James was born in Helensburgh on the 1st May 1918. He made his professional debut in 1953 in the UK production Laxdale Hall (known in the US as “Scotch on the Rocks”. During a career spanning four decades, James has appeared in many films and TV shows.
James spent the early part of his life growing up in Helensburgh. Having completed his education at Hermitage School, James joined the Police Force. It was during his early years that he fell in love with acting and regularly appeared in amateur dramtic productions. After the war, he studied drama at the Glasgow College of Dramatic Arts, and it was during this period that James gained his first professional break, appearing at the Citizens Theatre.
James Copeland came to prominence playing the Mate in 1954's Classic Ealing production 'The Maggie' (released in the US as The Maggie). Directed by Alexander Mackendrick and written by William Rose, it is a story of a clash of cultures between a hard-driving American businessman and a wily Scottish captain. It was produced by Ealing Studios, at a time when rural Scotland was seen as a popular backdrop for light family entertainment (other examples include I Know Where I'm Going!, Whisky Galore! and Geordie, and British Transport Films such as The Coasts of Clyde). The story was inspired by Neil Munro's short stories of the Vital Spark and her captain, Para Handy. The film was to receive three BAFTA nominations, including Best Film.
James Copeland became a familiar face to TV audiences in the 60s & 70s featuring in many classic shows such as ‘Dixon of Dock Green’, ‘Softly Softly’, ‘Z Cars’ , The Brothers’ amongst others. For Dr Who fans he is perhaps best known as ‘Selris’ in the 4 part episode ‘The Krotons’ which featured Patrck Troughton as the Doctor.
James returned to his homeland on several occasions throughout his career, most noticeably for 9 episodes (1962-1970) of Doctor Finlay’s case book and several episodes of ‘Take the High Road’.
James’ last film role was in 1991’s acclaimed US film ‘Rage in Harlem’ which starred Forest Whitaker, Gregory Hines and Danny Glover. He died, following a period of long illness at his home in Twickenham, London in April 2002.
James and his wife Helen, whom he had married in 1941, had two children. A daughter Laura and a son James, who like his father was to become the successful Scottish character actor, James Cosmo.