After training at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama as a Stage Manager, James commenced his career at the Liverpool Playhouse. He worked extensively in regional and touring theatre as a Stage and Production Manager, including seasons with the Royal Shakespeare Company. In 1988 he was appointed Executive Director of Cambridge Theatre Company, later named Method & Madness, running the company until 1998 when he became Executive Director of Hampstead Theatre. He was instrumental in the design, funding and building of the new Hampstead Theatre whilst also acting as a Director of Hampstead Theatre Productions presenting their successful shows in the West End. In 2004 he joined the Theatre of Comedy Company as its Chief Executive.
An active member of the Society of London Theatre, James has also served as a Council member of UK Theatre, formally the TMA. He founded the audio description company, Vocaleyes, and was its Director and subsequently Chairman. Locally, he has been a director of Inmidtown, the Business Improvement District for Holborn, St Giles and Bloomsbury, and a member of the Camden Business Board.