Bernice Rubens was born in Cardiff, Wales. Her parents were Jewish immigrants, Eli Rubens from Lithuania and his wife Dorothy Cohen from Poland. The family were Orthodox Jews and staunch Zionists. Her two brothers and older sister all became professional musicians. Bernice attended Cardiff High School for Girls and read English at the University College of South Wales, where she earned her degree in 1947. That same year, she married Rudi Nassauer, a wine merchant and writer with whom she had two daughters. She taught English at a grammar school in Birmingham before becoming a documentary filmmaker for the United Nations and other organizations. She began her third career as an author in her 30s, after her children started school. Her first novel, Set On Edge, was published in 1960. Ten years later, she became the first woman to win the Man Booker Prize for her novel The Elected Member. Among the 20 or so novels she produced, several were adapted into films, including Madame Sousatzka (1962), made into a 1988 film, and I Sent a Letter to My Love (1975), made into a French film called Chère inconnue in 1980. She was an honorary vice-president of International PEN and served as a Man Booker judge in 1986. Her autobiography, When I Grow Up, was published posthumously in 2005.