He was born in Downpatrick, County Down, Northern Ireland, where his father Bill, a soldier, was then posted. Subsequently, his father ran the Border Brewery in Wrexham. His mother was American. Kington was educated at Bilton Grange, a prep school in Rugby, then later Trinity College, Glenalmond, a boys' independent boarding school in Glenalmond, Scotland (now Glenalmond College). Among his contemporaries was the future journalist Alexander Cockburn. During a gap year, then rare, Kington worked as a translator in New York, and lived in Greenwich Village. He then studied Modern Languages (French and German) at Trinity College, Oxford. After graduation he spent some time writing with Terry Jones, an Oxford contemporary but the teaming did not click, and Jones was in reality waiting for his friend Michael Palin to graduate.
In particular inspired by the American humourist S. J. Perelman, Kington began his writing career at the satirical magazine Punch, where he spent some 15 years. It was during this time, in the late 1970s, that he began writing his Franglais columns written in a comical mixture of English and French. These short sketches purported to be a study course taking as their raison d'être that "les Français ne parlent pas le O-level français" ("the French do not speak O-level French"). They were later published as a series of books (Let's Parler Franglais!, Let's Parler Franglais Again, Let's Parler Franglais One More Temps, and so on). During the 1980s he presented Steam Days, an informative programme about Britain's railways. He presented an episode, "Three Miles High", in the first series of the BBC's Great Railway Journeys travelling through parts of Peru and Bolivia.
Taught the piano from the age of seven he found, when he fell in love with jazz during adolescence, that being able to read music he was unable to improvise; he therefore took up the trombone. At Oxford he found that several fellow undergraduates played better so he switched to the double bass when someone pointed out the shortage of bass players at the university. Kington was for many years a member of the cabaret quartet Instant Sunshine. To his regret, he only played in a jazz group for a brief period in 1962 during a summer job in Spain, where he ran into the British politician Enoch Powell, apparently looking somewhat displeased. Meeting Powell years later at a Punch meal and reminding him of their previous meeting, he was amused by Powell's comment: "I never forgot a face". Kington moved away from London in the 1980s, remarried, and worked from his home at Limpley Stoke, near Bath.
Regular topics for his columns included
- Answers to a Christmas quiz that was never printed
- Fictional court reporting
- Motorway ballads
- Proceedings of the United Deities
- Spot the fictional news story
- Things for which there is no word
- "Albanian Proverbs" which appear profound at first glance, but are actually meaningless
- Letters concerning a recently deceased celebrity's supposed love of cricket
He also satirized Bertrand Russell à la Punch in "Bertrand's Mind Wins over Mater", in Welcome to Kington: Includes All the Pieces You Cut Out From The Independent and Lost (1989). In addition, Kington wrote two stage plays. Waiting for Stoppard, a good-natured pastiche of early Tom Stoppard plays and simultaneously a convoluted farce involving the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, was seen at the Bristol New Vic, Southwark Playhouse and other venues in 1995. The following year came The Death of Tchaikovsky - a Sherlock Holmes Mystery, in which Kington appeared in person at the Edinburgh Festival.
Kington died at his home in Limpley Stoke, near Bath, after a short illness, having just filed his final copy for the Independent. He had suffered from pancreatic cancer. In October 2008, "How Shall I tell the Dog?", written by him about events after receiving the news that he was dying of pancreatic cancer, was serialised by BBC Radio Four, featuring Michael Palin as Kington.
A quotation frequently attributed to him is: "Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing that a tomato doesn't belong in a fruit salad."
- Let's parler Franglais! London: Robson, 1979, ISBN 0-86051-081-6.
- Let's parler Franglais again! London: Robson, 1980, ISBN 0-86051-114-6.
- Parlez vous Franglais? London: Robson, 1981, ISBN 0-86051-150-2.
- Let's parler Franglais one more temps. London: Robson Books, 1982, ISBN 0-86051-178-2.
- The Franglais lieutenant's woman. London: Robson, 1986, ISBN 0-86051-398-X.
- Miles and Miles. London: Hamilton, 1982, ISBN 0-241-10901-9 .
- Moreover. London: Robson, 1982, ISBN 0-86051-173-1.
- A Wolf In Frog's Clothing. Methuen, 1983, ISBN 0-413-52680-1.
- Nature made ridiculously simple, or, How to identify absolutely everything. London: Hamilton, 1983, ISBN 0-241-11116-1.
- Moreover,Too. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985, ISBN 0-14-008540-8.
- Welcome to Kington. London: Robson, 1989, ISBN 0-86051-616-4.
- Steaming Through Britain. London: Unwin Hyman, 1990, ISBN 0-04-440488-3.
- Jazz: An Anthology. London: HarperCollins, 1992, ISBN 0-00-215199-5.
- Motorway Madness. London: HarperCollins, 1998, ISBN 0-00-255912-9.
- Someone Like Me: Tales From A Borrowed Childhood. London: Headline, 2005, ISBN 0-7553-1356-9 (autobiography).
- How Shall I Tell the Dog?: Last Laughs from the Master. London: Profile Books, 2008, ISBN 1-84668-197-9.
- The World of Alphonse Allais (translation of humorous essays by Alphonse Allais. London: Faber & Faber, 2008, ISBN 978-0-571-24738-7
- Waiting For Stoppard. ~1995.
- Death Of Tchaikovsky – A Sherlock Holmes Mystery. ~1996.
- Philip Sheldrake The Business of Influence: Reframing Marketing and PR for the Digital Age, Chichester: Wiley, 2011, p.153
- Miles Kington at the Internet Movie Database
- Official commemorative website
- Miles Kington Columns
- Obituary in the Independent
- BBC obituary
- Times obituary
- Telegraph obituary
- Guardian obituary