Born in Leigh, in Lancashire, England on 9 September 1900, he was the son of John Hilton, the headmaster of Chapel End School in Walthamstow. His father was one of the inspirations for the character of Mr. Chipping in Goodbye, Mr. Chips. (Hilton was born on Wilkinson Street in Leigh — there is a teacher in Goodbye, Mr. Chips called Mr Wilkinson.) The setting for Goodbye, Mr. Chips is believed to have been based on the Leys School, Cambridge, where James Hilton was a pupil. Chipping is also likely to have been based on W. H. Balgarnie, one of the masters of the school who was in charge of the Leys Fortnightly, where Hilton's first short stories and essays were published.
Hilton wrote his two most famous books, Lost Horizon and Goodbye, Mr Chips while living in a rather ordinary Semi-detached house on Oak Hill Gardens, Woodford Green. The house still stands, with a blue plaque marking Hilton's residence.
He was married and divorced twice, first to Alice Brown and later to Galina Kopineck. He died in Long Beach, California from liver cancer on December 20, 1954, aged 54.
Goodbye Mr Chips is only some 128 pages. In 1938 James Hilton published To You, Mr. Chips, which is twice as long. It begins as autobiography, but soon switches to Hilton’s vision of a better society via a more detailed biography of Chips and his “wise and sweetening influence” on the lives of schoolchildren. Neither book has lost its charm.
A CHAPTER OF AUTOBIOGRAPHY
GERALD AND THE CANDIDATE
MR. CHIPS TAKES A RISK
MR. CHIPS MEETS A SINNER
MR. CHIPS MEETS A STAR
MERRY CHRISTMAS, MR.CHIPS