Jan Morris

Jan Morris

Jan Morris

Last updated: 27 November 2008

Jan Morris is one of Britain's most respected journalists, historians and travel writers having led a diverse and colourful life.

Morris was born in Somerset in October 1926 a male, then James Humphrey Morris, though knowing from an early age that he was born the wrong gender. He attended Christ Church Cathedral Choir School in Oxford and later Lancing College in Sussex.

Morris joined the Western Daily Press in Bristol in 1941 for a spell as a teenage journalist but became an officer cadet at Sandhurst Military College. He served with the British Army between 1942 and 1947 with the 9th Queen's Royal Lancers in Italy and Palestine.

Morris worked as a journalist with the Arab News Agency in Cairo after demobilisation and married Elizabeth Tuckniss in 1949; his wife understanding his belief that he was a woman. The couple would go on to have five children together and remain together to this day.

In 1949 Morris became an undergraduate at Christ Church in Oxford where he studied English. While there he also edited the student magazine Cherwell. In 1951 Morris joined the editorial staff at The Times and just two years later achieved a high profile scoop while accompanying the British expedition in which Sir Edmund Hillary was the first to scale Mount Everest.

In 1955 Morris became Middle East Correspondent for The Times and a year later his initial book Coast to Coast was published, and won the Café Royal Literature Prize in 1957.

Between the years 1957 and 1962 Morris worked as the Manchester Guardian's Foreign Correspondent, publishing a major cultural history work, Venice, in 1960. A year later Morris won the Heinemann Award and Royal Society for Literature Award for Venice, and was awarded the US George Polk Memorial Award for Journalism.

Following this success Morris made the transition to a full time author, and a prolific one at that. In 1968 Pax Britannica: Climax of an Empire, the first volume in a trilogy about the rise and fall of the British Empire was published. The second and third volumes, Heaven's Command: An Imperial Progress and Farewell the Trumpets: An Imperial Retreat, were published in 1973 and 1978. The trilogy is today considered Morris' most important work.

In 1972 Morris travelled to Casablanca to undergo sex reassignment surgery at the age of 46, following years of preparation for the transformation by having hormone replacement therapy. Morris later wrote about her transition in the book Conundrum (1974). As she argues, when it comes to writing, gender is irrelevant.

Notable works include Oxford, Trieste, Manhattan and Hong Kong, and novels including the satirical Our First Leader, about an independent Wales established after a Nazi invasion of Britain.

Her 1985 novel Last Letters from Hav was shortlisted for the 1985 Booker Prize and Hav (2006) was shortlisted for the Arthur C Clarke Award.

Morris received honorary doctorates from the University of Wales and the University of Glamorgan in 1992 and 1996 respectively and received the Glyndŵr Award, for Outstanding Contribution to the Arts in Wales, also in 1996.

In 1993 Morris was elected to the Gorsedd of the Bards, which she says is her proudest achievement. In 1999 she accepted her CBE for services to literature 'out of polite respect', as she is an avowed republican and Welsh nationalist.

More accolades followed after the turn of the century when, in 2004, she was awarded the Thomas Cook Travel Book special award for outstanding contribution to travel writing and in 2005 she received the Golden Pen Award to mark a lifetime's distinguished service to literature.

On May 14 2008, Morris and Tuckniss remarried each other in a civil ceremony, having had to divorce after Jan's surgery. The companions have spent more than half a century together.

Morris, described as the pre-eminent travel writer of her time, has authored more than 40 books and is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and of Christ Church, Oxford. In January 2008 The Times named her the 15th greatest British writer since World War Two.

Selected bibliography

  • Coast to Coast (1956)
  • Conundrum (1974)
  • Pax Britannica: Climax of an Empire (1968)
  • Last Letters from Hav (1985)
  • Hav (2006)

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