Denis Hill (1929-94) was himself a working-class bloke from provincial Brighton, where he spent all his life apart from his two or three years in Prague. He had worked in various clerical jobs and been active in the Young Communist League, the Communist Party and the local Trades Council. He also had his own `Jewish Problem’, in his view that Jews were responsible themselves for Hitler’s persecution of them.
I could only put this down to his provincial background since I had never heard anything like this from a London Communist. This was, however, not the only issue on which he was opinionated and eccentric. Within WSN Denis was a good administrator, travelled widely in a hopeless effort to improve its West European distribution, and was as disenchanted as I with state-socialism (though not always in the same phase or to the same extent).
Like myself, however, he rejoined the CPGB on his return to the UK but left the Party again in 1968 because of the Soviet invasion of Prague. Within Brighton, Denis returned to clerical work, drink, and the labour and other progressive movements and was a minor personality there. Receiving redundancy payment from his long-time employment with the Co-op, he decided to enter university, obtaining a good bachelor’s degree and then a master’s. With these under his belt, he wrote his autobiography (1989) and his history of radical Brighton (1991). The autobiography contains chapters full of cracker-barrel philosophising on European history, and a more-strident anti-semitism.
Whilst it was called `From Red to Green’, I wonder whether it should not have been called ‘From Red to Brown’. I found it, 10 years after he died, in a fascist bookshop in Sussex. From his own account it appears that Denis was increasingly self-isolated by heart disease and other major health problems, by his often irascible nature. He was incapable of giving up smoking and alcohol. He once almost killed himself by attempting, whilst drunk, to vacuum clean a wet floor (with an otherwise excellent Soviet machine).
Whilst he had travelled much in Eastern and Western Europe, often accompanied by a woman friend, he now went alone to the USA. He abandoned the Brighton Trades Council he had earlier done much to build up. He died at home, aged 65 in 1994. But his death did not go unnoticed in the local press, any more than had his life. (I am grateful to Melanie Nowocin, of The Argus, for searching the Brighton press archives and mailing clippings about Denis to me.) And he did leave behind his own unique three chapters on life in Prague, the IUS and WSN in the mid-1950s.
This is how Denis describes himself on the flysheet of his history of radical Brighton:
"Denis Hill (a.k.a. Rocky Hill) was born and raised in Brighton. He has lived in the town for most of his life, and was educated at St Joseph’s, at Vamdean and at the University of Sussex. He probably knows the district as well as anyone. He was the area’s first post-war Labour Youth secretary.
Around the town he has participated in youth clubs, film societies, WEA classes, co-operative organisations, jazz clubs, the Brighton
Parliament, the Labour Club, CND, ex-servicemen’s organisations, the one-time Liberal Club, various trade unions, Bonfire Societies, numerous pubs and clubs, the Veteran Car Run, and countless ad-hoc campaigns and pressure groups.
These have included housing-the-homeless, Vietnam protests, free-speech issues, the Brighton Marina controversy, and May Day committees. He has also acted as a branch secretary of the Communist Party, and served on the Communist Party’s National Youth Advisory Committee and the CP Sussex District Committee. Originally trained in accounts work, the author later became an insurance agent and spent years working around the farms and villages of Mid-Sussex. He has also worked as an office-boy, travel agent, porter, magazine office-manager, railway-man, office-cleaner, warehouseman, van-driver, and wages-clerk, before going to university as a mature student. He has an honours degree in Politics and a Master’s degree in History.
The writer did his military service with the R.A.F., including a stint with the occupation forces in Japan. In the 1950s the Communist Party sent him to work in Eastern Europe for three years, which experience included Prague, Moscow, and East Germany. He has also travelled throughout West Germany some twenty times. More recently he has roamed extensively around America.
An active trade unionist, he was a shop steward at 17, and has been branch chairman, youth secretary, branch treasurer, conference delegate, and for many years was the secretary of the Brighton Trades Union Council. He served on the Brighton & Mid-Sussex Local Employment Committee for nine years, and (as a co-opted member) on the Town Council’s Entertainment and Publicity Committee for seven years. Between 1963 and 1973 he participated in the monthly liaison meetings between Brighton Corporation officers, Chamber of Commerce, and the Trades Council, under the chairmanship of the respective Mayors.
Denis Hill is currently involved in: the Electoral Reform Society, the Writers’ Guild, the Green Party, the RAFA, and the BCAIR – Japan Association. Like many another, the author paid the price for burning
The candle at both ends and in the 1980’s underwent triple by-pass heart-surgery. Now approaching retirement, he spends his time as a social-service carer for the mentally-handicapped."