\Adams was born in Newbury, Berkshire. From 1933 until 1938 he was educated at Bradfield College. In 1938 he went up to Worcester College, Oxford to read Modern History. On 3 September 1939 Neville Chamberlain announced that the United Kingdom was at war with Germany. In 1940 Adams joined the British Army, in which he served until 1946. He received a class B discharge enabling him to return to Worcester to continue his studies for a further two years (1946-48). He took the degree of Bachelor of Arts in 1948 and of Master of Arts in 1953.