Born in Stockton Heath, he graduated Bachelor of Arts in Modern History from the Queen"s College, Oxford, with First Class honours in 1951, subsequently Master of Arts (Oxfordshire) After leaving Oxford he travelled to the United States as a Fulbright Scholar and graduated Master of Arts in history from Duke University, North Carolina in 1953.
On his return from the United States, He was appointed as an Assistant-lecturer in history at the University of Leeds. He moved to the University of Saint Andrews in 1956 as a Lecturer in history. He was promoted to Reader before being appointed Professor of Nordic History in 1983.
He retired from Street Andrews as Professor emeritus in 1996.
He is a fellow of the Royal Historical Society. He has published about the first decennies 1918–1944 of the Finnish independency.
He received the Honorary Doctorate. from the University of Helsinki on 2 June 2000.
He is best known for sinking the so-called "Driftwood theory" (Finnish: Ajopuuteoria) of Finnish passivity in the Operation Barbarossa.
Fellow Royal History Society, Porthan Seura.
Married Sirkka Rauha Pöllänen, August 12, 1951. Children: Nicholas, Timothy, Jeremy.