6 July 2007


Paul Anderson, Tribune, 6 July 2007

Douglas Hill, the reviews editor of Tribune from 1971 to 1983, has died after being run over by a double-decker bus as he walked over a pedestrian crossing in north London. He was 72.

A charming Canadian polymath with a razor-sharp but self-deprecating wit, he was a prolific author. The best-selling of his 50-odd books were children’s science fiction and fantasy titles: before the arrival of Harry Potter he was the most popular children’s author in Britain. But he also wrote science fiction for adults and several non-fiction titles, among them an anthology-cum-history of this newspaper to mark its 40th birthday 30 years ago, Tribune 40: Forty years of a socialist newspaper, which remains the only book-length account of the first half of its life.

Born in Manitoba and educated at the universities of Saskatchewan and Toronto, he arrived in Britain in 1959 with his then wife Gail Robinson, becoming an editor at a publishing company. He joined Tribune as reviews editor in 1971, taking over from Elizabeth Thomas. “My intention was to carry on, in my way, what she and others before her had established as the proper roles and obligations of the reviews section of a socialist paper,” he wrote modestly in 1977, but it is no insult to Thomas, herself a great reviews editor, to say that he did much more than that.

Under his stewardship, the reviews pages started to fizz, just as the rest of the paper became increasingly worthy-and-dull in its obsession with the arguments against Britain joining (and then remaining in) the Common Market. His choice of reviewers was inspired in its eclecticism, and the column he wrote most weeks, “Platform”, was the closest the paper has come to emulating George Orwell’s “As I Please” column of the 1940s in its intellectual range and in its humour. Many of the people he recruited as writers are still valued contributors more than 20 years on.

He remained in touch with Tribune long after he left: he wrote reviews until well into the 1990s and was a regular at the editorial lunches organised by Sheila Noble, the paper’s production editor, chief sub and unofficial social secretary. Although he joked about being past-it when I last saw him a few months ago, he looked as spry as he was in the 1980s – and his repartee was as dazzling and as mischievous as ever. His sudden death is a shock, and everyone lucky enough to have known him will miss him. He is survived by his son and his former wife.

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