John was born in 1942 into a working-class family in Huddersfield, which was then a textile, chemicals and engineering manufacturing town.
He won a Scholarship to study Geography at the London School of Economics/King's College, London Joint School of Geography in the University of London where he graduated in 1963. He met his wife Heulwen there and they were married in 1963. He then spent two years at the University of Leeds researching the migration to Britain of workers from the Indian sub-continent.
He retired from full-time employment in October 2006 having worked in a variety of jobs including teaching Social Sciences at the University of Bradford, Wardening the University of Nottingham's Adult Education Centre in Lincoln and working as a Local Government Planning Assistant in West Yorkshire. For the last nine years he worked with his wife providing bed and breakfast hospitality in their home, mostly for walkers on the Pennine Way National Trail.
He has two children and three grandchildren.