Phil 'Albert' Hill
A Eulogy ~ by Adrian Brett
be a ‘character’ one has to have character. Albert…as
he was always known in the Royal Marines Band Service was a ‘character’….but
not just a character ….
One word recurs in all of the many tributes paid to him by those who knew and served with him…some only a few sentences and others several paragraphs..but always the same words appear …. a memorable character.
Well to be a ‘character' is one thing but to be ‘memorable’ requires some special quality. So what made Albert so memorable?
He did not possess a quick and intelligent wit able to move words around to his advantage for the general amusement of his colleagues. No.
He was not one of life’s natural comedians able to make a situation humorous or to see the humour in any difficult situation ….we had quite a few of those whom we both needed and appreciated when times were tough. But he did have a great sense of humour and was always ‘up for a lark’ as we used to say.
Albert had something quite different and unique which is difficult to pinpoint….and I have tried in recent weeks to define exactly what it was….
It was a charisma…an aura emanating from him which exuded warmth, friendship and acceptance whatever your background or intelligence. Albert accepted you if you accepted him. He was never critical, never condescending. He always respected your point of view…but would express his own in no uncertain terms on many occasions. Albert exuded love and his greatest love quite simply was people. Everyone. No one was treated any differently. He could see good in everyone and, though recognising the bad in a few, largely chose to ignore it.
I am certain that when we were boys in Deal under training at the RMSM but surrounded by Royal Marines destined to become commandos Albert was known to everyone at the RM Depot…..where 2000 men paraded on a Wednesday morning CO’s parade.
I can not work out how he did it….but everyone knew him…and I can almost guarantee that wherever Albert worked or was stationed within a few days everyone would know him and he would know everyone else!
I can only imagine him aboard a ship! What perfect surroundings for Albert..a wheeler-dealer par excellence in the class of Arthur Daley…… Albert would have obtained anything you needed and surprised you with his all-encompassing knowledge of places and people you could never have imagined existed aboard that tin-tub. Why, onetime he somehow obtained a whole roast rib of beef which then appeared on the RMB mess deck one evening. Where do you find that on a ship? I can only imagine the RM Orchestra playing “The Roast Beef of Old England”…as we always did before Officers’ Mess Nights….only for there to be no roast beef because it had been promised to Albert for some favour he had done for the cook….
Favours were always rewarded in the RN with the 300 year-old currency which existed below decks…and controlled and lubricated the men who actually lubricated the more literal machinery of the ship …..the tot of rum.
After the mysterious appearance of the roast beef Albert had to be rewarded in the time-honoured fashion…sippers all round…a sip from everyone’s tot plus his own full measure. Albert, slightly the worse for wear decided to get his head down on his bunk for a few hours…but still wearing his glasses. Some wag decided to gently remove them, paint the lenses black and replace them on Albert’s nose. On waking up Albert was in a literal blind-panic…he could not see anything and for a moment believed the excess rum ingested at lunchtime had removed what diminished sight he formerly possessed. He floundered around for a bit and promptly fell on to the deck in a heap, his glasses fell off and he soon realised with relief that his sight remained. There must be countless similar tales yet to be told….
After his service in the RMBS Albert joined an Army band…quite why has never been clear but there followed several years when he dodged ‘under the radar’ though he certainly served in Germany….He re-appeared however with a characteristic bounce as an orchestral porter at the BBC in Manchester. Here his duties entailed setting up all of the music stands for the studio recordings and generally helping out with the daily practicalities of running an orchestra. It was soon realised that Albert had served in the RMB and whenever a player needed something a quick rendition of ‘A Life on the Ocean Wave’ and Albert would appear from nowhere alongside the stand of the summoning player. His affability and his friendly and obliging nature were soon noticed and appreciated by the whole orchestra. Always known as Albert in the RMBS, but christened Philip, he soon gained the moniker “BBC Phil” by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. He would obtain anything that was needed and do any favour required by a player be it placing a bet at the local bookie’s to doing a bit of shopping or collecting some dry cleaning. I stayed with him several times during this period and went to the BBC studios in Manchester and could see how well loved he was by everyone.
After his employment at the BBC finished Albert was employed as a hospital porter at Stepping Hill hospital here in Stockport and I can not imagine a job more suited to his unique talents. If I were sick and undergoing awful tests and treatments Albert with his chirpy and cheerful manner would be just the person to cheer me up on my journey through the hospital corridors…
But I am here representing the memories of Albert as recorded by those RM Bandsmen with whom he served and who truly loved him as the unique character he undoubtedly was and it is only fitting that I conclude this tribute with their words and not mine……
‘He was such a character and will be sorely missed…’
‘A quite unique character with a natural and unaffected charisma which endeared him to everyone…’
‘Albert had a wonderful sense of humour and an even larger number of tattoos. He was a character and a great bloke to have known and will be sorely missed by all who had the privilege to have known him….’
‘I was a young musician fresh out of training when I joined Chatham Band. To be taken under Albert’s all-encompassing wing was an education second to none. I believe I learned more in those 3 months than the previous 4 years at the RMSM. RIP Dear Friend….’
‘One of the great characters of the Band Service. In some ports of the world he is still remembered from his trip on HMS TIGER in 1964…’
‘Albert was a legend whilst serving in the Band Service and I have some precious memories to cherish…’
‘Albert Hill was a character who was loved by everyone who knew him and he will be sorely missed. RIP Dear Albert….’
‘Albert was a star of the Band Service and a character par excellence and truly one of a kind….’
and now my favourite……
‘What a character and such a loyal and sincere friend. The Band Service was always his love and in return the Band Service loved him. RIP Albert…your memory will last forever….’
And so Albert….Rest in Peace…..your memory will live forever in the hearts of those who knew and loved you for the sincerity of the unconditional love that you gave to them……