Turville-Petre came from a Catholic, landed gentry family in England. He studied archaeology and anthropology in Oxford and Jerusalem from 1920-1925. He gained recognition in his field through his excavations at the Sea of Galilee.
In 1928, Turville-Petre moved to Berlin and resided at the Institute, where he held lectures. He was an active member of the Scientific Humanitarian Committee and attended the congress of the World League for Sexual Reform in Copenhagen.
His openly homosexual manner in liberal Berlin made an impression on the young English writers, Christopher Isherwood and Wystan Auden, and he became their knowledgeable guide through the nightlife of the Berlin's homosexual subculture.
Turville-Petre left Berlin in 1931 and went to Greece. He died in Egypt.