It is with great sadness indeed that we have to report the passing of one of our industry’s favourite sons – Eric Hill.
Known by many in the industry as one of the genuine pioneers of adult retailing in Australia, Eric and his brother Ken, moved from drive in theatres to adult cinemas like the Shaft cinema in the early 1970s. Situated on Swanston st in Melbourne’s CBD it was legendary for showing National Geographic type films of bare-breasted native women, at a time when censorship laws banned the latest European adult films from coming into Australia. The Shaft pioneered adult cinema in Australia and like most pioneers it sometimes fell foul of the law. In one celebrated case they even had a judge sit through a show to adjudicate the alleged obscenity involved. The most popular show was where a naked girl would swing wildly across the heads of the patrons in a swing that was attached to the roof of the theatre! After 40 years of continuous operation, the nation’s oldest adult cinema, the Shaft Cinema in the Melbourne CBD, closed its doors in 2009.
On the back of adult cinema Eric and Ken’s company, HGC, then launched what is probably Australia’s best known adult shop brand – Club X.
In the late 1980s, during the golden era of adult retailing, they opened Pricebusters which became one of the largest X rated video companies in the ACT. At the same time they joined forces with John Lark and Gerry Hercus to form Australia’s first adult lobby group – the Adult Video Industry Association.
John Lark commented, ‘Eric Hill’s passing is a sad time for the industry as he and his brother Ken were leaders in the field. Never afraid to face legal challenges, they took on the best and with help from others in the industry managed to keep the industry alive. Eric was a quiet achiever and loved his red wine and was always a great host at lunch or occasionally a dinner. He will be missed but always remembered and may he rest in peace.’
In the mid 1990s HGC launched Sexpo, which was to become Australia’s largest adult show, attracting football stadium crowds and helping to build a more professional image for adult traders.
Eric was always on the lookout for new ideas and new businesses to move into. Sue Raye from Video Ray remembers Eric well. ‘I was deeply saddened to hear of Eric’s passing. I first met Eric around 1982 when he and Ken were thinking of branching out into videos. They invited my colleague and I at Electric Blue, to their offices so we could give them a run-down on the industry as it was then. Fast forward to 1998 when they purchased the remnants of Electric Blue from me to add to their, by then, large portfolio of video titles. Eric was always an absolute gentleman in every way and it was always a pleasure to catch up with him through the years. Gone too soon, he will be sadly missed by family, friends and the industry’.
Eric was a quietly spoken man who enjoyed doing business. He had a keen mind for figures and was diplomatic in his dealings although not known to suffer fools gladly. He was an excellent listener who held off on running to judgements too quickly. He could spit the dummy when really pushed but most people knew him as a moderate and considered person. His passions outside of work and family were red wine and classic cars.
Hui Newnham, who ran Calvista for Eric and Ken in the 1990s and now works for The Screaming O in the US, remembered Eric as a teacher and a friend. ‘My most salient observation about Eric was that he was able to develop and maintain long and enduring friendships over many years. It’s close on two decades since I worked for him but he has always been a good friend, mentor and all round nice guy to be with. I saw Susan Colvin just yesterday and she fondly recollected one our early meetings at Jimmy King’s Fortuna Village Chinese restaurant. It was fun to recall how quaint the occasion was but it was telling how she noted that this was the start of a long relationship driven more by friendship than business. Eric was widely known and respected. He will be sorely missed. Vale old friend.’
Michael McGregor from Metro echoed these thoughts. ‘Eric was a friend of 30 years. I teared up when I heard the news of his passing and I don’t do that often. I will miss sharing a bottle of red with him and the many wine stories we shared. He had an app on his phone where he recorded every wine he had consumed. It was a great reference base. A huge loss of a kind and wise man. I will miss him.’
Industry lobbyist, Robbie Swan, said he was unique. ‘Eric was the original bodgie-gentleman’, he said. ‘I never knew anyone who so embodied these seemingly paradoxical qualities like he did. On the one hand he could wear a Zegna suit to dinner and offer detailed dissertations about the limestone soils of Coonawarra. And then the next day he would run Brylcream through his ample head of dark wavy hair and take his ’65 Caddy for a hoon in the country. He was a highly original man who brought genuine style and grace to the adult industry’.
George Sobota who with his brother, Jo, also ran Calvista in its early days as part of the HGC empire, remembered Eric as a generous and genteel man. ‘A couple of years ago he took me out to a little café at Warrandyte somewhere, where he ordered hamburgers but then pulled out a bottle of Grange to drink with them. He was that sort of guy.’
Former Eros CEO, Fiona Patten, told a similar story. ‘I had arranged lunch with Eric and a member of parliament and we all met at Eric’s house first. Eric insisted that we all go in his Roller but before we left he typed ‘Rolls Royce’, ‘politician’ and ‘restaurant’ into his wine cellar software management system and it told him to go to a particular row and number in the cellar. He eventually pulled out a bottle of Dom Perignon and a fine red and we all piled into the roller and set off for lunch. The MP was flabbergasted.
Current Eros President and Windsor Wholesale co-founder, David Watt, also paid tribute. ‘I had the pleasure of knowing Eric Hill all my adult life and I recall with gratitude the time he and his brother Ken used their voting power to include me onto the very first EROS board exactly 25 years ago. Everyone loved catching up with Eric, and Eric loved a red. The last time we were together we reminisced and dissected the great days of the adult magazine wars in Australia, a passion of his and mine. Fittingly our last laugh was shared with a lovely glass of Grange. Today I’ll raise my glass to a true industry pioneer, a modern day entrepreneur and a man of real class. RIP mate’.
And finally from the elder statesman of the industry – John Conroy at Claredale…..
‘My first contact with Eric and his brother Ken goes back to the early 1980’s when they commenced the retail business of Club X. In a short space of time under the watchful eyes of both Eric and Ken the business they established grew to become a national chain of retail stores and the largest industry specific retailers in the country. During this period of expansion they established the wholesale division which became known as Calvista. My dealings with Eric over many years were both personal and business in nature. They were always very pleasurable even though we were competitors in a very competitive market. My fondest memory of Eric was the time Jan and I spent with Eric and Gwen in India a few years ago which greatly added to the excitement of the trip.
I appreciate the opportunity to be able to acknowledge a true gentleman, friend and business associate. Condolences to Gwen and family from all of us.’
Eric’s funeral will be held on Friday 17th March at 3.30pm at Lilydale Memorial Park, 126-128 Victoria Rd, Lilydale, 3140.
No flowers please. Donations to Dying With Dignity Victoria. https://www.dwdv.org.au