I was educated at Shakespeare's grammar school, King Edward VI's, in Stratford-upon-Avon and at Merton College, Oxford. Awarded a postmaster scholarship in modern history, I won the university's HWC Davis prize and graduated with a First in 1972. I took up a research scholarship at St John's College, Oxford but left academia in mid-1974 to work in the City.

After five years as a banker in New York and London, including a seven-month sabbatical in the Middle East to study Arabic at the British Foreign Office school in the Lebanon, I joined the Financial Times in 1979 as a specialist writer on Arab affairs. I worked at the FT for six years, including two as a member of the Lex Column team.

From 1985 to 1989 I worked as a consultant with McKinsey & Co in the firm's London office. I then returned to journalism in 1989, joining The Economist as editor of its Britain section for three years before moving to New York as its US business correspondent.

Between 1994 and 2006, I worked as in-house head of communications for two FTSE-100 companies, Pearson plc and Rolls-Royce plc, as a publisher with Penguin Books and as a communications consultant with the London-based public relations agency, The Maitland Consultancy.

I have worked full-time as a free-lance writer and historian since 2006. My publications to date include Struggle for Take-Off, The Story of British Airways, published by Coronet Books in 1986, Follow The Money, The Audit Commission, Public Money and the Management of Public Services 1983-2008, published by Penguin Allen Lane in March 2008, and Masters of the Post: The Authorized History of the Royal Mail, published by Penguin Allen Lane in November 2011. My history of the Standard Chartered Bank is scheduled for publication by Penguin Allen Lane in 2016.

I live in the Kentish Weald, an hour's train journey south from central London. Aside from my own career as a writer, my main interest today consists of watching over the artistic legacy of my late wife, the painter Anne-Catherine Phillips, who died suddenly of a stroke on 2 April 2014. A full archive of her work can be found at