Reginald Hill: not just classy; cool.

By Ruth Dudley Edwards

Reginal Hill at Harrogate in 2010.

My crime-writing colleagues have been writing sadly, lovingly, admiringly and eloquently about Reg Hill, and I can’t pass up the chance to say what a wonderful writer and delightful man we have lost.  I venerated him greatly and loved his company.  It was my proudest moment as a crime writer when he proposed me as a member of the Detection Club.  I wish I could remember the affectionate jibes he directed at me in his speech.

Reg was erudite, cultivated and a master of the English language, but he wore his learning so lightly and wittily that it was reminiscent of a soufflé surprise.    He could be authoritative, but he was never ever pompous.  He laughed affectionately at himself, at his friends, at the world and at his characters.  When he described himself as being at the Jane Austen end of the crime-writing spectrum he meant he didn’t go in for torrid sex or graphic violence.  But of course the comparison works at a much deeper level.  Like Jane, Reg was a wise and amused observer of the human condition who had great compassion but a subversive pen and utterly despised pretention.

I was a happy member of the audience at Harrogate in 2009 for his memorable discussion with John Banville.  He had wondered in an email what they could talk about.  ‘Dare I suggest that as Iris Murdoch got a full Booker for The Sea! The Sea! he should only have got half a one for The Sea? Maybe not…’ Continue reading


A personal memory of Reginald Hill from Julia Wisdom

By Julia Wisdom, HarperCollins

I was immensely privileged to be Reginald Hill’s editor for eighteen years.  He was erudite, versatile, witty, endlessly inventive and deeply humane – an elegant and profoundly intelligent writer who remained very much his own man.

The first book I published by him was Pictures of Perfection, a playful homage to Jane Austen, and the last was The Woodcutter, a compelling revenge tragedy described in The Times as ‘an outstanding novel of force and beauty’.  In between came a veritable feast of riches, the highlight being (for me) the extraordinary On Beulah Height, a magical novel which wove together past and present, music and tragedy, the loss of children with children’s fables, and passionately evoked landscape and vivid narrative voices, even Reg’s own, Yorkshire-set, lyrics to Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder. This was a book that moved me and, I suspect, many others to tears, and I’ll never forget how it felt to read that typescript for the first time. Continue reading

Ellie Pascoe

By Margaret Murphy

Ellie Pascoe (Susannah Corbett) at her wedding to Peter.

By my calculation, the BBC adapted 14 of the Dalziel and Pascoe novels, but this changed after On Beulah Height.  The producers decided to write Ellie Pascoe out of the TV series (in the storyline, Pascoe and Ellie divorce, and she moves to the USA with daughter Rosie).  If memory serves, Susannah Corbett’s other acting commitments were cited as an excuse for writing her out.  It was a mistake, and my own feeling was that television at the time was nervous of complexity, and a strong woman in the teleplay was just too demanding.  And Reg Hill did write wonderfully strong, vibrant women – even his apparently weak females are capable of whipping round and slapping you about the chops with your stereotypical notions.  Susannah Corbett met Reg and Pat Hill at the press launch of Dalziel and Pascoe. ‘As I walked in,’ she told me, ‘two very normal and unassuming looking people (quite out of place for a press launch) accosted me, shouting “It’s Ellie – you’re just how we imagined you.”  That remains the greatest compliment I have ever been paid.’  It was typical, too of Reg’s generosity of spirit.

When Arms and the Women was published in the USA, Random House had a Q&A on their website.  Asked for his thoughts on the TV adaptations, Reg paid tribute to the skills of the actors, directors and scriptwriters, but added, ‘TV is too self-absorbed to enter into an equal partnership.  You start close and cosy enough but soon you realize you’re not getting your fair share of the duvet and one day you wake to find you’re lying at the very edge of the bed, totally exposed to the chill morning air.’  I laughed when I read this, but I laughed harder at Reg’s response when he was asked at a conference how he felt about the loss of Ellie from the TV adaptations.  The TV producers had made their decision: Ellie was gone, Rosie was gone, and there was nothing Reg could do about it.  We would have forgiven him for raging – many of the audience were fuming on his behalf – but Reg made his point far more eloquently and decisively, and with his trademark wit.  He said he decided to write his next novel centred firmly on Ellie.  I remember the wicked gleam in his eye as Reg looked around the audience. ‘Adapt that!’ he said. Continue reading

Reginald Hill: Doncaster Man Pens Another

By Andrew Taylor

I first encountered Reginald Hill thirty-five years ago. Not that I knew who he was.

At the time I was dabbling in the freelance shallows of publishing. One of my jobs involved writing cover copy. Two of the books that came across my desk were Urn Burial and Death Takes the Low Road, a pair of intelligent thrillers by ‘Patrick Ruell’ – which I learned only later was one of the three pseudonyms used by Reginald Hill, author of the Dalziel and Pascoe series.

I met Reg in person at a CWA conference a few years later. By this time I had become a writer myself; he and Peter Lovesey took pity on my innocence and gave me glasses of wine and much needed advice on agents and other writerly topics involving money. That was typical: he was a very kind man, and he knew the value of hard cash to professional authors.

The following year our paths crossed again. I was still working for a paperback publisher and I’d been commissioned to write a detailed assessment on Reg’s work in general and on the Dalziel and Pascoe series in particular. I read the series up to date, including what was then the new book; many of his short stories; and – another new novel – his wonderful (and unfairly forgotten) World War I novel, No Man’s Land. I’m glad to say that the publisher decided to take the series. No credit to me, though. The books spoke, and speak, for themselves. They are like the man: witty, generous and unfailingly intelligent.

Link to PB on Amazon UK.

On behalf of the same publisher, I asked Reg for some biographical and critical material that could be used to promote the books. He replied immediately and in admirable detail. That, too, was typical – he was always efficient, which is not a quality one always associates with authors. He enclosed a short monograph, entitled ‘Reginald Hill: A Brief Life’, which made me laugh as I read it, as did so much of his work. (And that’s why I still know, for example, that Reg did his national service in the Border Regiment, rising to the dizzy height of Acting Lance-Corporal [unpaid].)

He also enclosed a selection of reviews. It was clear from these that he had a pleasing sense of the absurdity of the exercise on which we were jointly engaged. Pride of place went to a review of An April Shroud in the Doncaster Evening Post, a rarely quoted journal of record. The banner headline went straight to heart of the matter: DONCASTER MAN PENS ANOTHER a phrase that still glitters in the memory.

There are two sorts of crime writers: the solitary and the sociable. Reg belonged to the latter category, which is why we coincided often in years that followed. The last time I spent an evening with him was in London. There was a dinner involving crime writers, as there so often is. Continue reading

Reginald Hill: the wit and wisdom …

By Mike Ripley, UK

Everyone – except perhaps the die-hard fan of Scandinavian crime fiction – knows that Reginald Hill was a very witty, sometimes achingly funny writer. Anyone who can have a character think “Like prison, once out of Yorkshire, there was no way he was going back” and invent a village in Wales called Llufwwadog (try reading it backwards), clearly has a funny bone or several.

Those lucky enough to know him were aware that his infectious wit came naturally, was not an act and it spread from his fiction into letters, Christmas cards and emails. He did not suffer fools gladly; though he was always polite to them. He could be sharp – he had a very sharp mind – but was never cruel, and my goodness, he was funny and always game for a laugh.

One of the advantages of being involved in the world of crime-writing is that, if you’re lucky, you get to meet your heroes. I think I first met Reg (it was always ‘Reg’ except on the covers of his books) in 1988 at a meeting of the Crime Writers’ Association in the infamous Groucho Club in London. When I introduced myself and gushed with fan-like awe that “I’ve read all your books”, Reg replied instantly: “And I’ve read all yours!” which came as a shock as I had only written one at the time. I learned later that our mutual editor at Collins Crime Club, Elizabeth Walter, sent him copies because she thought they would appeal to the naughty side of his sense of humour. After Elizabeth Walter’s retirement, Reg would send me a cheque – including postage – every time I had a new book out.

In those far-off days before emails and living at opposite ends of the country, we became what could quaintly be called pen-pals but it was at the 1990 Bouchercon in London that I discovered Reg also had a penchant for the ‘shaggy dog story’. We had both observed how visiting American mystery fans (who put British ones to shame in their enthusiasm) were snapping up not only books, but all the ephemera of crime writing: book marks, proof copies, hand-written notes, bar receipts (there were a lot of those) and autographs.

It seemed likely that there could be a market for, say, some private correspondence between famous crime writers, and especially if that correspondence was incredibly indiscreet about well-known publishers, agents and, of course, other writers. As I was unknown in America, a bigger name was needed and Reg suggested his friend from the Detection Club H.R.F. ‘Harry’ Keating, the creator of the Inspector Ghote mysteries, and so the idea of the ‘Hill-Keating Letters’ was born. The idea was for me to act as (dis)honest broker, having somehow come into possession of this correspondence, dating back to about 1970, the contents of which would be solid gold to any devoted crime fiction fanatic. Harry even went so far as to locate a supply of foolscap typing paper from the 1960s so that the typewritten Keating-Hill (or Hill-Keating depending on who was talking) Letters would look authentic and pass forensic scrutiny.

Of course no salacious letters were ever actually written, or forged, but the three of us had fun for ages suggesting who and what deserved to be included – and, yes, some famous names were involved.

Possibly the longest-running private, though occasionally public, joke we shared was that of ‘Professor Charles Underhill’, an ancient and crusty academic who had dedicated his life to identifying all the jokes in Scandinavian crime fiction.

‘Charles Underhill’ was the pen-name Reg adopted in 1978 for his 17th century historical romp Captain Fantom, a multi-lingual Croatian adventurer mentioned in John Aubrey’s Brief Lives, although Reg did once persuade an ardent fan that Fantom had played left-back for Everton in the 1980s! I think the creation of ‘Professor Underhill’ began when I wrote a piece somewhere moaning that most Scandinavian crime fiction would be improved if only it contained a tenth of the humour and sheer bloody humanity found in the average Reg Hill novel. The character became our private short-hand for discussing the prospects of each ‘next big thing’ from Sweden or Norway and whenever Reg saw something in my Getting away With Murder column of which he approved, he would say: “I shall have it translated immediately into Old Norse for the delectation of Professor Underhill (it’s the only language he cares to read these days).” Continue reading