Born and raised in Dallas, Texas, he joined the Canadian Air Force at the start of WW2. After about a year flying Spitfires in England he was shot down and spent the rest of the war as a POW. He was often described as the 'cooler king' and seen as the model for Virgil Hilts, Steve McQueen's role in the film, The Great Escape.
After the war he read PPE at Oxford and joined the BBC, becoming their main representative in India.
He was co-founder of the Communist Party of Great Britain and edited its paper for many years.