Born in Newcastle, Josephs had his first music studies with Arthur Milner in 1947, before qualifying as a dentist in 1951. After doing his military service, he decided to pursue a career in music and gained a scholarship from the Guildhall School of Music in London, which he used to study with Aldfred Nieman. His works began to win prizes and in 1958, he won a Leverhulme Scholarship, which enabled him to go to Paris and study with Max Deutsch. In 1962, he won first prize in the Jeunesses Musicales competition with the Comedy Overture: The Ants.
In 1963 a significant breakthrough was made when his Requiem, written in memory of the Jews who died during the Holocaust, won the the first International Composing Competition of the City of Milan and La Scala. The prize was a première of the work at La Scala in 1965 conducted by Nino Sanzogno and the exposure of his music to the very highest musical circles. The work has had a number of high-profile performances and a recording of the work was release in 1983 (performance by the Adelaide Chorus and Adelaide Symphony Orchestra under the direction of David Measham).
Although he kept a close eye on the work of his peers, Josephs’ never tried to follow mainstream trends. He learnt a great deal about serial techniques from Deutsch, himself a pupil of Schönberg, and used them repeatedly in his own music. However, he always retained a belief in expression through melody and this can be traced through his whole output.
During the 1960s, Josephs became involved in writing music for film and achieved perhaps his most popular success with the score for the celebrated series, The Great War. Further successes in the genre followed. He continued composing serious concert music - the Beethoven Variations for André Prein and the London Symphony, for example - and concentrated increasingly on writing music for ballets and opera: Rebecca, based on Daphne du Maurier’s novel, was commissioned by Opera North and Cyrano by the Royal Ballet. His joie de vivre and raucous sense of humour are perhaps best reflected in the four works he wrote for the Hoffnung concerts, each based on a cartoon of the famous illustrator.