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Coghill was educated at Haileybury, and read English at Exeter College, Oxford. He became a fellow of the college and there is a small bust of him in the college chapel. He served in the Great War after 1917. In 1948, he was made professor of rhetoric at Gresham College, London. He was Merton Professor of English Literature of the University of Oxford from 1957 to 1966. He died in November 1980.
His Chaucer and Langland translations were first made for BBC radio broadcasts. He was well known during his time as a theatrical producer and director in Oxford; he is noted particularly as the director of the Oxford University Dramatic Society 1949 production of The Tempest. He was an associate of the literary discussion group "The Inklings" with other famous Oxford Dons such as J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, as well as Oxford alumnus Owen Barfield.
In 1968, he collaborated with Martin Starkie to co-write the West-End and Broadway musical Canterbury Tales. The musical was a great success internationally, receiving five Tony nominations. In 1973, the same team collaborated on a sequel 'The homeward Ride' comprising more of Chaucer's Tale. To date, this has been premiered only in Australia.
In a memoir, Reynolds Price writes:
Neville himself was born in 1899, served in the First War, married, fathered a daughter, then separated from his wife and lived a quietly homosexual life thereafter. He later spoke to me of several romances with men, but he apparently never established a residence with any of them; and until his retirement from Oxford, he always lived in his college rooms.
- The Pardon of Piers Plowman (1945)
- The Masque of Hope (1948)
- The Poet Chaucer (1949; 2nd ed. 1967)
- Geoffrey Chaucer (1956)
- Shakespeare's Professional Skills (1964)
- Langland: Piers Plowman (1964)
- Chaucer's Idea of What Is Noble (1971), ISBN 0-19-721485-1
- Collected Papers (1988), ISBN 0-7108-1233-7
- Screenplay adaptation and director
- Doctor Faustus (1967)
- List of Gresham Professors of Rhetoric
- John Lawlor and W. H. Auden, editors (1966). To Nevill Coghill from Friends. Festschrift.
- Glyer, Diana (2007). The Company They Keep: C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien as Writers in Community. ISBN 978-0-87338-890-0.
- Karlson, Henry (2010). Thinking with the Inklings. ISBN 1-4505-4130-5.