Born in Surrey, Britain, he went to Sutton grammar school. At the age of 12 he made his first visit to the theatre and saw Romeo and Juliet at Stratford-upon-Avon. From then on the theatre became a passion.
Thoroughout his life he was a pacifist, and during most of the Second World War he worked on the land. Also during the War he joined Elsie Green at the Tavistock Little Theatre where she put a production of The Ascent Of F6 by W. H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood. Edward Thompson and Elsie Green remained friends until her death in 1997.
In 1945 he joined the publishers Heinemann. He became assistant to Alan Hill, the director of Heinemann Educational Books (HEB) and took on the job of creating its drama list. Amongst the first authors that he secured were John Gielgud, Michael Redgrave, and Michel Saint-Denis.
He later discovered Robert Bolt after seeing a performance of his Flowering Cherry, and Edward Thompson arranged for its immediate publication. HEB subsequently published the million-selling A Man For All Seasons. In 1976 HEB were appointed as publishers to the National Theatre. Edward Thompson published John Gielgud's writings about his work in the theatre and they continued to be close friends.
In the early 1970s Edward Thompson moved to a flat in Hove, partly because of the annual Brighton Festival with which he was closely associated. He also supported Brighton's Theatre Royal. In 1982 he retired from HEB. He supported Brighton's lesbian and gay helplines and agencies.