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Thursday 22 December 2016

Fact 83. Ronnie Hilton was the cover version king.

Ronnie Hilton was born in Hull on 26th January 1926. I have seen his father as being a soldier or a seaman, but he left Paisley Street School, just to the west of West Park (Where the KCOM Stadium is today), at age 14 after his four brothers signed up for the forces. He went to work in an aircraft factory until he lied about his age and managed to sign up for the Army and joined the Highland Light Infantry, supposedly aged 16. He must have done well as I have read that as a Corporal he was heard singing in the shower by the Regimental Bandmaster and ordered to audition at the band room. From then on he was the appointed resident singer with the regimental band!

He was demobbed in 1947 and started work at a sewing machine factory in Leeds, as a lathe operator on £8 a week. His love of singing took him to enter a competition at a newly opened dance hall in Leeds. The prize was a month stint singing with the Jonny Addlestone Band at the Starlight Roof, and of course he won. He stayed with them for four years

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A very young Adrian Hill in a picture that looks like he is still working at the sewing machine factory in the late 1940's

Whilst singing with the Jonny Addlestone Band he was heard by Walter Ridley, the A and R man for HMV records. They became very good friends. It was Walter that suggested he change his name and have an operation to remove a scar near his mouth (I have read that it was a hare lip but it certainly isn't that obvious in the picture above). It was also Walter that first arranged a recording contract for him. His debut as Ronnie Hilton was on stage at the Dudley Hippodrome in July 1954. He was also singing on the radio with the Northern Variety Orchestra, and the sewing machine factory changed their lunch time in the canteen so that his fellow workers could listen to him sing. He continued to work at the factory, along with his singing until the release of his second single 'I still Believe,' with 'Veni Vidi Vici' on the B side later in 1954.

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Ronnie's second album from 1958.

Ronnie had a minor hit with a cover of the 'Yellow Rose of Texas' just as Bill Haley's 'Rock Around the Clock' went to No.1, and the life of a crooner became difficult. He had a No.1 record with 'No Other Love' in 1956, and it became his theme song, and in 1965 he sold a million records with his 'A Windmill in Old Amsterdam'. This became a children's favourite for many years and probably overshadowed his other 16 chart hits. The fashion in the 1950's was to remake tunes from America and Ronnie did very well with remakes of other's recordings.

Ronnie Hilton (Adrian Hill), by Bob Collins, 1950s - NPG x137143 - © estate of Bob Collins / National Portrait Gallery, London
© estate of Bob Collins / National Portrait Gallery, London
Ronnie Hilton in the late 1950's.

Despite his recording career being overtaken by Elvis and later the Beetles he continued to be very popular singing as a guest on many television and variety shows. He appeared at three Royal Command Performances and even sang privately for the Royal Family at Windsor. However he did suffer from depression over the change in direction of his career. He also suffered a stroke in 1976 that took him a good few years to recover fully from. He was always busy in summer season work and performed in many pantos during the season. In 1985 his wife Joan died. They had three children together, Geraldine, Jane and Derry. A few years later he married Christine (or Chrissy) Westoll and they had a son, Simon.

Ronnie and his second wife, Chrissy, at the rehearsals for the Panto 'Cinderella' at the New Theatre in Hull in 1989 soon after they got married

In the 1989 the British Academy of Song Composers and Authors awarded Ronnie Hilton their Gold Medal for services to popular music. He next came to the fore when he was chosen to present the Radio 2 programme 'Sounds of the 50's'  in 1990. He was able to indulge in the songs of his best era. He continued to present it for around five years.

At home he loved a round of golf and was a good family man. He was very proud of his Northern roots, despite being somewhat misguided and supporting Leeds United until he died! Despite not really making an impact in America he was part of the sound track of my life as my Dad was always singing his tunes when shaving in the morning. Very proud to add Ronnie Hilton to the list of Hullensians.


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  2. I have a photograph taken with him at the Rialto in Liverpool sometime in the fifties.