The son of Sir Robert Waley Cohen and Alice (née Beddington), Waley-Cohen was educated at Clifton College where he was a member of Polack's House. He was an Alderman City of London for Portsoken Ward, 1949–84; Sheriff of London, 1955–56; Lord Mayor of London, 1960–61; one of the Lieutenants, City of London, 1949-1991. He was a director of the Palestine Corporation, founded in 1922 by a number British businessmen to promote economic development in the British mandate of Palestine. Waley-Cohen was a member of the College Committee of University College London, 1953-80. He was Treasurer 1962-70, Vice-Chairman 1970 and Chairman, 1971-80. In former times, as Alderman, he sometimes sat as sole Justice in the Mansion House Justice Room.
Waley-Cohen married the Hon. Joyce Constance Ina, daughter of Harry Nathan, 1st Baron Nathan (1920-2013). They had four children:
- Rosalind Burdon (married to businessman and former politician Philip Burdon)
- Sir Stephen Waley-Cohen
- Joanna Waley-Cohen
- Robert Waley-Cohen
Their grandson is the amateur jockey Sam Waley-Cohen.
- "Bernard Waley-Cohen, Ex-London Mayor, 77". The New York Times. Associated Press. 6 July 1991. Retrieved 21 December 2015.
- Rubinstein, William D.; Jolles, Michael; Rubinstein, Hilary L. (2011). The Palgrave Dictionary of Anglo-Jewish History. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 1001. ISBN 1-4039-3910-1. Retrieved 21 December 2015.
- "Lady Waley-Cohen". The Daily Telegraph. 18 August 2013.
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