Hill was born in Essex in 1947 but moved to the US early in life which gave him his trademark ‘mid Atlantic accent’. He volunteered for an extended military tour of Vietnam, before moving back to the UK and joining the Metropolitan Police.
In 1980, as an undercover officer, he made a foray into a field that he would make his own – the recovery of stolen art.
As a prominent member of the Met’s Art & Antiques Squad, he was instrumental in the recovery of Edvard Munch’s 1893 version of The Scream, stolen in 1994. That particular episode – Hill often recalled with a wry smile – culminated in a remote Norwegian lodge.
There, he was invited to descend through a trapdoor into the basement to receive the stolen painting. In typical fashion, Hill refused “in Anglo Saxon vernacular” that since he did not intend to be trapped there until the following Christmas, the painting should be brought up to him, where he identified it as the original through the drops from a candle that Munch had blown out.
After the successful recovery of The Scream and other masterpieces stolen from the Beit Collection at Russborough House, Hill left the police and continued his work as an independent consultant.
His numerous other recoveries can be read about elsewhere (and how apt they might suit a crime novel or film!), but these interviews and tributes do not quite encapsulate his wry humour, quiet courage, and inspirational mentoring of the next generation – the last of which will likely be his greatest legacy.
That legacy is already secured, and perhaps his admirers might pay final tribute by fulfilling Hill’s ambitions to recover the missing artworks closest to his heart: most notably, the Isabella Stewart Gardner paintings stolen in 1990, and Caravaggio’s Nativity with St Frances and St Lawrence stolen from Palermo’s Oratorio di San Lorenzo in 1969.
As Hill summarised so eloquently: “I believe these are works of creation by human beings, that these inanimate objects have lives of their own… they are worth preserving, protecting and keeping for us and future generations.”
Well said, Charley, and may we preserve that art and your work for the years to come.
Our thoughts are with Caroline, his children, family and friends.
By Will Korner, Art Loss Register