In 1917 – 1918 James fell seriously ill with the influenza virus that was rampant in the country at that time and he returned to his parents’ home in Ipswich to recover. His father was subsequently promoted to a more important post as Postmaster of Leicester and the whole family moved there. In 1920 James entered Oxford University at the Queen’s College starting on a course of study for a BA degree, but not in music as it was only available for post graduate study at the time. He stayed on to complete a BMus later in 1924. When he started his studies he also took on a teaching post in music at St. Edward’s School in the city to help with financing his degree. He managed to combine teaching with his undergraduate studies during this time and also to play the piano in some Oxford concerts. During the university vacations it was common practice for undergraduates to spend some time abroad. After the war Germany was once again one of the main centres for classical music and James went over there on one or two occasions to pursue his musical studies. Initially he went to Leipzig to study under Teichmuller for some special lessons on the playing of Brahms.
There are photographs of him in Germany at that time with his youngest brother Harold who was also very musical and was studying singing.
During his time at Oxford James was invited out to Garsington by Ottoline Morrell, where he met a number of other artists and literary people. There are a number of photographs taken by Lady Ottoline in the garden at Garsington where he is playing croquet with some of her guests including Stanley Spencer and David Lindsay (the 28th Earl of Crawford) with the poet T.S Eliot sitting in a deckchair behind the players. These can be seen in the National Portrait Gallery photograph collection and on line. He also met Walter de la Mare on one occasion.
At the end of his Oxford course in 1924 James returned to his family in Leicester where his mother had set up a small conservatoire training pianists to a high level. James took on the more advanced pupils and organised a number of student concerts in the area. At the same time he was practising hard himself in preparation for a series of three closely spaced recitals to be given in the Wigmore Hall in London. He was now thinking of pursuing a concert career on the piano in London.