Ingham was educated at Hebden Bridge Grammar School, leaving at the age of 16 to join the Hebden Bridge Times newspaper, for whom he continued to write until 2013. He attended Bradford Technical College on day release as part of the studies required to qualify for the Certificate of Training for Junior Journalists, which he describes as being "taken rather seriously in early post-war Britain". He went on to work for the Yorkshire Evening Post, the Yorkshire Post, latterly as Northern industrial correspondent (1952-1961), and The Guardian (1962-1967). While a reporter at the Yorkshire Post, Ingham was an active member of the National Union of Journalists, and vice chairman of its Leeds branch. He is also likely to have been the anonymous and aggressively anti-Conservative columnist "Albion" for the Leeds Weekly Citizen – a Labour Party organ – from 1964 to 1967. In 1967, he joined the Civil Service, working as a press and public relations officer and director of Information in various Government departments, including the Department of Energy, 1974–77, where he also served as Under-Secretary in the Energy Conservation Division, 1978-79.
Ingham's father was a Labour Party councillor for Hebden Royd Town Council and he was himself a member of the Labour Party until he joined the Civil Service.
Ingham contested the then safe Conservative Moortown ward of Leeds City Council in the 1965 council elections for the Labour Party, having been nominated by the Fabian Society.
Ingham is of both Yorkshire and Lancashire lineage. The Inghams originally came from Manchester and Salford, but Bernard's grandfather Henry Ingham moved to the Calder Valley and Hebden Bridge. On his maternal side, Bernard's ancestors were mostly from Hebden Bridge and Heptonstall, while his maternal grandmother Jane Vernon descended from Staffordshire coal miners.
Ingham spent 11 years as Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's chief press secretary in No. 10 Downing Street. In 1989–90 he was also head of the Government Information Office. In the course of his civil service career he was also press secretary to Barbara Castle, Robert Carr, Maurice Macmillan, Lord Carrington, Eric Varley and Tony Benn.
Although a career civil servant, Ingham gained a reputation for being a highly effective propagandist for the Thatcherite cause. The phrase spin doctor did not enter common parlance until after his retirement, but he was nevertheless a gifted exponent in what came to be known as the "black arts" of spin.
In those days, Downing Street briefings were "off the record", meaning that information given out by Ingham could be attributed only to "senior government sources". Occasionally he used this deniability to brief against the government's own ministers, such as when he described the leader of the House of Commons John Biffen as a "semi-detached" member of the government. Biffen was dropped at the next reshuffle. This blurring of the distinction between his nominally neutral role as a civil servant and a more partisan role as apologist and promoter of Margaret Thatcher's policies led the late Christopher Hitchens to characterise Ingham as "a nugatory individual" and to criticise what he saw as the negative consequences of Ingham's time as Thatcher's press secretary: "During his time in office, Fleet Street took several steps towards an American system of Presidentially-managed coverage and sound-bite deference, without acquiring any of the American constitutional protection in return."
In 1987 Downing Street berated the Sun newspaper in a storm over honours. Mrs Thatcher was said to be furious, and Mr Bernard Ingham, the Prime Minister's Press Secretary, sent correspondence to the Sun, for an explanation as to the honours list, given in confidence, being published.
In 1989, three years after the Westland helicopter scandal led to the resignation of Defence Secretary Michael Heseltine, former cabinet minister Leon Brittan revealed in a Channel 4 programme that Ingham was one of two senior Downing Street officials who had approved the leaking of a crucial letter from the then Solicitor General Patrick Mayhew, in which he questioned some of the statements that Heseltine had made about the takeover contest of the Westland helicopter company. Brittan's claim that Ingham and Charles Powell had approved the leak of the letter led to calls from some Labour MPs for there to be a new inquiry into the Westland affair.
Ingham was knighted on Thatcher's resignation – and retirement – in 1990. His successor as press secretary was Gus O'Donnell, who went on to become Cabinet secretary and head of the Civil service in 2005.
Ingham's book Kill the Messenger, concerning his time as press secretary, was not well received. Paul Foot, a Marxist journalist, commented that "... there is no information in this book. I picked it up eagerly, refusing to believe that someone so close to the top for so long could fail to reveal, even by mistake, a single interesting piece of information" and he was particularly scathing about Ingham's prose style, offering the following quotation from Kill the Messenger as representative of Ingham's use of English: "Like a mighty oak, it took more than one axe to bring Mrs Thatcher down. In November 1990 they were cutting into this solid timber from all angles. The frenzy was fearsome to behold. Heaven preserve us from political axe-men in a state of panic. They would cut off their grandmas in their prime if they thought it would serve their interests. And so they cut off a grandma in her international prime by the stocking tops, to borrow one of Denis's phrases, which Mrs Thatcher often used."
In a commentary in the Daily Express in April 2009, Ingham referred to Thatcher as "reckless" and a battler for Britain. He said her greatest quality was that she did not want to be loved and she came to office without a Press Secretary and had "the enormous will" to overcome "defeatist inertia", such as: "Oh you can't do that Prime Minister, they won't allow it". He attended her funeral in April 2013.
Ingham helped Thatcher in the writing of the Yes Minister sketch which she performed in public with Paul Eddington and Nigel Hawthorne. In December 2001 Ingham said, on the death of Sir Nigel Hawthorne, "Margaret Thatcher's fascination was with the games between the elected politician and the unelected official".
Ingham appeared on the satirical television programme, Brass Eye. He was persuaded to appear in a short sequence, in which he issued a stern warning to young people about the dangers of a purported new drug, "cake", one of several celebrities who appeared not to recognise the satirical nature of the programme. Ingham said that "several people have actually been brained by saucepans used to make this kind of Cake", before asking viewers to "use their cheese-box" and "say no, never". The technique to make well known people and celebrities make themselves look idiots and this was particularly so in Brass Eye's notorious "drugs" show when Bernard Ingham allowed Chris Morris to guide him into denunciations of a made-up drug called "cake".
Ingham derided Scottish nationalists as being "as greedy as sin", stating that "the only thing that fueled nationalism was the smell of oil and money in oil", suggesting that any nationalist sentiments were merely a disguised form of greed. Defiant Sir Bernard Ingham in an article, in November 2013, reiterated his attack on “thick” Northerners who don’t vote Tory.
Ingham holds the position of Vice President of Country Guardian, an anti-wind energy campaign group. Ingham is also a regular panellist on BBC current affairs programme Dateline London. He has also been secretary to Supporters of Nuclear Energy (SONE, 1998-2007), a group of individuals who seek to promote nuclear power in the United Kingdom. Despite never having attended university himself, Ingham lectured in public relations at The University of Middlesex.
On 8 March 1999, Ingham was bound over to keep the peace at Croydon Magistrates Court after he was accused of causing criminal damage to a Mercedes car owned by Linda Cripps, a neighbour, in Purley, south London. The charges were dropped when Ingham agreed to accept being bound over for 12 months in the sum of £1,000 to keep the peace and be of good behaviour. Ingham denied that he had caused any damage to the vehicle. The Court was told that Mrs Cripps told Sir Bernard: "You have damaged my car", to which he replied "Good, I'm glad". Ingham denied he had damaged the car and said, "I did not cause the damage complained of and to resolve the issue I accepted advice that I should agree to be bound over. I have paid £792 to cover the cost of the alleged damage to the car." Mrs Cripps husband said after the case "We are weary of the constant bombardment that we have suffered. We are no match for Sir Bernard Ingham. Let's hope that he will now allow us to get on with our lives peacefully".
Ingham is known for his comments concerning the 1989 Hillsborough disaster. In a letter addressed to a parent of a victim of the disaster, Ingham reiterated his belief that the disaster was caused by "tanked up yobs", a view later entirely refuted by the Hillsborough inquest. In a letter written to a Liverpool supporter, Ingham remarked that people should "shut up about Hillsborough". In 1996 on Question Time, Ingham spoke "with hate in his voice" in favour of compensating the police present at the time of the disaster, saying: "If thousands of ticketless fans had not turned up and pushed their way into the ground then the whole scenario would not have occurred."
"You can't get away from what you were told," Ingham said. "We talked to a lot of people; I am not sure if it was the chief constable. That was the impression I gathered: there were a lot of tanked-up people outside." Speaking to the Guardian, he confirmed that this was what he was told when he and Thatcher were shown round, although he could not recall if Wright himself had said it.
Hebden Bridge residents launched a campaign against Sir Bernard Ingham to have him removed as a local newspaper columnist over his continued refusal to apologise for his words in the immediate aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster. He continued to write articles until February 2013. On 26 April 2016, a jury gave the verdict that the 96 killed at Hillsborough were unlawfully killed and that the Liverpool fans behaviour did not contribute to the dangerous situation at the turnstiles. Ingham refused to apologise or respond to the previous comments he made, which has led to a petitions being created on change.org and petitions.parliament.uk, the official website for government petitions.
In March 2011, it was reported by The Independent that Policy chief Sir Keith Joseph said in public the view that Margaret Thatcher's first year in Downing Street had been "wasted". Sir Keith's press secretary reported this to Thatcher's media chief Bernard Ingham. In his reply, contained in a letter dated 1 December 1980, he said, Thatcher was "quite relaxed about it", adding: "I believe she agrees with Sir Keith but for the sake of the government and confidence in it does not say so."
Following the Heysel Stadium disaster and amid growing concerns regarding football hooliganism in the United Kingdom, records from the National Archives show that Downing Street and Margaret Thatcher attempted to launch an initiative to "mark the return to decency in British soccer", called "Goalies against Hoolies". Ingham said that "enough is enough; an entirely new attitude and approach by government, police, football clubs and players – and we hope the mass of decent fans – governs the new season."Yorkshire Greats: The County's Fifty Finest (Dalesman, 2005) ISBN 1-85568-220-6
Bernard Ingham's Yorkshire Villages (Dalesman, 2005) ISBN 1-85568-215-X
The Wages Of Spin (John Murray, 2003) ISBN 0-7195-6481-6
Kill the Messenger ... Again (Politico's Publishing Ltd, 2003) ISBN 1-84275-048-8
Bernard Ingham's Yorkshire Castles (Dalesman, 2001) ISBN 1-85568-193-5
Kill the Messenger (Fontana, 1991) ISBN 0-00-637767-X