Leslie James Seth-Smith was a sufficiently cumbersome name that, early in his career,
he adopted an old family surname and became James Brabazon. Over 60 years, James worked
in theatre and television, writing books and scripts, never ceasing activity in his work.
He was also an intellectual in the philosophical sense, believing in Reverence for Life,
and he constantly, although not always wisely, followed his heart.
Leslie James Seth-Smith was born in 1923 in Kampala, Uganda, and spent his first years
on his parents' plantation, which grew coffee, rubber and sugar cane. He was joined by two
sisters, and in 1928 the whole family returned to England. Following a rather proper
education in classics at Uppingham and Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge (from where he was
sent down for associating inappropriately with a member of the opposite sex), James moved to
London and began acting. To his parents' temporary horror, he really took to the bohemian
world of drama. He revelled in surrounding himself with colourful, unconventional and eccentric
friends. Despite a couple of dalliances with more secure lines of work, entertaining had grabbed him.
James worked at the Admiralty during the war, living at St Anne's, Soho, which was
significantly damaged by bombing. On hearing of Victory in Europe, he and a friend celebrated
by climbing the fragile bell tower and ringing the bells by hand: the first time that they had
been heard over Soho for many years.
It was Dorothy L Sayers, the novelist of whom he later became a biographer, who encouraged
him to enter acting professionally. Within a few years he was performing repertory theatre
from Perth to Coventry, living in a caravan with his wife Marka and a young family. His modest
assumption that his casting was largely because of a dearth of (just under) 6 ft young men
after the war, is belied by many good reviews.
Settling down in Finchley in 1956, James joined an advertising agency, but was trying his
hand at play-writing in his spare time. "People of Nowhere" was written for World Refugee Year
in 1959, and received great critical acclaim. He spent most of the 60s and 70s script-editing,
directing and producing for the BBC, Granada and LWT, being involved in much of the cutting
edge drama of the time, including "The Six Wives of Henry VIII", the "Childhood" series with
directors Michael Apted, Mike Newell and John Irvin, and "Talking to a Stranger" with Judi Dench.
On the back of his highly praised biography of Dorothy L Sayers, James was invited to write
a biography of Dr Albert Schweitzer: humanitarian, philosopher and Nobel Peace Prize winner.
The discovery of Schweitzer's philosophy of Reverence For Life affected James profoundly, and
he never stopped trying to explain its all-encompassing truth to people. Indeed, he was intimately
involved with the charity Friends of Albert Schweitzer (UK), always suggesting new ways of engaging
people. The book also led him to be welcomed as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.
Now with his second family, James went freelance in 1981 and turned his hand to feature film
script-writing. As with his frequent story-telling, his scripts were generally on subjects important
to him, in which he always found a moral as well as a human aspect. "Lost in Siberia" was nominated
for the 1991 Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film, showing the potential that his other
scripts may fulfill.
James suffered a short illness from lung cancer, a result of smoking in his early life.
His last weeks were spent surrounded by beloved family and friends. He is survived by three
daughters and a son (Seth-Smiths).
An edited version of this obituary was published in
The Times on 12th February 2008 [please click].