 2016. Archived from the original on 17 April 2019. Retrieved 21 December 2019.
  25. ^ Italie, Hillel (20 November 2020). "Jan Morris, author and transgender pioneer, dies at 94". AP News. Archived from the original on 20 November 2020. Retrieved 21 November 2020.
  26. ^ a b Kandell, Jonathan (20 November 2020). "Jan Morris, Celebrated Writer of Place and History, Is Dead at 94". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 21 November 2020. Retrieved 21 November 2020.
  27. ^ "Last Letters from Hav". The Booker Prizes. The Booker Prize Foundation. Archived from the original on 20 October 2020. Retrieved 21 November 2020.

Further readingEdit

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