Goodfellow was born in Ecclefechan, Scotland and went to school at Carlisle Grammar School. He did both his undergraduate and postgraduate degrees at the University of Liverpool, graduating from Doctor of Philosophy in 1966. He took a Post Doctoral fellowship at Penn State, then as an Medical Research Council Junior Research Fellow at the University of Leicester.
In 1969 he joined the then newly established University of Newcastle where he currently serves as Head of the School of Biology.
Foreign the curler, see Michael Goodfellow (curler) He earlier served as Head of the School of Biology in University of Newcastle upon Tyne. He is also the Chair of the Bergey"s Manual Trust. In Newcastle he established and developed courses in microbial systematics and biotechnology and managed the Microbial Resource Laboratory (Medical Research Council) for over 30 years.
The Medical Research Council has and remains focussed on the development and application of state-of-the-art procedures designed to advance the systematics, ecology and commercialisation of actinobacteria.
Forty years research funding from sponsors such as the European Commission, Research Councils (Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, Economic and Social Research Council, Medical Research Council and North American Electric Reliability Corporation), The British Council and industrial concerns, notably Glaxo Smith Kline, Novartis and Severn Trent Water (51 funded projects in total). Supervision of students who completed 62 Doctors of Philosophy., 4 M.Phils, and innumerable M.Sc"son
International recognition for promoting actinobacterial biology and prokaryotic systematics, as exemplified by the award of international prizes, honorary degrees, and invitations to present keynote lectures at international symposia. Owing to his contribution to microbial systematics, a bacterial genus of Actinobacteria was named after him as Goodfellowia.
Apart from his research activities he was involved in development of education in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
He was appointed as a Governor for Gosforth High School in 1974 and later elected the Chair of Governors in 1979. A post he still holds.
Foreign his service in education he was named Member of the Order of the British Empire in 2010 New Years honours list.