He was born in Manchester, England and was left motherless at a very young age by the death of his mother in the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic.
Burgess worked as an education officer in Brunei and Malaysia after the war. In 1959, he collapsed in a classroom in Malaysia. He was diagnosed as having an inoperable brain tumour, with the likelihood of only surviving a short time. He retired from teaching and became a full-time writer, eventually outliving the prognosis by several decades.
In a prolific writing career he published over 50 books covering a wide range of subject matter, icluding mainstream fiction such as the Enderby trilogy (about a reclusive poet), dystopian science fiction such as The Wanting Seed, and a guide to James Joyce, Here Comes Everybody.
His most famous work (or notorious, after Stanley Kubrick made a controversial film adaptation) was the novel A Clockwork Orange (1962); inspired initially by an incident during World War II in which he and his wife had been assaulted, the book was an examination of free will and morality. The young anti-hero of the book, Alex, captured after a careeer of violence and mayhem, is given aversion conditioning to stop his violence: making him defenceless against other people, and unable to enjoy the music that, besides violence, had been his other only pleasure in life. The film adaptation by Stanley Kubrick caused some controversy.
He had a considerable interest in music, having composed several symphonies, and even modelling the structure of one of his novels, The Napoleon Symphony (1974) upon Beethoven's Eroica symphony.
His fluency in language (he could speak Malay, Russian, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Welsh and Japanese in addition to his native English, as well as some Hebrew, Chinese, Swedish and Persian) was reflected in the invented teen slang of A Clockwork Orange (called Nadsat) and in the film Quest for Fire (1981); for this film, Burgess invented an entire prehistoric language for the characters to speak.
Burgess was a lifelong heavy smoker, eventually dying of lung cancer in 1993.
Autobiography: Little Wilson and Big God