The material on this page owes much to the good work of Barrie Minney and RJ’s grandson Hugo on this website, dedicated to the Minney family. Many thanks!
Early life and journalism
Rubeigh James was born in Kolkata, India on 29 August 1895, son of JR Minney.
He came to London and was admitted to study history at King’s College, London, but left again in 1914 in order to join the war as part of the Indian Army, defending the Afghan Border.
He started working as a journalist on Indian papers including The Pioneer in Allahabad and became Joint Editor of The Englishman in Calcutta and correspondent for the Times. He was special reporter for the Duke of Connaught on an extensive tour of India (1920).
Coming back to UK, he was drama critic for Daily Chronicle and writer and then assistant editor for Sunday News and then Editor for the very successful Everybody’s Weekly for ten years (1925-35). He was Editor of The Era, Managing Editor of The Sunday Referee (1935-39) and editor for Newnes’ paper The War Weekly (1939-41) where production was reduced and eventually halted due to shortage of paper. He was Editor of The Strand Magazine (1941-42) which attracted top writers.
His first play was Clive of India (1933) written with WP Lipscomb and ran in London at the Wyndham Theatre, apparently the Royal family unexpectedly came to the opening night, and it ran for a year and was later filmed by 20th Century Fox. Other plays included Gentle Caesar (1942) about Tsar Nicholas II with Osbert Sitwell, They Had His Number with Juliet Rhys-Williams, The Red Horizon (1943) with Osbert Sitwell and The Voice of the People (1950).
On the opening night of Clive of India play in 1933, according to a story, RJ took a call from Darryl Zanuck, a legendary movie mogul who had founded 20th Century Fox. In Zanuck’s suite the next day, Zanuck invited RJ to Hollywood, RJ declined as he was due to leave for Russia to work on a biography on Rasputin, to which Zanuck reputedly responded: “Now Mr Minney sit down a minute, we haven’t talked about money yet.” The next day RJ left for Hollywood. Clive of India is listed as one of 18 profitable films as 20th Century Fox became a very successful independent studio.
While in Hollywood RJ became friends with Charlie Chaplin and his family.
In 1942, after the Sunday Referee, RJ joined Gainsborough Films working with Ted Black and others in a very successful team. They found a good audience of steamy romantic melodramas. The classic British period drama was The Wicked Lady (directed by Leslie Arliss in 1945) with a cast that included Margaret Lockwood, James Mason, Patricia Roc, Michael Rennie and Felix Aylmer. They sought to keep the British film industry competitive, priding themselves on streamlined productions and helping to launch many British actors and actresses. According to one account: “The release of the Wicked Lady in 1946 proved conclusively to the world that the British film industry could produce pictures at an economical cost which would gross as much as any film made in Hollywood. Box office receipts for this film have already beaten all records, taking over half a million pounds and the film is now being screened in 9,000 American cinemas.” It was seen by 18.4 million.
Other successful films with Gainsborough included Madonna of the Seven Moons (directed by Arthur Crabtree in 1944), Caravan (directed by Arthur Crabtree, 1946). He also produced the atmospheric A Place of One’s Own (1944) by Osbert Sitwell with settings designed by Rex Whistler.
The total roll of films was at least 15 between 1935 and 1958.
He was an early novelist, writing Maki in 1921 and following up with eight more, starting with The Road to Delhi (1923) and the last being Anne of the Sealed Knot (1972).
Some of his most famous books were at least 11 biographies including Clive (1931), Chaplin, The Immortal Tramp (1954) and Carve Her Name With Pride about the brave spy Violette Szabo, who was posthumously awarded the George Cross, and was acted by Virginia McKenna in the film that was made the next year. Other true stories retold well included Fanny and the Regent of Siam (1962) and Rasputin (1973), and the terrifying but also inspiring account of Dr Alina Brewda, who survived the Warsaw ghetto, Auschwitz and other holocaust deathcamps, retold in I Shall Fear No Evil (1966).
He wrote at least 22 other books, ranging from Shiva, or the Future of India (1929), which the British Government banned from distribution in India, worried it would cause offence. Others included Across India by Air, Night Life of Calcutta, The Private Papers of Hore Belisha (1960), Recollections of George Bernard Shaw (1969) and books about film making and many others. He also wrote about some landmarks, including The Tower of London (1970), Hampton Court (1972), and No 10 Downing Street, a House in History (1963).
His extensive travels include a journey to Tibet on horseback across the Himalayas. He was attached to the staff of the Duke of Connaught for the opening of India’s first Parliament. He was the first to fly across India in a plane that arrived in a packing case. He has been to Malaya, most of the countries of Europe, the Great Wall of China, and Kenya to visit his son’s family and his grandsons.
He was Labour Party candidate for Southend East in 1950. In 1955 he stood in Bexley against Conservative Ted Heath and won 45.7% of the vote (Heath got 54.3%) with a very high turnout in a safe Conservative seat.
He was married to Edith Fox and this marriage was dissolved, their son Robin and daughter Primrose survive. He married Hetty Minney and she remained his wife and close companion until he died.
He passed away peacefully on 5 January 1979 at Ticehurst, Sussex, aged 83. A memorial service was held at St James Piccadilly on 5 April 1979 with the Rev. William Baddely officiating, Sir Harold Wilson MP read the lesson and Virginia McKenna read a poem from the film “Carve Her Name with Pride”.