He was born in Salford, Manchester, England, United Kingdom.
His first film was The Entertainer (1960), but his real breakthrough came with his portrayal of a disillusioned factory worker in Karel Reisz's film of Alan Sillitoe's Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. This led to a series of "angry young man" roles in kitchen sink dramas, most notably 1963's Tom Jones (for which he turned down the role of T. E. Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia).
His television roles include the lead in Dennis Potter's final two plays: Karaoke and Cold Lazarus. In the latter he played a frozen, disembodied head.
From 1970 to 1978, he was married to the French actor Anouk Aimée.