Reginald Charles Hill, writer, born 3 April 1936; died 12 January 2012.
The following is the obituary for Reginald Hill, as it appeared in full in The Guardian on Friday, 13 January 2012. It was written by Mike Ripley and is reproduced here with the kind permission of both The Guardian and Mike Ripley.
On the publication of the 21st Dalziel and Pascoe novel in 2007, an interviewer asked Reginald Hill if this was his 48th published novel to date. Hill replied: “That sounds very reasonable. I counted religiously till I got to 10, then in a more secular fashion till I got to 20, and after that I lost interest in keeping a tally. I mean, if 20 doesn’t mean you’re a real writer, then what number does?” Such a self-effacing reply was typical of the modest and softly spoken Hill, who has died aged 75 after suffering from a brain tumour. One of Britain’s most consistently successful crime writers, he could easily have been mistaken for an absent-minded academic or a country parson.
Hill was best known for his crime novels about Dalziel and Pascoe, which were adapted for BBC television from 1996 to 2007. It was not until 1980, when he became a full-time writer, that he realised that his books about the detective duo were his “banker”, just as Ruth Rendell regarded her Inspector Wexford books as her “bread and butter”. Even so, he refused to turn out one a year – the norm for crime writers with a series – preferring instead to alternate them with thrillers, historical novels, science fiction and, later, a smaller humorous series set in Luton, featuring the black private detective Joe Sixsmith.
The opening lines of Hill’s first completed (but second to be published) novel, Fell of Dark (1971), were clearly prophetic: “I possess the Englishman’s usual ambivalent attitude to the police. They are at once protectors and persecutors.” When they made their debut in A Clubbable Woman in 1970, Dalziel and Pascoe were indeed an ambivalent pair, just as likely to bully and persecute a suspect as ride to the rescue of a victim.
The pairing of the rough and rude Supt “Fat Andy” Dalziel with the university-educated and very politically correct Sgt Peter Pascoe led to Hill being labelled “perhaps the most interesting of his generation of crime writers” by the author HRF Keating. Since Conan Doyle, most crime writers had provided a Watson to their Holmes; a character less intelligent than the great detective who could filter the plot and explain the clues to the reader. Hill chose to create a genuine double act. Each partner could stand and succeed alone, but together the pair became formidable. Like Laurel and Hardy, Dalziel and Pascoe bounced and sparked off each other and while complete opposites physically, politically and intellectually, there was a clear and present bond of affection and respect, perhaps even love, between them.
Hill wrote crime novels in a particularly English way, with lots of jokes (something he searched for in vain in much Scandinavian crime writing) and an affection for northern, non-metropolitan settings. He could create fleshed-out, multi-dimensional characters without any apparent effort, a skill he attributed to his belief that he could never write about someone “who wasn’t interesting”.
Hill was born in Hartlepool, Durham, the son of the professional footballer Reg Hill, who played for Hartlepools United (as it was then known) from 1932 to 1937. By the time the boy was three, the family had moved to Cumbria, which was to remain his home. He was educated at Carlisle grammar school (now Trinity school) and did his national service in the Border Regiment (1955-57), serving in Göttingen, Germany.
He then studied English at St Catherine’s College, Oxford, and became a teacher, initially in Essex and then as a lecturer at a teacher-training college in Doncaster in the 1960s and 70s. There, the foundations of his fictional Mid-Yorkshire Constabulary were laid as he began to write down the stories that had “buzzed around” him since his youth.
The 1970s proved to be an intensely productive decade for Hill who, while working as a full-time teacher, managed to produce 18 novels, a dozen or more short stories, the television play An Affair of Honour for the BBC’s 30-Minute Theatre series (though no recordings survive) and even a comedy sketch for The Dave Allen Show.
He revealed himself to be a serious student of crime fiction with an influential essay on the genre, published in Whodunit? (1982), edited by Keating. Hill was proud of the fact that he retained the same literary agent and the same primary publisher, HarperCollins, throughout his career. The first Dalziel and Pascoe novel was published under the Collins Crime Club imprint. For many years his editor there was the formidable Elizabeth Walter, who insisted he was always referred to as Reginald and never Reg, as one would never think of shortening Agatha Christie’s name to “Ag”.
It was a surprise to many in the crime-writing world that it took Hill 20 years to win the Crime Writers’ Association’s Gold Dagger award, for Bones and Silence in 1990. (He received the Cartier Diamond Dagger for lifetime achievement five years later.) Even more surprising, in an era when detectives dominated TV drama, was that it took so long for Dalziel and Pascoe to reach the small screen. There had been an earlier attempt, by Yorkshire Television, in 1993, and a pilot was made starring the comedians Hale and Pace as the dynamic duo. The result was less than dynamic and, to Hill’s relief, a series was never commissioned. The project was then quickly taken up by the BBC, attracting quality scriptwriters such as Alan Plater and Malcolm Bradbury and the actors Warren Clarke and Colin Buchanan in the lead roles.
Hill was given the chance to write scripts for the series, but he declined, claiming that he did not fancy “everybody putting their halfpenny-worth in” during the production process. He was, and remained, busy enough anyway. He wrote historical novels including No Man’s Land (1985) and notable standalone thrillers such as The Spy’s Wife (1980) and The Woodcutter (2010). He also published work under various pen names: as Patrick Ruell, he wrote a string of light-hearted thrillers stuffed with literary references; as Dick Morland, he wrote the dystopian novel Albion! Albion! (1974); and, as Charles Underhill, he produced two 17th-century romps featuring Captain Fantom, a soldier of fortune described in John Aubrey’s Brief Lives as a “great ravisher”.
Hill was happiest in his Cumbrian home, near Ravenglass, with his wife, Pat, whom he married in 1960, and a variety of dogs and cats. He was reluctant to climb aboard the literary festival roundabout but made a rare exception in 2009, appearing at the Harrogate crime-writing festival on a platform with John Banville which touched on the differences (if any) between “literary” and crime fiction. Hill said: “When I get up in the morning, I ask my wife whether I should write a Booker prize-winning novel, or another bestselling crime book. We always come down on the side of the crime book.”
All who met him thought of him as a gentle man as well as a proper gentleman. Those who knew him well appreciated his generosity of spirit, especially to new writers, and his sometimes wicked sense of humour.
He is survived by Pat.