Eric Hill is the creator of Spot, who appeared in his first story, 'Where’s Spot?' in 1980 and quickly became one of the best-loved pre-school characters of all time. Today Spot’s adventures remain incredibly popular and are enjoyed the world over.
Place and date of birth: London; 7 September 1927
Favourite book: Dirk Bogarde's autobiographies
Most treasured possession: My sense of fun
Favourite song: Cole Porter's 'Let's do it (let's fall in love)'
Favourite film: Day of the Jackal
We are delighted to bring to you this exclusive interview with Eric Hill creator of the world's favourite puppy. We spoke to Eric in his bright design studio on the Californian ranch where he now lives with his wife Gilly and a large assortment of cats, horses, and of course dogs! We hope you enjoy this rare insight into the wonderful world of Spot and his friends.
Eric: I worked from home in London as a freelance graphic designer. One of my jobs involved an advertising 'flyer' design, which had a flap covering part of a funny picture. I showed the design to my two year old son Christopher and I noticed how responsive he was to the idea of seeing the flap lift up and disclose the funny picture underneath. I fulfilled my nightly task of bedtime reading by making up stories to amuse him which spurred me on to do a book, this of course turned out to be Where's Spot?
Eric: When I first drew Spot I realised that when I came to draw the spot on his body and the tip of his tail I was copying the markings on an aircraft. I grew up drawing aircraft - that is how I learned to draw.
I wasn't an author, but I decided to make my own book for Christopher using flaps as part of the story. I based the story on a young puppy hiding from its mother. I have always been a 'dog man' so it was quite natural for me to create a canine character who would be as playful and endearing as the real thing.
I, of course, was unaware that in the process of making this book, I had started a whole new development in children's books. I was just having fun. Where's Spot? wasn't meant to be a published book and I only had Christopher and myself to please.
Eric: After Where's Spot? was published, I was asked the obvious question, what next?
I decided to build on Spot's family life with all the various events in front of him - birthdays, Easter and Christmas, holidays and school. Spot basically has the same sorts of adventures that any small child would have. Sally, Spot's mum, played her part in the stories by always being there, taking him to school, sharing his ups and downs, in general allowing him his freedom whilst Spot knew Sally would always be there when he got home, making him feel secure.
Apart from his mum, Spot needed friends to join in his adventures. They were first introduced in Spot Goes to School. I thought about the friends - should they all be different breeds of dogs? Too boring. I provided friends in the shape of other animals such as a hippo (Helen), a crocodile (Tom), a monkey (Steve) and so on.
Eric: I had letters coming in from the reading public - both children and adults asking 'Where's Spot's dad?' so I had to decide on an appropriate story for his debut.
Sam was a working dog on a farm. Now the family could all go to the beach. I could have titled the book Dad's Day Off but went instead for Spot Goes to the Beach and I allowed Dad to spoil his little pup like mad.
Eric: She came about through a letter from a grandparent suggesting that it was high time our hero had a sibling. So Susie made her entrance.
Eric: I had noticed during my various book signing tours that many of the buyers were grandparents and they were all very enthusiastic over Spot - so I included them as my tribute for their constant and solid support.
Eric: I believe children all have a basic creativity which needs to be encouraged and nurtured and the Spot books seem to provide that encouragement.
I get many letters with drawings from children at school or at home which show a wonderful sense of humour and love for Spot. Quite often a young artist will get carried away and cover Spot with spots all over his body - but it doesn't matter, the child is entering into the spirit of things.
Eric: I wanted to acknowledge from the start that children have far more intelligence and style than many adults credit them with. I wanted children to experience, through my drawings, ideas which were just outside their experience yet were basic enough to be understood. In Where's Spot? I thought it would be fun to draw a chair - in a period style rather than a straightforward type. A grand piano instead of an upright – pink rather than brown. Tables with cabriole legs and other decorative details. All to broaden the visual scope that a book can bring to a young mind.
Eric: Where's Spot? was published in England in 1980. It quickly became a number one children's book best-seller and started the international ball rolling. Spot has many aliases: Dribbel in Holland, Tippens in Sweden, Bolinha in Portugal and so on, as well as editions in Braille and sign-language.
Eric: Right from the start, Spot books made their mark in schools and libraries. I wasn't aware of the effect the Spot books were having until teachers and librarians wrote very positive and encouraging letters. Spot, it seemed, encouraged and promoted reading at very early levels. Spot books have also been used for teaching adults to learn to read.
Eric: Well there was a time when I really could not see the stories adapting well to film, simply because the stories were very simple and, of course, there were the flaps, but the BBC introduced me to a wonderful group of animators. They showed me the first few rushes, and I was completely sold - when I first saw Spot in animation leap up in the air and wag his tail - it was wonderful.
Eric: The future is very exciting. Whatever is the new medium, in print or digital, then Spot is going to be there, it is going to be great - very exciting!