was born 'Michael James' on 29 October 1935 in West Bridgford, a suburb of Nottingham in the county of Nottinghamshire, England to Vincent and Myfanwy (Llewelyn) James. At the age of one, his father died of pneumonia after being booted in the chest while playing rugby with a bad cold, and at age 14, his mother also passed away, leaving him, an only child, to be brought up by his grandmother and uncle. He was educated at the Catholic Becket Grammar School and then at Nottingham University. He served in the National Service for a time and was stationed in Germany where he participated in several plays, but returned to Nottingham to train as an accountant for the National Coal Board.
But after seeing a touring company perform, he decided to pursue acting and obtained a scholarship to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama while also working at the Nottingham fish market during his holidays. He made his professional debut in 1961 performing in various productions at the Bangor Little Theatre in North Ireland and went on to join the Salisbury Repertory (1962-63), the Bristol Old Vic (1963-65) and the Royal Shakespeare Company (1965), Associate Artist 1966-69).
Around this time he married his first wife, Lynn Farleigh. He had two sons and an adopted daughter with his second wife, Heather Mary Sneddon, whom he divorced in 1977. In 1979, he moved with his present wife, Elizabeth Ann Smithson, and their two kids, Richard and Katy, to Brighton where he still resides. He is president of and plays with the Rottingdean Cricket Club and also enjoys (keeping in mind his most charming sense of humour which he apparently inherited from his father) listening to drains. His other interests include darts, riding, watching TV sports, gardening and gambling. He supports the charity Our Disappearing Planet.