Born and raised in Hereford, Cliff attended Cambridge University. After graduating, he worked as a journalist for the Sheffield Telegraph. He joined the BBC, training as a television producer. He worked at Granada TV and then moved to the BBC in the radio drama department. In Leeds, he became deputy to the acclaimed producer Alfred Bradley, replacing the outgoing Alan Ayckbourn.
Popular among writers for his nurturing manner and gentle directing methods, Cliff set out to develop local talent pools of writers and actors, while at the same time continuing to work with high-profile names such as Peter Tinniswood, Stan Barstow, and Brian Thompson. His radio production of I Didn't Know You Cared received considerable acclaim.
Eventually, the radio drama department moved from Leeds to Manchester. Cliff became head of radio drama there, where he also pioneered a three-part play structure that could fit into 90 minute BBC Radio 4 slots, as well as 30 minute World Service formats. He retired in 2006.
Diagnosed with cancer in October 2011, Cliff died in February 2012.