After serving a long apprenticeship as a clapper boy in the 1940s, with Britain's Army Film Unit, Davis eventually worked his way up to focus puller and camera operator in low-budget British films of the 1950s. By the 1960s, Davis worked as a camera operator on such internationally acclaimed films as A Taste of Honey, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, Freud: The Secret Passion (directed by John Huston) and Tom Jones, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture.
His best known film is the 1981 version of Clash of the Titans.
In the 1970s Davis took a long hiatus from feature films, and turned his focus on television for work, including episodes of Follyfoot and The New Avengers, as well as an adaptation of William Shakespeare's Measure for Measure in the BBC Television Shakespeare series.
After directing Clash of the Titans, he directed the 1985 feature film adaptation of Agatha Christie's Ordeal by Innocence starring Donald Sutherland and Faye Dunaway. Davis also directed the 1983 television adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle's The Sign of Four with Ian Richardson as Sherlock Holmes.
- Monahan, Mark (11 Jan 2003). "Film-makers on film: Desmond Davis". Telegraph.