Michael Burton was born 18 October 1937, son of Brigadier G. W. S. Burton, and of Barbara Burton (née Kemmis Betty). He was educated at Bedford School and Magdalen College, Oxford. In 1967 he married Henrietta Jindra Hones, having one son and one daughter (and one daughter deceased).
After his National Service, during which Burton served as 2nd Lieutenant, Rifle Brigade, (1955-57), Burton joined the Foreign Office in 1960. His diplomatic career included the following positions: Assistant Political Agent, Dubai, Trucial States, (1962-64); Private Secretary to Minister of State, Foreign Office, (1964-67); Second (later First) Secretary (Information), Khartoum [Sudan], (1967-69); First Secretary (Information), Paris [France], (1969-72); Assistant, Science and Technology Department, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, (1972-75); First Secretary and Head of Chancery, Amman [Jordan], (1975-77); Counsellor, Kuwait, (1977-79); Head of Maritime, Aviation and Environment Department, FCO, (1979-81); Head of South Asian Department, FCO, (1981-84); on secondment to BP (British Petroleum) as Head of Policy Review Unit, (1984-85); Berlin [Germany]: Minister, (1985-92); Deputy Commandant, British Military Government, (1985-90); Head of Embassy Office, (1990-92); Assistant Under-Secretary of State (Middle East), FCO, (1993); Ambassador to the Czech Republic, (1994-97).