Professor Griffith was born in West Norwood, London, in 1936. He had been fascinated by chemistry since his dad bought him a chemistry set. After an Entrance scholarship to Imperial College in 1954, Professor Griffith got a first in chemistry and studied a PhD with Geoffrey Wilkinson (later Sir Geoffrey, Nobel laureate), focusing on transition metal nitrosyl complexes. He joined the Chemical Society (which later became the Royal Society of Chemistry) in 1958.
In 1960, Professor Griffith went with a Fulbright award as assistant lecturer to the University of Chicago, working with Henry Taube (who was later a Nobel laureate). Professor Griffith moved to Stanford in early 1962, returning to Imperial College later in the year as a lecturer, becoming full professor in 1994, Emeritus Professor and Distinguished Research Fellow in 2003. He held visiting professorships and lectureships at universities in Vancouver (UBC), Durban, Auckland and Zurich (ETH), and made British Council and Royal Society visits across the world.
Professor Griffith’s research work produced 270 inorganic chemistry papers mainly on specific organic oxidation catalysis by platinum-group metal complexes and on Raman spectroscopy. He has published on all the 27 transition metals and 13 of the lanthanides, and has written eight books on platinum metal chemistry.
He has written 15 chemical-historical papers and in 2017 wrote a book with Hannah Gay titled The Chemistry Department at Imperial College London: A History 1845–2000. He was secretary of the RSC Historical Group from 2002–2012 and is now Membership Secretary.