He was born in Birmingham and educated at a local grammar school and then attended Birmingham University. At university he associated with W. H. Auden, Louis MacNeice and Walter Allen. He went on to study for a MA and then worked as a teacher and journalist. He was called up to the Army in 1941, spending most of the war as a Japanese translator. Post-war he worked for the BBC as a radio broadcaster and playwright, his most memorable productions were the Hilda Tablet series in the 1960s.
His most famous poem is Naming of Parts, a witty parody of army basic training. It first published in 1946 in A Map of Verona, his only collection of verse to be published in his lfe-time.