The son of physician and medical historian Walter Pagel and grandson of German physician Julius Leopold Pagel, he was born in Berlin in 1930, but moved with his family to Britain in 1933 to avoid the growing Jewish persecution in Germany at that time. He was educated at Merchant Taylors' School in Northwood and at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, from which he graduated with first-class honours in Physics in 1950. He remained in Cambridge to pursue his doctoral studies, obtaining his PhD in 1955. He was a Research Fellow at Sidney Sussex college from 1953-1956. In 1956, he moved to the Royal Greenwich Observatory at Herstmonceux Castle where he spent the greater part of his career, eventually progressing to the grade of Deputy Chief Scientific Officer. In 1967, he became a Visiting Reader (and later Visiting Professor) in Astronomy at Sussex University. Upon his retirement from the Royal Greenwich Observatory in 1990, he moved to a Chair at the Nordic Institute for Theoretical Physics (NORDITA) in Copenhagen. He retired for a second time in 1998 and moved back to Sussex, but remained scientifically active up until his death.
- Edmunds, Mike. "Professor B. E. J. Pagel", "The Independent", August 22, 2007. Accessed November 10, 2007.