He was born in Barnsley, Yorkshire. He won a scholarship to study at Queen's College, Oxford, where he gained a First in French and German. He then obtained a Diploma in Comparative Philology under Leonard Palmer and C.L. Wrenn; his chosen languages were Greek and Gothic. He went on to study in Münster with Jost Trier, and in Munich under Wilhelm Wissmann.
Starting afresh as a freelance translator, he eventually gained considerable success in literary translation, winning the Schlegel-Tieck Prize twice. He is credited with introducing the works of Thomas Bernhard to English readers. His translations of Bernhard include Concrete, Woodcutters, Wittgenstein's Nephew, Extinction and the multi-volume autobiography Gathering Evidence.
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