Born and raised in Henley-on-Thames, he attended Eton College, before studying for an MA in chemistry at the University of Oxford. He later took a DPhil in organometallic chemistry at the University of York before doing three years of a post-doctoral thesis at the University of Alberta in Canada. Subsequently, he worked at the Oxford University Press, editing science texts and chess manuals.
In 1985 he was promoted to production work, producing Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World, the Fred Harris-fronted TV show Me & My Micro and the Johnny Ball-fronted Fun & Games amongst other things. He also devised and produced the school science show Scientific Eye.
In the early 1990s he moved in front of the camera to present two series for the YTV region: On the Edge and Local Heroes. The latter programme invloved him cycling around the country in his trademark fluorescent pink and yellow cycling clothes, seeking out places associated with the great innovators of science and technology. This was subsequently transferred to BBC2, where its scope widened from the Yorkshire region to a nationwide area, a different region being the subject of each episode.
Since then he has essentially become the face of the BBC's output on science and the history of science. At the same time he is heavily critical of the standard of science output on British television (including, to a certain extent, his own programmes), which he sees as dumbed-down.