Born 9th January 1923 in Norwich, Holbrook read English at DowningCollege, Cambridge in 1941, where he was a pupil of F. R. Leavis. Already a Communist Party member, he entered the British Army after only a year at college. He was under surveillance by MI5 at least in 1944, but probably for much longer, when he was linked to Wolf Mackievitz (see separate entry) and Ann Seligman, both of whom he had been at university with.
After he got out of the army, Holbrook returned to Cambridge to complete his degree, from 1945 for the next two years. During the war he had become the lover of Susan Watson, who became George Orwell’s housekeeper when he decamped to the island of Jura. Not unnaturally, Holbrook went to visit her in 1946, hoping also for a lively discussion with her boss. But Orwell was in the grip of a fierce anti-Communism and imagined the young Holbrook (he was only 23 years) had come to spy on him and treated him abysmally.
For a while, Holbrook shared editorship of Our Time, a Party culture journal, with EdgellRickword (see separate entry). Teaching for the Workers' Educational Association, and then at a secondary school in Cambridgeshire, followed.
Sometime around the time he let his Party membership lapse, he became a full-time writer. This led to him also becoming a Fellow of King's College, Cambridge in 1961, a Fellow of Downing in 1981, and an Emeritus Fellow of Downing in 1988.
Over the next three decades, Holbrook produced a massive range literature, poetry and semi-autobiographical novels, and works for schools and children. In his “Going Off The Rails” (2003), he writes about the lives of his paternal forebears in rural Norfolk. His grandfather worked in railway workshops and his father was a booking clerk.