James came to UAL from the BBC where he first worked in the 1990s as Head of Corporate Planning. He had previously been a research fellow on IPPR's media project, and before that was a strategy consultant in media and telecommunications at Hydra Associates.
In 1997, he left the BBC to be Special Adviser on the Knowledge Economy, including the arts, internet and broadcasting policy, to Tony Blair after he became Prime Minister.
He was elected Member of Parliament for Stalybridge and Hyde, before becoming Secretary of State for Culture and then for Work and Pensions. In 2009, as Secretary of State for Culture, James commissioned the McMaster Review, which reset the debate around access and excellence in culture. James left politics in 2010 to scratch a longstanding creative itch...
This led to him joining Rare Day and producing the documentary One Mile Away, which brought two gangs in Birmingham to a truce after decades of conflict and won Best Film at the Edinburgh Film Festival.
James then returned to the BBC in 2013 as Director of Strategy and Digital, where he was responsible for developing the BBC’s strategy in the run up to Charter Review. He took up the role of Director, Radio & Education in October 2016 and was responsible for leading teams across BBC Radio & Music, BBC Children’s & Education as well as BBC Arts. He oversaw the development of the corporation’s education strategy, including support for kids and parents at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. He launched BBC Sounds, which brought together the BBC’s radio stations, podcasts and music mixes in one place with more than 3.4 million weekly users and championed the BBC’s ambitious Arts strategy.
James has also served on the boards of the National Theatre, the Young Vic and the BFI.