Who was/is Gillian Hills ? - CDs, Vinyl LPs, DVD and more
In the Early 1960s Gillian Hills was at the heart of a cultural shift that saw French popular music evolve from the chanson tradition to embrace modern pop and rock influences. Indeed, she may well have acted as a catalyst for that change, incorporating both American and British influences in her recordings when she could. And yet, by the time Gillian was 21, her recording career was all but over and she would return to acting. That she was able to embrace all the emerging opportunities in the era of "the teenager" ensured she was a popular presence on television, radio and in magazines - in France at least. For some she is best-remembered as the feral-eyed Jennifer in Beat Girl; here we focus on a selection of her recordings predominantly made for Barclay in the years which put ye-ye on the map. Today her name is known, tomorrow she will be celebrated. So enthused the copy on the back of Gillian Hills' debut EP. It was November 1960 and she was still only 16, yet during the 18 months prior she had already racked up column inches (and a Paris Match cover) as the new "British Bardot", inadvertently fanning the flames of controversy after director Roger Vadim cast her as Cecile in his modern-day adaptation of Pierre Choderlos de Laclos' Les Liaisons Dangereuses.
The ensuing tabloid furore ("would you let a 14 year-old be another Brigitte?'), coupled with the intervention of her mother, led to Gillian taking on a more minor role, but the die was cast. Spotted whilst out walking in Nice by actor Christian Marquand (Bardot's co-star in And God Created Woman), Gillian was, in her own words, "just a kid" with no particular aspirations to become an actress; "I wanted to draw." Tousled mane and good looks aside (by her own admission she looked nearer 16 than 14, her early upbringing had something in common with the ingenue role Vadim had had in mind for her. Raised in convents from the age of two, as a youngster Gillian led a similarly cloistered if nomadic life, while her parents' peripatetic marriage foundered. And yet the prospect of acting did not come altogether out of the blue. Gillian was born on 5 June 1944 in Cairo. Her father, Denis Hills, was an English adventurer and journalist, very much in a Boy's Own daredevil mould, who wasn't averse to cycling across Europe or Siberia on a whim. In 1975, whilst working as a university lecturer in Uganda, Hills was sentenced to death by Idi Amin after likening the dictator to a "village tyrant" in his book The White Pumpkin (and famously received a stay of execution after the Queen intervened).
Gillian's mother was the Polish-born stage actress Dunia Legrnian, whose father, Boleslaw Legmian, was an influential avant-garde poet and founder of an experimental theatre (Gillian's maternal grandmother was the artist Zofia Chylitiska). With such exotic lineage it is hardly surprising that Gillian's life was destined to be shaped by an innate creative drive. The notoriety which Les Liaisons attracted left Gillian in turmoil; she was obliged to leave school, something that upset her greatly.