Mr. Hilton Brown
Novelist and Biographer
Mr. Hilton Brown, who was for some years a member of the Indian Civil Service and was an author of many parts, died in Nairobi on Sunday.
An entertaining novelist, an inventive short-story writer and a sympathetic and very readable literary biographer. Hilton Brown was probably most widely known for his contributions to Punch of light verse and equally light prose under the initials “H.B.” These contributions he maintained very happily over an exceptionally long period.
Born at Elgin, Scotland, in 1890, he was educated at Elgin Academy and at St Andrews University, where be graduated with first-class honours in classics. In 1913 he entered the I.C.S. and served until 1934 in the Madras Presidency. He travelled in Europe, East Africa and elsewhere during his periods of leave, pursued wherever possible his favourite recreation of hill-climbing, wrote volumes of fiction and travel as well as light verse and a serious work on South India, and on his retirement resumed his travels and the writing of fiction. In 1940 he joined the staff of the B.B.C. and remained there, engaged in an interesting variety of duties, until 1946. However, he did not entirely sever his connexion with the corporation and continued to contribute to programmes for several years.
The promise of his earliest novel, Susanna, was fulfilled in its successor, Ostrich Eyes, published in 1928, perhaps the most telling of all his books, a story of middle-class lives done with unsentimental force and candour. It was, indeed, almost too quietly and resolutely veracious a piece of storytelling to win any degree of popularity. A book on Haiti and another on Burns followed, and in the late 1930s came a trio of novels, The Hare of Cloud, That State of Life , and Humbug Hall . which handled topical themes with lively if at times over-colloquial ease. A volume that won deserved notice was his study of Kipling, published in 1945, a lively, sympathetic and discriminating assessment of Kipling’s talents. In 1948 Brown brought out The Sahibs, an anthology of “the life and ways of the British in India as recorded by themselves”. Several other novels came from his pen including Stands My House, Asylum Island, and Warm or Very Warm, but though full of dramatic incident and written in buoyant style they were something of a disappointment to those who remembered his earlier work.
The Times. Wednesday, Jan. 18, 1961. p. 13.
Hilton Brown is a Scot from Elgin, a place where he passed his first ten years and which he has seen only at long intervals thereafter. Is an Arts Graduate (1911) of St. Andrews University. Served in the Indian Civil Service in the Madras Presidency from 1913 for twenty-one years, during which time he obtained a wide experience of life in South India and acquired a deep attachment to the country. He retired in 1934 on proportionate pension in order to devote himself to writing. Several of his novels and short stories have been written against the background of South India and it is difficult to think of any other author better qualified to write the history of the firm which has had so much of its life and development in South India. From 1940 to 1946 was on the staff of the Talks Department at Broadcasting House, London, as a Producer and has given many individual broadcasts, including a number of his own short stories and some hundreds of items in the series ‘News Commentary for Schools’. Has also broadcast in Australia, New Zealand, India, Kenya and Samoa. Has been a frequent contributor to Blackwoods, The Spectator, The Scots Magazine and other periodicals and has written verse in Punch for more than forty years over the initials ‘H. B.’ Is an indefatigable traveller.
From cover of: Parry’s of Madras. Madras: Parry, 1954.