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John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris was born in the village of Knowle in Warwickshire, England, the son of George Beynon Harris, a barrister, and Gertrude Parkes, the daughter of a Birmingham ironmaster. His early childhood was spent in Edgbaston in Birmingham, but when he was 8 years old his parents separated and he and his brother, the writer Vivian Beynon Harris, spent the rest of their childhood at a number of English preparatory and boarding schools, including Blundell's School in Devon during the First World War. His longest and final stay was at Bedales in Hampshire (1918–1921) which he left at the age of 18, where he blossomed and was happy.

After leaving school, Wyndham tried several careers including farming, law, commercial art and advertising, but mostly relied on an allowance from his family. He eventually turned to writing for money in 1925, and by 1931 was selling short stories and serial fiction to American science fiction pulp magazines, most under the pen names of John Beynon or John Beynon Harris, though he also wrote some detective stories.