James Robertson Justice
Justice in The Lady Says No (1952)
James Norval Harald Justice

(1907-06-15)15 June 1907
Lee, London, England
Died2 July 1975(1975-07-02) (aged 68)
Romsey, Hampshire, England
Resting placeCremated; ashes buried in Spinningdale, Sutherland, Scotland
Other namesSeamus Mor na Feaseg
Years active1944–1971
Dillys Ethel Hayden
(m. 1941; div. 1968)
(m. 1975)

James Robertson Justice (15 June 1907 – 2 July 1975) was an English actor. He is best remembered for portraying pompous authority figures in comedies including each of the seven films in the Doctor series. He also co-starred with Gregory Peck in several adventure movies, notably The Guns of Navarone. Born in south-east London to a Scottish father, he became prominent in Scottish public life, helping to launch Scottish Television (STV) and serving as Rector of the University of Edinburgh (1957–60 and 1963–66).

Early life

Despite his later Scottish claims, James Norval Harald Justice was born on 15 June 1907 in Lee, a suburb of Lewisham in South East London. He was the son of Aberdeen-born mining engineer James Norval Justice and Edith (née Burgess),[1] Justice was educated at St Hugh's School, Bickley, Kent, and Marlborough College in Wiltshire. He later studied science at University College London, but left after a year and became a geology student at the University of Bonn, where he again left after just a year.

Various jobs and travel

Justice returned to the UK in 1927, and became a journalist with Reuters in London alongside Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond. After a year, he emigrated to Canada, where he worked as an insurance salesman, taught English at a boys' school, became a lumberjack and mined for gold. He came back to Britain penniless, working his passage on a Dutch freighter washing dishes in the ship's galley to pay his fare.

Ice Hockey

On his return to Britain, he served as secretary of the British Ice Hockey Association in the early 1930s[2] and managed the national team at the 1932 European Championships in Berlin to a seventh-place finish. He combined his administrative duties in 1931–32 with a season as goalie with the London Lions.[3]

Motor racing

Justice was entered in a Wolseley Hornet Special in the JCC Thousand Mile Race at Brooklands on 3 and 4 May 1932. The car was unplaced.[4] The following year a "J. Justice (J.A.P. Special)" competed in the Brighton Speed Trials: "Justice's machine 'Tallulah' noisily expired before the end of the course, and was pushed back to the start by way of the arcade under the terrace."[5] The Brighton event was won by Whitney Straight and according to Denis Jenkinson: "Flitting round the periphery of the team was James Robertson Justice." In February 1934, Straight took delivery of a new Maserati: "Jimmy Justice went off to Italy to collect the first car which was 8CM number 3011."[6] Motor Sport reported in 1963: "We remember him at Lewes with a G.N. and in a Relay Race with a Wolseley Hornet."[7]

International peacekeeper

In the mid 1930s Justice became a member of League of Nations's international peacekeeping force in the Territory of the Saar Basin. The 3,300-strong International Force in the Saar had been established under a mandate originating in the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. Britain (1,500), Italy (1,300), Sweden (260) and the Netherlands (250) had agreed to provide troops to guard this region of occupied Germany; which was governed by both France and Germany.[8][9] Justice remained in the Saar until the Nazis came to power. The Saar was returned to German control following a contentious referendum in 1935.

Military service

After the Saar, Justice fought with the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s. It was during this time that he first grew his signature bushy beard, which he retained throughout his career. In 1939, he joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve at the outbreak of the Second World War. But after sustaining a shrapnel wound in 1943, he was honourably discharged from the service with a pension.


After leaving the Navy, Justice pursued acting after joining the Players' Theatre in London. Under the chairmanship of Leonard Sachs, who was latterly chairman of BBC television's The Good Old Days, the club would stage Victorian music hall nights. Substituting for Sachs one night, Justice was recommended for the film For Those in Peril (1944).

With his domineering personality, bulky physique (he played rugby for Beckenham RFC First XV in the 1924–25 season alongside Johnnie Cradock who would become the partner of 1950s TV chef Fanny), and rich, booming voice, Justice was soon established as a major supporting actor in British comedy films.[10] His first leading role was as headmaster in the film Vice Versa (1948), written and directed by Peter Ustinov, who cast Justice partly because he had been "a collaborator of my father's at Reuters."Justice made it to Walt Disney in a film adaptation of Robin Hood called The Story of Robin Hood (1952) where he took the role of Little John. Justice also was the demanding surgeon Sir Lancelot Spratt in the "Doctor" series of films of the 1950s and 1960s, beginning with Doctor in the House (1954), playing the role for which he is possibly best remembered. In his films he was sometimes credited as Seumas Mòr na Feusag (Scottish Gaelic, translation: Big James with the Beard), James R. Justice, James Robertson or James Robertson-Justice.

On 31 August 1957, he helped launch the TV station Scottish Television (STV), hosting the channel's first show, This is Scotland.[11] From 1957 to 1960, and again from 1963 to 1966, he was Rector of the University of Edinburgh.[12] In the war film The Guns of Navarone (1961), he had a co-starring role as well as narrating the story.

He appeared in four films with Navarone co-star Gregory Peck, including Captain Horatio Hornblower (1951), and Moby Dick (1956), in which he played the one-armed sea captain also attacked by the white whale. In the film, Justice's character tries to befriend Captain Ahab (played by Peck), but is amazed and repulsed by Ahab's obsessive pursuit of Moby Dick.

Not long after completing his work for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in 1968, Justice suffered a severe stroke, which signalled the beginning of the end for his career. He appeared in a number of films afterward, albeit in less prominent roles (i.e. playing his best known character of Sir Lancelot Spratt for the final time in Doctor in Trouble (1970), featured only briefly in several scenes). He suffered a further series of strokes, which left him unable to work.

Personal life

He married nurse Dillys Hayden (1914–1984) in Chelsea in 1941. They had a son named James. However, in 1949 he accidentally drowned, aged four, near their watermill home in Whitchurch, Hampshire.[13] After a series of affairs, Justice separated from Hayden. Their marriage was dissolved in 1968.[14]

Justice first met the Baltic German actress Irene von Meyendorff on the set of the 1960 film The Ambassador. They became a couple; marrying three days before he died in 1975.

Justice spoke many languages (possibly up to 20) including English, Spanish, French, Greek, Danish, Russian, German, Italian, Dutch and Gaelic.[15]

Love of Scotland

On his return from the war, Justice reinvented himself with stronger Scottish roots. He dispensed with his two middle names taking the new middle name Robertson; out of his habit of wearing Robertson tartan. Justice felt so strongly about his Scottish ancestry, he once claimed to have been born in 1905 under a distillery on the Isle of Skye; sources even listed his birthplace as Wigtown, Wigtownshire.[16] He lived in Wigtown at Orchardton House between 1946 and 1950. He unsuccessfully contested the North Angus and Mearns constituency for the Labour Party in the 1950 general election.[15]

With his earnings from the film Doctor in the House (1954), Justice purchased a cottage in the Scottish Highlands village of Spinningdale. In 1966 Justice appeared as a narrator in five episodes of the BBC children's television series Jackanory, telling stories and legends from Scotland, including those of The Battle of the Birds and The Black Bull of Norroway.


After a series strokes prevented him from working as an actor, Justice was declared bankrupt in 1970.[17] He died in penury in 1975. His ashes were buried on a north Scotland moor near his former residence in the Highland village of Spinningdale.


A biography entitled James Robertson Justice—What's The Bleeding Time? (referring to a joke in the first Doctor film) was published by Tomahawk Press on 3 March 2008.[18] It was written by James Hogg, Robert Sellers and Howard Watson.



  1. ^ "The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. 2004. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/49503. ISBN 978-0-19-861412-8. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. ^ Motor Sport. December 1933. p. 57. ((cite magazine)): Missing or empty |title= (help)
  3. ^ "A to Z Encyclopaedia of Ice Hockey entry". Retrieved 1 November 2007. Archived 19 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ "THE THOUSAND MILESTONE". Motor Sport. July 1932. pp. 415–419.
  5. ^ "THE BRIGHTON SPEED TRIALS". Motor Sport. October 1933. p. 540.
  6. ^ Denis Jenkinson (1987). Maserati 3011: The story of a racing car. Aries Press. p. 11.
  7. ^ "VETERAN-EDWARDIAN-VINTAGE: A Section Devoted to Old-Car Matters". Motor Sport. February 1963. p. 82.
  8. ^ Norrie MacQueen, ed. (2011). "1". The United Nations, Peace Operations and the Cold War (2 ed.). Routledge.
  9. ^ Alfred F. Kugel (1935). "Allied Plebiscite Activity in the Saar Territory" (PDF). Military Postal History Society.
  10. ^ "Beckenham". Retrieved 30 June 2018.
  11. ^ This Is Scotland: 31 August 1957 on YouTube
  12. ^ "Full list of Rectors to date". The University of Edinburgh Information Services. Retrieved 1 November 2007.
  13. ^ "Actor's child dies in tragic drowning". Hull Daily Mail. 21 June 1949. p. 3. James Norvil Justice, four-year-old son of James Robertson Justice, Scottish film actor, was found drowned last night in the River Test, near his home at Lower Mill House, Whitchurch, Hampshire
  14. ^ Walker, Tim (2 August 2013). "Lawyers may take starring role in West End show The Golden Voice". The Daily Telegraph.
  15. ^ a b Sheridan Morley (2004). "Justice, James Norval Harald Robertson (1907–1975)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 12 November 2007.
  16. ^ Pendreigh, Brian (18 November 2007). "'Scots actor Justice outed as Londoner". Scotland on Sunday. Archived from the original on 21 November 2007.
  17. ^ "James Robertson Justice". Aberdeen Evening Express. 2 December 1970. p. 1.
  18. ^ Hogg, James; Sellers, Robert; Watson, Howard (3 March 2008). James Robertson Justice: What's the Bleeding Time?: A Biography. Tomahawk Press. ISBN 978-0953192670.
Academic offices Preceded bySir Sydney A. Smith Rector of the University of Edinburgh 1957–1960 Succeeded byJo Grimond Preceded byJo Grimond Rector of the University of Edinburgh 1963–1966 Succeeded byMalcolm Muggeridge