Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Ian Hill: Belfast Telegraph's 'Man About Town' who was a sharp and original observer of the arts scene

A way with words: Ian with violin virtuoso Yehudi Menuhin

Ian Hill, who has died suddenly at 73, was a journalist who loved being saddled with the label ‘Man About Town’.

He was on first name terms with authors, actors and producers and wrote knowledgeably about the arts in and around Belfast where he never missed the opening of a new show at the Grand Opera House.

Hill’s first taste of real journalism came in the early 1960s when he arrived at the Belfast Telegraph offices straight from Queen’s University where he had been studying dentistry and had been the editor of Gown.

He joined the staff of a new BT tabloid called Ulsterweek of which I was news editor and immediately brushed away the traditional cobwebs surrounding the newspaper scene of that time with his articles about bodies like the Tourist Board and the Arts Council, which appeared to be immune from criticism and soon found out they were’t after all.

After his spell on Ulsterweek Ian became one of the original freelance writers around the Belfast scene at a time when freelance journalists were a complete novelty.

In articles he wrote for the daily Press including the Belfast Telegraph he managed to astonish and occasionally upset editors

like the late Jack Sayers with his way-out comments on the establishment and its leaders.

As he grew older, Hill’s love of the arts and the theatre became more apparent in his writings and he was always in demand for art and theatre reviews and for his opinions on the musicals and superstars that came to town.

He and his second wife Helena were popular ever-presents on the theatre and art exhibition scene.

His comments and his stories were always sharp and original and he had a way with words that delighted his readers.

Ian always had a sneaking regard for the Belfast Telegraph and its various editors, including Edmund Curran and Martin Lindsay, had an admiration for his way with a pen.

He returned to the paper as Man About Town and his regular visits to the social scene lit up his pages.

Ironically, Hill spent several years at the Northern Ireland Tourist Board — one of the bodies he used to criticise in his early days at Ulsterweek.

He brought a new perspective to the way the board dealt with its

publicity scene and was responsible for journalists visiting and writing about resorts and beauty spots in a way that had never happened before.

Eric Thurley, who worked closely with Ian at the Tourist Board, said: “He had a positive and original outlook towards putting the province on the map.”

Eric added: “Ian travelled extensively as well to talk to influential people about what Northern Ireland had to offer visitors.”

But Ian was a writer at heart and eventually he returned to his first love, freelance journalism. By this stage of his career he was also writing best-selling books about the province and its beauty and about the arts.

However Ian, a father-of-two whose first wife was journalist Nikki Hill, died with one ambition still unfulfilled.

The last time we talked — typically at a Grand Opera House reception — he confided that he had it in mind to write a novel with an Ulster flavour.

Sadly it never happened.

EDDIE McILWAINE

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