He was born in Eastbourne, the son of James Alexander Tinling, a chartered accountant. In 1923, suffering from bronchial asthma, his parents sent him to the French Riviera on doctor's orders. It was there he began playing tennis, particularly at the Nice Tennis Club where the then biggest star of the game, Suzanne Lenglen, would practice. Despite Tinling's youth, Lenglen's father asked him if he would umpire one of her upcoming matches and he would go on to be her personal umpire for two years in between a short career as a player himself. This friendship with Lenglen led him to his first Wimbledon Championships in 1927, where he became player liaison until 1949. During World War II, he was a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Intelligence Corps in Algiers and Germany..
Tinling designed dresses for almost all of the great lady players throughout the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. It was a design in 1949 - lace tennis panties - that led him to being asked to take leave from his position at Wimbledon.
A close friend of Billie Jean King - designing her dress for the famous Battle of the Sexes tennis match in 1973 - he became player liaison on the Virginia Slims Women's Tennis Association tour that King helped to create. He continued to design daring and unusual dresses for stars such as Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert, Evonne Goolagong and Virginia Wade throughout this time but his role in the infrastructure of tennis became more important and he became an official media spokesperson for the game. He was employed again by Wimbledon from 1982 as a player liaison.
Tinling was openly gay. He wrote several books on tennis in the 1980s but respiratory problems continued to affect him and he died in 1990. After his death it was revealed he had been a British Intelligence spy during World War II. He was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1986. Tinling's brother James Collingwood Tinling was a member of the team that built the first jet engine.