Radcliffe began his broadcasting career in local commercial radio in Manchester before a move to the national station BBC Radio 5, where he met and formed a partnership with former the Fall guitarist Marc Riley. In 1991 he moved to BBC Radio 1 closely followed by Riley with whom, under the moniker Mark and Lard, he worked for 14 years on the station. The pair's stint on Radio 1 included a brief and opinion-dividing spell on the flagship The Radio 1 Breakfast Show and a subsequent afternoon slot show which garnered three prestigious Sony Radio Academy Awards.
When the Mark and Lard duo departed BBC Radio 1 in 2004, Radcliffe joined BBC Radio 2 and has also presented various TV shows for the BBC including their coverage of the Glastonbury Festival. He remains a presenter on BBC Radio 2, where he presents the weekly programme The Folk Show. On BBC Radio 6 Music he co-hosts a weekday afternoon show, Radcliffe & Maconie with Stuart Maconie.
Radcliffe was born in Bolton, Lancashire and educated at Bolton School and the University of Manchester, where he studied English and American studies and classical civilisation. He took an interest in music from a young age; playing drums in numerous bands while at school and university and into his working life. As of 2007, he lives in Whitley, Cheshire is married with three daughters and became a grandfather in October 2008. Radcliffe is a supporter of Manchester City. In July 2011 he was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Letters from the University of Bolton.
During his student years, Radcliffe was a member of a number of bands, including a short stint as the drummer for the band Skrewdriver but left before their later transformation into a White Power outfit. Radcliffe's radio career began in late 1982 at Piccadilly Radio, where he hosted a Friday night show called Cures For Insomnia. He later hosted Transmission, an eclectic show playing local and nationally recognised New Wave and Post-Punk bands as well as European avant-garde and electronic music.
He came to prominence as a DJ on BBC Radio 5's Hit the North in 1990 but also appeared on other shows such as Cult Radio. Nearly twenty years later in 2009 he briefly stood in as a presenter on BBC Radio 5 Live, the station that replaced it, to cover the Simon Mayo afternoon show.
Radcliffe's Radio 1 career started in 1983 when he produced sessions at Maida Vale Studios for John Peel's show. In 1991, he started presenting the one-hour Monday evening show Out on Blue Six. Starting in early 1993, he presented the arts programme The Guest List on Thursdays. Also in 1993, Radcliffe presented Skyman, an odd show which he presented in character as a visiting alien, and all the records played were space-related. This half-hour show aired immediately before Out on Blue Six on Monday evenings.
His most famous work was as part of the act Mark and Lard (with Marc "The Boy Lard" Riley) on BBC Radio 1. The duo began in a 10pm–midnight slot on Mondays to Thursdays in October 1993. This show was unique for Radio 1 because it was based around non-playlist music and featured live music sessions, poetry readings and comedy. Having taken over the graveyard slot from October 1993 onwards, Radcliffe and Riley hosted a show of unprecedented variety incorporating poetry readings from regular guest Ian McMillan, off the wall, irreverent comedy, bizarre quizzes 'Fish or Fowl', 'Bird or Bloke', 'Bard or Blake' (amongst others), and a play list that rivalled John Peel in terms of eclecticism. The show also held some of the best sessions from up and coming and alternative bands of the time, including Throwing Muses, Moloko, Nick Cave, Pulp, The Bluetones, Babybird, The Divine Comedy, Placebo and Mice. He is also credited with the success of White Town's "Your Woman" in January 1997.
Following Chris Evans' sudden departure from BBC Radio 1 in early 1997, Radcliffe and Riley were moved to a brief and unsuccessful position on the breakfast show. Their style of music and broadcasting was not a success in this slot, which catered for a more mainstream audience, and they were soon moved into the early afternoon slot where they resided for the next seven years. This show was a success and saw them win three Sony Gold awards for Best Daily Music Show.
Radcliffe left Radio 1 in March 2004 and moved to an evening slot on BBC Radio 2 in June of the same year, with Riley moving to BBC Radio 6 Music. The new show was reminiscent of the graveyard slot he had previously occupied on BBC Radio 1; with live music and studio guests and ran between 10:30pm and midnight. The respect Radcliffe had garnered as a broadcaster was cemented when he successfully scooped a major interview with Kate Bush in late 2005, her first in several years. For many months prior to this, he had been running his own 'Bush-O-Meter' on his show, questioning the possible whereabouts and activities of the elusive singer-songwriter and adding a photo of the day's guest or the 'Blessed Kate' to the chart until she appeared on the show. Radcliffe also won a Sony award for this show. Starting on 16 April 2007, Radcliffe joined forces with Stuart Maconie to present a new show on BBC Radio 2 on Mondays to Thursdays from 8pm-10pm to much critical acclaim, including winning the prestigious Sony award for best Radio show of 2009. From April 2010, the show was reduced to three nights a week, Mondays to Wednesdays.
For a time, he was a frequent stand-in in partnership with Emma Forbes or Liza Tarbuck during the 2pm-5pm slot when Steve Wright was away on holiday, thus taking him back to afternoon radio, and also stood in for Simon Mayo on BBC Radio 5 Live on a few occasions.
In 2009, Radcliffe reunited with Marc Riley to make a series of radio adverts for Manchester City F.C. that were broadcast in North West England.
In spring 2011 his show with Maconie moved to BBC Radio 6 Music, in the weekday afternoon slot. Radcliffe also presented his own weekly solo show on BBC Radio 2, called Mark Radcliffe's Music Club, and in 2013 he took over the presentation of BBC Radio 2's weekly folk programme from Mike Harding.
Radcliffe experienced brief commercial success with Shirehorses, a parody band (its name based on the short-lived band The Seahorses) spawned from his Mark And Lard antics. Earlier in his career, he had played in other bands, including the band Skrewdriver (briefly, before their reincarnation as a white power skinhead band, in which he played no part). Mark has written about his part in this band in his book Showbusiness. As of 2007, Radcliffe was a member of the more folk-orientated The Family Mahone which evolved into the group Mark Radcliffe & Foes. He also fronts the Dr. Feelgood tribute band Mark Radcliffe & the Big Figures and the pirate-themed band Galleon Blast.
Radcliffe presented a live music TV programme, The White Room, for four series on Channel 4 from 11 June 1994 to 23 August 1996, and has regularly appeared in the BBC's coverage of the Glastonbury Festival and the Cambridge Folk Festival. Along with Marc Riley, he presented a music-based quiz programme, Pop Upstairs Downstairs, for the BBC/Flextech digital TV channel UK Play in 1999 and 2000. He also presented the BBC One football retrospective show Match of the Nineties, which aired in summer 1999. In 2006, he won the ITV singing competition Stars in Their Eyes with an appearance portraying The Pogues front-man Shane MacGowan singing "The Irish Rover". In 2009 he took over from Steve Wright as the presenter of Top of the Pops 2. He presented the BBC Four documentary The Richest Songs in the World, which counted down the 10 most successful songs of all time in terms of money earned.
The Shirehorses were due to appear in an episode of the sitcom Phoenix Nights as the folk band Half a Shilling, but had concerns about the potentially racist content of the part they were to play. They were replaced at the last minute by Tim Healy.
In 2014 Radcliffe was the narrator of BBC One's Call the Council.
Radcliffe wrote the autobiographical Showbusiness: The Diary of a Rock 'N' Roll Nobody; a critically acclaimed history of his attempts at a career as a musician, including his exploits with Shirehorses. His novel Northern Sky – based around a folk music club in an imaginary Northern English city – was published in 2005. A book of anecdotes about his life and career, Thank You For the Days was published in 2009. Another memoir, Reelin' in the Years, was published in 2011.
Radcliffe started his BBC Radio career in 1983, where he worked as a producer, producing sessions for John Peel featuring artists such as Billy Bragg.
Radcliffe is a producer of Count Arthur Strong's Radio Show for BBC Radio 4.