Ben studied with Walther Gruner at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (while working part-time as a PE teacher in the East End) and established an international reputation as a singer at the age of 21 when he won the third prize at the 1961 ARD International Music Competition in Munich.
Soon afterward he joined composer Benjamin Britten’s English Opera Group. On their tour of the Soviet Union in 1963, he sang the roles of Sid and Tarquinius in Britten’s operas Albert Herring and The Rape of Lucretia, respectively. In 1971, Britten composed the title role of his television opera Owen Wingrave specifically for Ben’s voice.
In 1972, Ben made his début at both the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden – creating the role of the Jester in Peter Maxwell Davies’ opera Taverner – and at the Glyndebourne Opera Festival, where he sang the title role in Raymond Leppard’s realization of Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria. Thereafter, he became a frequent guest at both venues and also at Tanglewood in Massachusetts, USA.
He made his Metropolitan Opera début (as Eugene Onegin) in 1980, his La Scala début in 1986, and his Los Angeles début (as Wozzeck) in 1988. He sang in most of the major European opera houses and made frequent appearances in Munich (Bayerische Staatsoper) and Vienna (Wiener Staatsoper).
Ben has made more than one hundred recordings, many featuring early and mid twentieth-century British songwriting and folksong arrangements by composers such as Britten, George Butterworth, Percy Grainger, Ivor Gurney, Roger Quilter, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gerald Finzi and Peter Warlock. His regular accompanist between 1961 and 1999 was the pianist David Willison. As a guest on the BBC’s Desert Island Discs program, he said that his favourite piece of music is Thomas Tallis’s Spem in alium.
Ben was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 1986 Queen’s Birthday Honours.