Hill, John Denis Nelson 1913 - 1982


(1913-1982), Knight, psychiatrist

Sir John Denis Nelson Hill was born in Orleton, Herefordshire on 5 October 1913. He was educated at Shewsbury School before pursuing a medical degree at St Thomas’s Hospital, London, qualifying in 1936. Interested in specialising in psychiatry, Hill then went to Maida Vale Hospital, London, to study neurology under Walter Russell Brain (1895-1966). While working at Maida Vale, Hill met neurophysiologist William Grey Walter (1910-1977), who first stoked Hill’s interest in the field of electroencephalography (EEG, the measurement of the electrical activity of the brain).

In 1938, Hill returned to St Thomas’s to take up an assistant position within the Department of Psychiatry. Following the outbreak of the Second World War (1939-1945) a year later, Hill moved to work at the Emergency Hospital in Belmont, Surrey, where he set up an EEG laboratory to study various neurological and psychiatric conditions, including epilepsy. This work led to a collaboration with neurosurgeon Murray Falconer (1910-1977) on the development of the temporal lobectomy (the surgical removal of the temporal lobe) as a treatment for temporal lobe epilepsy.

After the war, Hill was invited to set up an EEG laboratory at the Maudsley Hospital’s new Institute of Psychiatry. This was closely followed by his appointment as Lecturer in Psychological Medicine at King’s College Hospital in 1947. During the post-war period, Hill further established his reputation as an expert on the psychiatric dimensions of electroencephalography, serving on a number of committees investigating the technique’s use on patients, prisoners, and juvenile offenders. In 1966, Hill returned to the Institute of Psychiatry to become Professor of Psychiatry, a post which he retained until his retirement in 1979.

Hill was married twice, first to Phoebe Elizabeth Herschel in 1938, and then to Lorna Wheelan in 1962. He had four children. Hill died following a heart attack on 5 May 1982.