Horseman Billy Hill helped stage Dunstable Pageant

Billy Hill
Billy Hill

One of the key organisers of the great Dunstable Pageant of 1963 has died, aged 90.

Billy Hill, of Hockliffe, was Master of the Horse at the Dunstable event, which re-created the history of the town in celebration of the founding of Dunstable Priory. It was watched by thousands of people. Mr Hill was a friend of BBC showjumping commentator Dorian Williams, who wrote and produced the Dunstable Pageant. He invited Billy, also a well-known personality in the showjumping world, to take charge of the horses which played a large part in the early Dunstable scenes.

Mr Hill found 40 horses and a stage coach and went to Elstree film studios to borrow various costumes and props. He also persuaded two local farmers to take part in the jousting tournaments for which Dunstable was once famous and arranged fairly hazardous rehearsals with horses which were untrained for such events.

A service in memory of Mr Hill was attended by hundreds of people at Tilsworth Church on Friday. His wife Betty, remembered by older Dunstablians for her popular weekly column in the Gazette, told the congregation about Billy’s introduction to commentating on horse show events. He was a member of Stanbridge Riding Club which found itself without an announcer for its gymkhana at Hockliffe. Billy was recommended as a replacement by Dorian Williams, and was such a success that he took up commentating professionally.

His main job was running haulage and freight companies. At one stage he controlled 14 businesses and 4,500 employees. This was a far cry from his tough childhood in the East End of London, from which he was evacuated to Bedfordshire during the war. At one stage he earned his living collecting money at fairgrounds before becoming a lorry driver and mechanic. He met his wife while he was working at a garage at Northfields, Dunstable – she had needed a puncture repaired.

Mr Hill, an entertaining raconteur, took an active part in Hockliffe life and had been a prominent member of the parish council.