Baker was born in Deptford in south east London to Fred "Spud" Baker, a dock-working, union-leading father, and Betty, a factory worker mother. He grew up in Bermondsey. He attended Rotherhithe Primary School and then instead of taking up a grammar school place he went to the nearby West Greenwich Secondary Boys School, Deptford. He left the school in 1973 at the age of 15 and initially worked in One Stop Records, a small but fashionable record shop in South Molton Street in London's West End.
In 1977, Baker started writing for the punk fanzine Sniffin' Glue which was founded by his old schoolfriend Mark Perry, this led to an offer from the New Musical Express, home to the likes of Julie Burchill, Tony Parsons, Charles Shaar Murray and Nick Kent. Baker initially began working as the office receptionist, but was soon contributing regular articles and reviews before progressing to interviews. He often refers to these times during his radio shows, regularly citing examples of the ridiculous behaviour exhibited by his rock star interviewees.
In the later 1990s, Baker wrote a weekly sports column for The Times and was briefly a columnist for early issues of film magazine Empire.
Baker started his TV career in 1980 at London Weekend Television (LWT), as the presenter of Twentieth Century Box - a series of regional documentaries on elements of youth culture in London, produced by Janet Street Porter. One edition in the first series documented the burgeoning new wave of British heavy metal (NWOBHM) scene, including an early TV appearance of Iron Maiden performing at The Marquee Club and interviews with "air guitarists". Other editions also featured early appearances from the likes of Spandau Ballet and Depeche Mode.
Baker's first mainstream break was as roving reporter-presenter on the Michael Aspel LWT regional magazine The Six O'Clock Show alongside former Mastermind winner and former London black cab driver Fred Housego. Paul Ross (brother of Jonathan Ross whom Baker had as his best man) was his researcher. During his stint on The Six O'Clock Show, Baker was filmed having an altercation with a British Rail press officer. This clip is often resurrected for clip shows and can be seen on YouTube.
Baker appeared regularly on LWT's regional output during the 1980s and early 1990s - working on such programmes as Six O'Clock Live, Danny Baker's Londoners, and in 1991, The Game - a six-part series which featured coverage of teams involved in the fourth division of the East London Sunday Football League. The series was later released on DVD.
Baker began writing for television programmes in 1992 after being asked to prepare a piece for one of the first archive clip shows: TV Hell, which was a collection of the worst TV programmes ever. Since then he has presented television shows such as Win, Lose, or Draw, Pets Win Prizes and TV Heroes, which was a series of 10-minute homages to some of Baker's entertainment idols including Fanny Cradock, Peter Glaze (from Crackerjack) and the Top of the Pops audience. In one episode of TV Heroes, a clip was shown of Baker leaping around to a performance of "Ooh What A Life" by the Gibson Brothers in 1979, which was captioned as "Danny Baker's first TV appearance". During an edition of his own later series "TV Heroes" featuring the audiences from Top Of The Pops, Baker described himself as "looking like he was trying to put out a small fire".
Baker also began a BBC Saturday night chat show, called Danny Baker After All which borrowed its style from Late Night with David Letterman, but his style and guests (Rick Wakeman of prog rock band Yes was a regular) did not attract the mainstream audience the slot demanded. Film critic Mark Kermode's band The Railtown Bottlers was the show's house band.
Later he fronted television adverts for Daz washing powder and Mars bar confectionery. Baker parodied his Daz ads by appearing as himself on the sitcom Me, You and Him.
During this period, Baker began presenting on BBC Radio 5's 606 football-related phone-in programme as well as the job of presenting Match of the Eighties, a six-part BBC series of football during the 1980/81 and 1985/86 seasons.
Baker was a writer on Chris Evans' TFI Friday show, as well as contributing material for presenters such as Angus Deayton and Jonathan Ross.
During the late 1990s he made guest appearances on comedy shows including Have I Got News for You, Shooting Stars and Room 101. During this period he appeared in the press as a result of nights out with friends Chris Evans and England footballer Paul Gascoigne. Gascoigne was under media scrutiny for drinking and socialising while preparing for tournaments. After Gascoigne was left out of the 1998 World Cup squad, Baker went on Have I Got News For You to defend his friend and criticise the omission.
He also appeared on The Terry and Gaby Show from 2003 to 2004 (where he burnt his hand trying to perform a trick with a microwave and a piece of soap) and has appeared on BBC Two quiz show QI, becoming the show's first ever winner. Baker worked again with Charles Shaar Murray on the Ramones documentary End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones, providing an audio commentary.
More recent TV projects include The Sitcom Showdown which began on UKTV Gold in April 2006, a 2014 show featuring archived television footage for BBC4 named Brushing Up On... and a music discussion show for BBC4 named Danny Baker's Rockin' Decades. He also did Comic Relief Does The Apprentice in 2007 for Comic Relief. He also starred in The Rocky Horror Show, as the narrator, at the Churchill Theatre in Bromley and the New Wimbledon Theatre.
Baker was announced as part of BT Sport's football coverage in 2013, hosting a Friday evening show with Danny Kelly. In 2016, Chris Evans hired Baker to work as a writer on the 2016 series of Top Gear. In November 2016, he entered as a latecomer in reality television show, I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here, along with Martin Roberts. Baker was the first person to be voted off in the series.
Baker began his radio career on BBC GLR in 1989, presenting Weekend Breakfast from 6-9am on Saturdays and Sundays. The show was produced by Chris Evans, who became a good friend to Baker. With GLR eventually opting for a more orthodox breakfast show at weekends, Baker moved to the 10am to 1pm slot on Sundays.
In 1990, Baker joined the newly launched BBC Radio 5, presenting Sportscall, a phone-in sports quiz broadcast every Saturday lunchtime.
From October 1991 to October 1992 he presented 606 and, from February 1992 until October 1993, he presented Morning Edition from 6.30-9am every weekday morning. The show blended Baker's love of unusual trivia with 'grown-up' music. This was where Baker first teamed up with Danny Kelly and Allis Moss. Mark Kermode added weekly film reviews, and would later appear with his band 'The Railtown Bottlers' every week on the first series of Baker's TV show.
Baker's iconoclastic anchoring of 606 polarised opinion. He was often fearless in his attacks on football authority, particularly the 'blazers' at the Football Association. His influence on the station remains, such as in BBC 5 Live's present day preparedness to court unpopularity within the game through its robust criticism of players, managers and referees.
Baker joined BBC Radio 1 in October 1993, taking over the weekend mid-morning show from 10am-1pm from Dave Lee Travis who had resigned on air following the sackings instigated by Matthew Bannister and Trevor Dann during the early 1990s. However, due to poor ratings, from November 1994 he was heard on Saturdays only from 10am-12midday. Simon Mayo took over Sunday mornings.
Baker's style led to a fall in listeners at Radio 1 but despite his tendering his resignation on at least two occasions, management added extensions to his contract. From October 1995, his Saturday show went out from 12.30-2.30pm. He left the station in September 1996. His co-hosts during this period included BBC continuity announcer Allis Moss, Dr. H, Laurie Sore, Andy Darling and Danny Kelly.
While continuing with his Saturday morning show on BBC Radio 1, in 1996 Baker joined BBC Radio Five Live to present a Sunday lunchtime show with Danny Kelly, Baker & Kelly Upfront.
On leaving BBC Radio 1, Baker returned to BBC GLR to present a three-hour Sunday show from 10am-1pm. 'Baker and Kelly Upfront' also returned, now at Saturday lunchtime, while Baker also took on a new show, 'The Baker Line', a Wednesday evening version of the 606 phone-in show.
While 'Baker and Kelly Upfront' was light-hearted, 'The Baker Line' was darker and emotionally charged. Baker was at his most outspoken, and in early 1997, he was sacked from Five Live when station bosses alleged that he had incited threatening behaviour during an angry outburst about a referee.
Baker joined Talk Radio to present a similar football phone-in with Kelly each Saturday from 5.30-7.30pm. A pre-match show was added from 11.30am to 1pm. After moving to the Saturday breakfast slot (8am to 12 noon), he engineered his own dismissal after a matter of weeks by refusing to centre the show on football, preferring to intersperse chat with his own music selections.
After leaving Talk Radio, he joined Virgin Radio in early 1999, taking over from Jonathan Ross on Sundays from 10am-1pm.
Not long after, Baker was approached by the BBC and was asked whether he wanted to present a Saturday morning show on BBC Radio 2. Baker turned down the offer by saying "the time wasn't right", and the show was given to Ross. Baker also deputised on Virgin's Saturday lunchtime football show from 12pm-2pm for a handful of shows, alongside Danny Kelly until he left the station in 2000.
In September 2001, Baker joined BBC London 94.9 presenting a Saturday morning show from 8-11am. Just 6 months later, in March 2002, and with a new co-presenting team which included Amy Lamé, Mark O'Donnell and David Kuo, he took over the breakfast show from 6-9am, with a new theme tune in the form of the Anthony Newley song The Candy Man.
Although not drawing a large listenership, Baker won "Sony Radio DJ of the year" for the show. However, the day after winning the award, he announced his intention to leave the show at the end of the month. The last show was on Friday 27 May 2005. On Monday 17 October 2005, after a sabbatical at home, Baker rejoined BBC London 94.9 where he took over the weekday 3-5pm show from Jono Coleman, who had moved to co-present the breakfast show with former actress JoAnne Good.
His BBC London 94.9 shows tended to feature off-the-wall phone-ins and discussions with his on-air team, Amy and Baylen Leonard, often regarding music and entertainment nostalgia of the 1960s and 1970s. His interviews focused on off-beat trivia rather than the guests' latest or most famous work, and shows would be interspersed with relatively obscure rock tracks from bands such as Yes, Todd Rundgren, Steely Dan, Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart.
The programme was axed in November 2012 as part of a programme of cuts at the station. Although due to continue its run until the end of the year, Baker announced on air on the day of the announcement that that day's show would be his last, branding his BBC London employers as "pinheaded weasels" for the way in which they cancelled the programme.
On 15 March 2007, Baker launched the All Day Breakfast Show, a podcast to reach listeners beyond BBC London's FM radio reach. Regulars Amy Lamé, Baylen Leonard and David Kuo all contributed and the first show featured an appearance by comedian and actor Peter Kay.
The All Day Breakfast Show was recorded daily, Monday to Friday at 11am GMT, "in the past for listeners in the future" originally in Baker's own studio based from the kitchen of an Italian restaurant and known as La Cucina and later from the offices of Wippit media. Each show was available as a download and lasted between 40 and 60 minutes.
After nearly six months of free podcasts, the All Day Breakfast Show began charging £2 per week in early September 2007. However, after one week of paid shows, Baker put the ADBS on indefinite hold until "a few things get sorted out". Users had reported short shows and difficulty downloading episodes. After several weeks of silence and internet rumours, the All Day Breakfast Show officially announced its return to the air on 19 October 2007. No announcement on the main website was given, but in a 5-minute mini-show downloadable initially only to paid subscribers who happened to check the download section of the website, Danny Baker and Baylen Leonard announced the return of the show. They confirmed that from "next week" they would be broadcasting three times a week. They also suggested (possibly only partially in jest) that due to BBC cuts announced the previous day, that they may be planning to end their official BBC London show and move to being an "Internet only" show.
This new scheduling model continued – apparently successfully - for the next eight weeks. On 8 September 2007 Baker and Kelly had resumed their partnership, releasing the first podcast of their football programme for the 2007–2008 season. However, on 15 December 2007, Baker himself posted a notice on the "All Day Breakfast Show" and "Baker and Kelly" websites announcing that both shows were cancelled with immediate effect. The notice said that this was a result of "an irreversible and utter breakdown between the on-air team and the company Wippit media", and Baker said that he had "absolutely no idea where any subscription fees are, went or remain". Wippit responded two days later, alleging that Baker "did not wish to meet his agreed obligations regarding exclusivity" and that attempts to offer him 100% of revenues were rejected by Baker's agent.
Having announced on his BBC London radio show on 21 May 2008 that he would be returning to present BBC 5 Live's 606 football phone-in for a limited period that summer, Baker hosted six shows during Euro 2008. He made a long-term return to 606 in September 2008, hosting a Tuesday night show for the duration of the 2008-09 football season. He also had a short stint with Zoë Ball on Radio 2 on Saturday mornings after Jonathan Ross had been suspended for three months by the BBC. At the end of the 2008-09 season, Baker's 606 Tuesday night show that he co-hosted with Issy Clarke shifted to an expanded Saturday morning slot, starting in September 2009 on BBC 5 Live. The show returned in September 2010 after the summer break with Lynsey Hipgrave replacing Clarke as co-host. The Saturday Morning show gained critical acclaim, winning the Gold Sony Radio Award in the Speech Radio Personality of the Year award for the 2011, 2012 and 2014, and the Gold Award for the Entertainment Show of the Year in 2013.
Since (January 2016?) Louise Pepper has been his co-host in the studio. A popular feature of the Saturday Morning Programme is the Sausage Sandwich Game. A celebrity guest is asked 2 questions about their personal life that only they can answer. 2 contestants representing local or national football teams, score 'goals' based on their ability to correctly guess the celebrity's answer. In the final question which gives the game its name, the contestants have to guess if the celebrity when offered a sausage sandwich would choose red sauce, brown sauce or no sauce at all. The second hour of the programme features a (different) celebrity interview followed by phone in led banter.
Baker has presented a number of popular football videos and DVDs including Own Goals and Gaffs (1992), Right Hammerings, Whose Season Was It Anyway? (both 1993), Own Goals and Gaffs 2 (1994), Fabulous World Of Freak Football (1995) and The Glorious Return Of Own Goals And Gaffs (2009).
The Game (1990), a cult classic television show presented by Baker, following bottom-division East London Sunday League football teams, was released on DVD through Revelation Films on 24 May 2010.
In 2009, he released a book co-written with Danny Kelly entitled Classic Football Debates Settled Once and for All, Vol. 1. Despite the title, the book itself makes clear that a sequel is not planned, though some extra material was written for the paperback edition, released to coincide with the 2010 World Cup.
On 6 November 2012, Baker released an autobiography, Going to Sea in a Sieve. which was first published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson. A second volume entitled Going Off Alarming was published on 25 September 2014.
A sitcom called Cradle to Grave based on Going To Sea In A Sieve was released in September 2015.
His interests range as widely as the United States, progressive rock, Steely Dan, Disney, the Marx Brothers and P. G. Wodehouse. He has a large collection of vinyl records and a collection of redundant laserdiscs that his family refer to as 'Baker's folly'. On 8 February 2008, two days after giving up drinking for Lent in support of Amy Lamé, Baker announced on air on his BBC London 94.9 show, that he was selling his record collection.
It has frequently been claimed that Baker was inadvertently responsible for Bob Marley's death, by treading on his foot at a charity football match played in London. However, although Marley did injure his foot in a 1977 football match, and his cancer began with a foot melanoma, the match (in which Baker took no part) was played after the onset of his illness, and occurred in Paris. Baker discussed this issue on the Richard Herring's Leicester Square Theatre Podcast in April 2014 where he explained the story originated with him saying it as a joke on his radio show but he confirmed it wasn't true.
Baker is a lifelong supporter of his local football club, Millwall.
Baker is married to Wendy (born 7 March 1955), his second wife. They have three children: Bonnie, Sonny and Mancie. He lives in Blackheath, south east London.
On 1 November 2010, Baker announced that he had been diagnosed with cancer and would start chemotherapy instantly and radiotherapy in January. On 14 June 2011 he announced that he had been given the all clear.
Baker has been a lifelong Labour Party activist. In May 2017, Baker endorsed Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn in the 2017 UK general election.