Brought up on the Yealm estuary, he attended Gresham's School in Norfolk and, in 1954 studied art and went on to work as a professional jazz trombonist in Germany. On returning to Britain he worked as a "horticulturalist" which led to Tresco on the Isles of Scilly, and the Island Hotel where he became the gardener in 1964. He was based on the Isles of Scilly for many years, working as an international birding tour guide. He was killed by a Bengal tiger in Jim Corbett National Park, in the Nainital district of Uttarakhand in northern India, while leading a bird tour there, the same year that his autobiography, Confessions of a Scilly Birdman, was published. As a result of this incident, visitors are now forbidden to walk on the territory of the Jim Corbett National Park any time of the day if they are unattended by a certified guide.