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Eric Hill

Illustrator, writer and creator of Spot the Dog

Illustrator, writer and creator of Spot the Dog

Born: September 7, 1927 Died: June 6, 2014

ERIC Hill, who has died aged 86, was an illustrator and children's author whose books about a curious, trouble-prone puppy called Spot have sold more than 60 million copies.

The first book, which was published in 1980, was an instant hit, largely because children could look for Spot under a flap on every page, but over the years boys, girls and their parents came to have a genuine affection for the dog. There were many sequels and then merchandise and branding of all kinds which made Hill into a wealthy man.

He was born in Holloway, London, and among his first experiences of drawing was painting aircraft during the Second World War. He left school when he was 14 and worked as an errand boy for an artists' studio.

Towards the end of the war, he was called up and served with the RAF and, on his return to civilian life, found work as a cartoonist on the magazine Illustrated. He then moved into advertising, working for the Erwin Wasey agency.

It was while working on an advertising idea that he came up with the basic outline for the first Spot book. He had been entertaining his two-year-old son Christopher with some advertising material that featured a flap that could be lifted up. Christopher loved it, which gave his father the idea to feature it in a book. He chose a puppy as the subject because of his fondness for dogs.

The book he designed, Where's Spot?, was not originally intended for publication but the daughter of a friend of his, who was a literary agent, spotted the potential and Puffin Books agreed to publish it.

It was an instant success and, within six months of its publication, Hill had left his job in advertising to write and illustrate full time. Many more Spot books followed, with Hill expanding the dog's family to include his mum and dad and sister Susie.

Hill was protective towards the character and was reluctant to move too far away from the original idea, although as well as the books, there was a BBC animated series, a film called The Adventures of Spot in 1983, and many items of merchandise. The books were translated into more than 60 languages.

Latterly, Hill compared himself to the little dog and sometimes referred to himself as Spot's Dad.

"When he shows excitement on Christmas Day and cries 'yippee', that's me in there," he said.

"I love the character, he's my buddy and I'm at ease with him. Subconsciously,

"I see things from the dog's point of view, so Spot is within me."

As his success grew, Hill moved with his family to Tucson, Arizona, where he ran a ranch, before moving to California. Francesca Dow, who runs Penguin's children's division, called Hill a master of simple design. "He created one of the world's most loveable children's book characters - Spot, the charming, naughty, playful puppy, loved and appreciated across the world," she said.

"Eric's ingenious lift-the-flap device turned the reading of a Spot book into a glorious game of hide and seek, enjoyed by children and adults alike. Puffin is proud to publish Eric Hill and will ensure Spot continues to delight children for generations to come."

Hill is survived by his wife and two children.

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