“I never intended for ‘United We Stand’ to be an anthem,” said the songwriter Tony Hiller, who has died aged 91. “It was written as a love song but for some reason, people took a shine to it and have used it for all sorts of purposes. Often when people want to show solidarity, they sing ‘United We Stand’. I’m very proud of that but I know it has also been played at a mafia funeral.”
Although many of Tony Hiller’s songs were lightweight and would rarely be played today, he was a joy to meet, full of stories about his compositions and the fellow performers and songwriters that he knew. He loved what he was doing and couldn't imagine anything better than writing songs. Once he told me that he had just been listening to a Lorenz Hart song where he had rhymed “half past three” with “tapestry”. “That is amazing,” he said, “and yet today’s songwriters seem to have forgotten about rhymes. The words are there to be heard so let’s hear something good.”
Tony Hiller’s grandparents came from Prussia and intended to emigrate to New York. When the boat docked at Liverpool, they were told it was America. Tony’s father, Sam, was born in England. Sam did go to New York where he made trousers; his brother Joe joined him in the business but soon left to work with a young Chico Marx. With Joe singing and Chico playing piano, they would demonstrate new songs to passersbys and hopefully sell them the sheet music. They were often on commission from Irving Berlin. Joe became a noted bookings agent and he discovered Perry Como.
Sam Hiller returned to England, befriending another boy on the boat and eventually marrying his sister, Sarah. Tony Hiller was born in the East End of London in the late 1920s. “I am the luckiest man in the world, a kid from a council flat in Bethnal Green,” he would say, “and I’ve had success beyond my wildest dreams.”
Tony and his brother Irving became a song and dance duo and played the variety halls as the Hiller Brothers as well as making the occasional record. They both joined the British subsidiary of an American music publisher, Mills Music, but Irving did not care for song plugging and went on to open nightclubs in Manchester. On the other hand, Tony revelled in finding the right song for the right performer and in encouraging new talent such as Roger Greenaway and Roger Cook or the rock n' roll singer, Marty Wilde, who was capable of writing hit songs.
The first song of Hiller’s to be recorded was ‘Lorelei’ by Dickie Valentine in 1954. In the early 1960s, Hiller got involved with the local beat scene writing "I’m with You", a minor hit for the Big Three from Liverpool, and "Don’t Lie to Me" by Jeannie and the Big Guys from Chester. The best-known song was "Caroline" for the Fortunes in 1964, which became the theme song for the pirate station, Radio Caroline.
Hiller had the young Reg Dwight (later to become Elton John) working for him as an office boy. “I didn’t know he could write then,” said Hiller, “but he was always singing and I asked him to make the original demo of ‘United We Stand’. I had written it with Johnny Goodison and then Johnny recorded it with some really good session singers. I was watching TV and someone mentioned the brotherhood of man, and I thought that’s the name for the group.” It was a hit single in 1970 and then recorded as a duet by Anne Murray and Glen Campbell.
Hiller persuaded the Shadows to record “Guitar Tango”, a top five hit in the UK, and he wrote their album track, ‘Cotton Pickin’’. In 1971 he wrote a TV theme for Cliff Richard, "Sunny Honey Girl", not one of his best-known records but a top 20 hit nonetheless.
Although Hiller had been involved with Eurovision since 1962, his compositions had never got further than the British heats. By 1976, Hiller was managing a touring version of Brotherhood of Man and while they were playing some clubs in the North, two of the members, Lee Sheriden and Martin Lee wrote “Save Your Kisses For Me” with him, which they submitted to the contest.
They won the British heat and despite having to open the show in the Netherlands, they scored a convincing win. It was a No 1 single as were "Angelo" and "Figaro", both written by the same team. Hiller produced their bestselling albums, and also produced Harry Secombe and Moira Anderson.
In 1980 Hiller produced a fine album, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, for the American singer, Johnnie Ray, who was almost deaf at the time. It included Hiller’s song, “I’ll Cry In My Sleep”, which was superbly slanted to Ray’s Cry Guy image.
A happier experience came in 1984 when Hiller set words to classical themes for the album, Greatest Love Classics for Andy Williams with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. “Nicky Graham and I wrote the lyrics and produced the record,” said Hiller, “We took famous melodies like Romeo And Juliet and I would talk about the lyrics to Andy on the phone. He was very hard on me – he would say, ‘I don’t like this line’ and ‘I don’t like this bit’, and it took many months to get it right, but it went gold for us. It was a sensational feeling to go into the big studio at EMI and see this enormous orchestra all ready to play.”
Hiller wrote 1,500 songs including “Only Fools Never Fall In Love”, a Top 10 hit for Sonia, and “Nights”, a US country success for Ed Bruce. He produced an album of standards, Rush of Love, by Amy Winehouse’s father Mitch in 2010.
For years Hiller – was the go-to man for football singles. He said: “I’m a Chelsea man and have a season ticket, but I don’t have to support the team to do a single. The biggest problem is finding out which of the players can’t sing for tuppence. You have to break to it to them gently as most people think they are singing in tune.”
Anthony Toby Hiller, songwriter and record producer, born 30 July 1927, died 26 August 2018
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