Scarfe was born in St John’s Wood, London. As Scarfe was severely asthmatic as a child, he spent many of his early years bed-ridden, so drawing became a means of entertainment as well as a creative outlet. It has been speculated that the grotesque and diseased images that often characterise his work are a result of these experiences. He has himself stated that the irreverence apparent in much of his work can be traced back to “dodgy treatments” and a reliance on what he feels were incompetent doctors.
He moved to Hampstead at the age of 14, being influenced by the work of Ronald Searle. He went to Saint Martin’s School of Art (now part of the University of the Arts London) in Holborn, London. He also went to the London College of Printing and East Ham Technical College (became Newham College of Further Education)