Born in 1934 he spent the war years following his father, who was at the time a military psychiatrist, around the country. Having attended several preparatory schools he completed his secondary education at St Paul's School in London where he developed an interest in biological sciences which has continued throughout his life. Two years after qualifying as a doctor in 1959 he agreed to write and take part in a review (Beyond the Fringe) at the Edinburgh Festival. Caught up by its unexpected success he went on to perform in it in London and New York. From that time on he gradually moved further and further away from medicine into television, theatre and opera.
After running the BBC arts programme Monitor for a year he went on to direct several films for the BBC including Alice in Wonderland in 1966. Later he produced 12 of the BBC Shakespeare series, directing 5 of them. He wrote and presented a 13 part series The Body in Question and over many years has been responsible for further series for television, including Psychology, Madness, Motion pictures and Atheism.
In its early days he was an associate director at the National Theatre and later he ran the Old Vic Theatre.
Over the years he has directed at least 50 operas in cities all over the world including London, New York, Florence, Milan, Berlin Munich and Zurich and Tokyo. His most recent opera productions in England were Cosi fan Tutte and Don Pasquale at the Royal Opera House (both revived this year) and La Boheme and L'Elisir d'Amore at English National Opera. His production of Rigoletto at ENO is still being revived after 28 years and his production of Mikado is about to return in its 25th year. He continues to direct new operas and revivals in Europe and North America.
He curated an exhibition on Reflexion at the National Gallery and one on Motion in Art and Photography at the Estorik Gallery in Islington. He has had three exhibitions of his own art work at Flowers East, the Boundary Gallery and at the Katz Gallery in Bond Street.
He has been given an Honorary DPhil from the University of Cambridge, Honorary Fellowships from University College London, The Royal College of Art, and the Royal College of Physicians. He was knighted in 2003.