Eric Hill: Illustrator whose invention of the lift-the-flap book helped make his creation, Spot the Dog, a children's favourite

 

Eric Hill was the illustrator behind Spot the Dog, the much-loved character which appeared in a bestselling series of books and went on to be adapted for television and children's toys. Key to the success of Hill's creations was his invention of lift-the-flap books, where a simple paper flap would open to reveal a surprise for the young readers. Since their debut in the early 1980s, Hill's books have sold over 60 million copies and been translated into more than 60 languages.

"Spot's Dad", as he called himself, was born in Holloway, London in 1927 and educated at Tollington Park Central school. On leaving formal education at 16 he worked in an art studio, initially as a messenger, where he was encouraged to draw cartoons in his spare time. This led to a weekly strip in Illustrated and sketches for Lilliput magazine.

After a year at the art studio he joined an advertising agency as a visualiser, helping to present ideas to clients through the use of a storyboard. He then went on to work for the graphic designer Henri Kay Henrion at Erwin Wasey, a London-based agency. From there he was headhunted by a new American outfit, which took him to the States. But within four weeks the new company had folded and he was left without a job. Hill returned to UK and to the job he was best at, being an artist, and took up freelancing as a graphic designer and illustrator.

Hill's son, Christopher, was born in 1976. When he was two, Hill would take pleasure in telling him stories about the escapades of a small puppy called Spot. His idea for a flap of paper on the page, hiding some secret character or surprise, came from seeing Christopher playing with a sheet on which Hill had drawn a draft of an advertising design.

His debut book, Where's Spot? (1980), featured the simply-drawn, mischievous yellow puppy with brown spots and a brown-tipped tail. It was the first publication to use the lift-the-flap concept. The ingenious addition to a cartoon book served to pique the curiosity of young readers, encouraging them to interact with the book and to read on, waiting for the next hidden drawing to be revealed.

The plots and drawings were simple, involving the dog and his adventures with his family and with animals, such as a bear, hippo or crocodile. But his philosophy in publishing the illustrated stories was driven by his need to "acknowledge from the start that children have far more intelligence and style than many adults credit them with". He emphasised that "I believe children all have a basic creativity which needs to be encouraged and nurtured and the Spot books seem to provide that encouragement."

Spot became an immediate success, and Where's Spot? was followed in 1981 by Spot's First Walk then by Spot Goes to School (1984) and Spot Goes on Holiday (1985). Hill said in a later interview, "I am quite convinced now, as I look back, that the actual training of drawing cartoons – which is, of course, my style – led to my producing Spot. Cartoons must be very simple and have as few words as possible and so too must the Spot books."

The Adventures of Spot (1986) was a series of 13 television adaptations of the Spot stories, produced by King Rollo Films for the BBC. With narration by Paul Nicholas and voicing by Jane Horrocks, the episodes included original music by Duncan Lamont and would always end with the sign-off "And that's Spot!".

Leo Nielsen, managing director of King Rollo, told The Independent, "When I came to work on this project, I knew of the Spot books because my children were quite young at the time. Myself and David McKee collaborated with Hill on the production of The Adventures of Spot. He was very keen to keep an eye on what was going on and was always extremely supportive and very easy to work with."

Further additions to the Spot franchise included audio books, soft toys and, somewhat later, DVDs. An educational series, It's Fun to Learn With Spot, narrated by Peter Hawkins, was aired during 1990. By now Hill was living in America, at first in Arizona then later on a California ranch. He also had a home in France.

Hill was awarded an OBE in the 2008 New Year's Honours list for his services to literature. His family said in tribute, "Although this time of loss is a great hardship for us, we can honestly say that we take some solace in the joy he brought to so many children and families through his work. We know Spot, and therefore Eric, has had a beloved presence in so many homes and bedtime readings. And we know we share our grief with many."

Francesca Dow, Managing Director of Penguin's Children's Books, said "Eric Hill was a master of simple design. He created one of the world's most loveable children's book characters – Spot, the charming, naughty, playful puppy, loved and appreciated across the world. Eric's ingenious lift-the-flap device turned the reading of a Spot book into a glorious game of hide and seek, enjoyed by children and adults alike."

MARCUS WILLIAMSON

Eric Hill, graphic designer and illustrator: born Holloway, London 7 September 1927; married firstly Barbara (divorced; one daughter), secondly Gillian (one son); OBE 2008; died California 6 June 2014.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory