Hoggart was born in the Potternewton area of Leeds, one of three children in an impoverished family. His father, a soldier, died when Hoggart was a year old, and his mother died when he was eight. He grew up with his grandmother in Hunslet, and was encouraged in his education by an aunt. He gained a place at Cockburn High School which was a grammar school, after his headmaster requested that the education authority reread his scholarship examination essay. He then won a scholarship to study English at the University of Leeds, where he graduated with a First Class Degree. He served with the Royal Artillery during World War II and was demobilised as a Staff Captain.