Obituary: Alan Hill

Alan John Wills Hill, publisher: born Barwell, Leicestershire 12 August 1912; Publishing Assistant, Wm Heinemann Ltd 1936-40, Director 1955, Managing Director 1959-61, Chairman and Managing Director, Heinemann Educational Books Ltd 1961-79, Chairman, Heinemann Educational Books (Nigeria) 1969-83, Managing Director, Heinemann Group of Publishers 1973- 79, Consultant to Heinemann Group 1979-84, 1986-93; CBE 1972; Chairman, World's Work Ltd 1973-79; Consultant to William Collins 1985-86; married 1939 Enid Malin (two sons, one daughter); died London 17 December 1993.

ALAN HILL was the most imaginative educational publisher of his time. Chinua Achebe, the Nigerian novelist, described him as 'a visionary who with a small band of colleagues built from scratch the biggest educational publishing company in the Commonwealth'.

He was born into the world of education, the son of William Hill, the schoolmaster in the industrial village of Barwell, in Leicestershire. On the day before he died he attended the Christmas lunch of a group of educational publishers in London. As ever he was the star, the life and soul of the proceedings. Afterwards he went to a meeting of the Society of Antiquaries, of which he had just been elected a Fellow at the age of 81.

His father's world had much in common with that of DH Lawrence - indeed amongst William Hill's friends was Louie Burrows, said to be the original of Ursula Brangwen in The Rainbow. It was a world of self-improvement rooted in the Nonconformist tradition, then being influenced by the impact of the Fabian Society and Labour Party. William Hill was active in politics and become president of the National Union of Teachers. Alan Hill always retained something of the Puritan work ethic and was a lifelong Labour supporter.

After Wigston Grammar School, Leicester, and Jesus College, Cambridge, where he read history, he joined in 1936 the educational department of William Heinemann, then a tiny part of the most successful British fiction publisher - so small that at the outbreak of war school publishing was left in abeyance until Hill returned from the RAF in 1946.

Progress was slow. When I joined him in 1949 his staff consisted of a part-time secretary and office boy. We looked with awe at the enormous publishing lists of our competitors. But a new world had been opened up by the 1944 Education Act - new exams and secondary education for all, and here we were on level ground.

Hill had an enormous interest in people. He had the gift of immediate rapport with total strangers. He would draw them out, persuade them to reveal their ideas and help them with encouragement and support. He had faith in them, and they had faith in him. The publishing programme grew as the word spread that here was a firm that believed strongly in good personal relations, both with its authors and amongst its own staff.

Gradually new people were recruited and in 1956 Hill felt the business was sufficiently established for him to start making the overseas trips that were to occupy a great deal of his publishing life. He was determined to see for himself what the market was like for our books, then to see if they could be adapted for other countries, and finally to set up a train of offices, each with its own publishing programme.

In 1956 Achebe sent his first novel, Things Fall Apart, to William Heinemann, who published it on the basis of a glowing report from their chief fiction reader. Unfortunately there was virtually no market for hardback novels in tropical Africa, so gradually the idea was born that we should publish it and other titles in a new paperback series - the African Writers Series. It fell to me to carry advance copies of the first three titles round Nigeria and Ghana in 1962, showing them to schools, colleges and bookshops. They created enormous excitement. Here were their own countrymen's books in attractive but cheap paperbacks, accessible to all. At last there was an opportunity for budding authors to submit their work in the knowledge that they would be judged on their suitability for their own countries, not by the criteria of UK hardbacks.

Hill became known as an authority on British publishing overseas. In 1962 the Government asked for a book publisher to join the Second Commonwealth Education Conference in Delhi; along with ministers, senior civil servants, vice-chancellors and chief education officers.

Hill was chosen and played a leading role in seeing through schemes for subsidised textbooks and providing training for overseas authors in the UK. He attended two further conferences and when he was appointed CBE in 1972 the citation was 'for services to overseas education'.

Hill officially 'retired' on his 67th birthday in 1979. He viewed the prospect with dismay, but immediately busied himself with new projects - Computers in Education, the Nuffield Curriculum Trust, the Prehistoric Society, constant contact with his old Heinemann colleagues and a very busy social life.

Education and publishing owe an enormous amount to his vision and dedication. Above all he will be remembered as a marvellous human being.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'