Born in Georgetown, British Guiana (now Guyana), Adams was educated at the Moco Teachers' Training College in Jamaica where he graduated with honors. He began his career in teaching being a headmaster in British Guaiana, a master on staff at Trinidad College. He was also a qualified Engineering Draughtsman. He gave up teaching to move to Britain intending to become a barrister. Penniless, he took any job he could whilst studying law, resulting in paid jobs as wrester, professional boxer, artist model, journalist and singer. He contemplated becoming a opera singer but became involved in the acting scene in London. After voice training he made his first stage appearance in "Stevedore" with Paul Robeson at the Embassy Theatre, London. Shortly after he was given lead roles in "All God's Chillun" and "Emperor Jones" and became a recognised name on stage, radio and television. Simultaneously he began his film career, initially for Ealing in "Midshipman Easy". During the war he served as an A.R.P. (Air Raid Patrol) warden and also worked in a factory to assist in the war effort.