Professor O'Prey was born in Southampton in 1956, the youngest of five children. He attended St George Roman Catholic Comprehensive School until the age of 16, when he transferred to King Edward VI School, Southampton, then a grant maintained grammar school. He won a place to study English Language and Literature at Keble College, Oxford. He obtained his Ph.D from the University of Bristol, where his supervisor was Charles Tomlinson.
In 1977 Paul O'Prey left Oxford to work for the author Robert Graves at his home in Deia, Mallorca. Professor O'Prey assisted him in various ways, most notably working with his wife, Beryl, on the creation of a major archive of Graves's papers which is now housed at St John's College, Oxford. That work led him to publish a biographical study of Graves told through his letters with other eminent writers such as Siegfried Sassoon, T.S. Eliot and Gertrude Stein, published in two volumes: In Broken Images (Hutchinson, 1982) and Between Moon and Moon (Hutchinson, 1984). Professor O'Prey's edition of Graves's Selected Poems (Penguin Books, 1986), published just after Graves's death in 1985, reinstated a number of poems which Graves himself had previously suppressed, including some of his youthful war poetry written during World War I.
Paul O'Prey's other books include First World War: Poems from the Front, published in 2014 by the Imperial War Museum, to coincide with the centenary of the war. It takes a new approach in focusing on a small number of poets who saw active service on the Western Front, including three women. O'Prey translated with Lucia Graves the first English translation of the Spanish nineteenth century classic novel, Los Pazos de Ulloa by Emilia Pardo Bazan (Penguin Classics, 1991, reissued 2013). The book was later serialized by Channel 4. O'Prey wrote the first full critical study of the novels of Graham Greene, and edited the Penguin edition of Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (Penguin Books, 1983). Professor O'Prey has also written articles, essays, chapters in books. His media appearances include BBC Two's War of Words: Soldier Poets of the Somme, broadcast in 2014 and a Channel 4 programme on drugs and art.
Professor O'Prey has served on a number of bodies, the current or most recent of which include: Universities UK Board and Chair of the Longer Term Strategy Group (2010 -); the Higher Education Funding Council for England Strategic Advisory Committee on Leadership Governance and Management (2005 –); Higher Education Careers Services Unit Board (2006 -); London Higher Board (2006–2009); Sport England Higher Education Stakeholder Group (2008 -);Putney High School, Governor (2004–2009); Council of the Friends of the Imperial War Museum (2009 –); President of the War Poets Association (2007 –); and Worldwide Universities Network Academic Board (2002–2004).
Prior to joining the University of Roehampton as Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive when it gained independent university status in 2004, Professor O'Prey spent 16 years at the University of Bristol, where he worked in a variety of capacities, latterly as Director of Academic Affairs. At Bristol he played a seminal role in the introduction of Entrepreneurship as an academic discipline and in the establishment of Enterprise and Knowledge Transfer as key themes in the University's mission. He also played a key role in the development of the University's Research Strategy and Education Strategy, and in the development of initiatives to improve access to the University for students from non-traditional backgrounds. He was also warden of the University of Bristol hall of residence Goldney Hall until 2004.
During Professor O'Prey's tenure as Vice-Chancellor, the University of Roehampton has adopted a strategy to establish a strong academic reputation. In 2014 Roehampton was ranked the most research intensive modern university in the UK, with two-thirds of research rated 'world leading' or 'internationally excellent'.
- Roehampton University website
- Times Higher Education, Appointments 14 May 2004
- The Guardian obituary for Robert Graves
- St. John's College, Oxford website
- IMDb profile
- Roehampton University website, ibid.
- Roehampton University website, ibid.