James Hugh Calum Laurie was born on June 11, 1959, in Oxford, England. Laurie's father, William "Ran" Laurie, was a medical doctor and Olympic gold medalist in rowing. His mother, Patricia Laurie, was a writer whose occasional essays were published by The London Times. He has an older brother, Charles Alexander Lyon Mundell Laurie, and two older sisters, Susan and Janet.
Laurie felt an inability to meet his mother's impossibly high expectations, it caused frequent clashes between the two family members. "I was a frustration to her," Laurie said. "There were big chunks of time where I think she didn't like me." His relationship with his father was quite different; Laurie describes him as "the sweetest man in the world," and "a solid citizen who wore tweed suits and was overflowing with good sense and kindness." The two grew very close during the actor's childhood.