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.
That day so well remembered—a day, indeed, impossible to forget —was the First of September, 1921; on the morning of which George Boswell—then only Councillor Boswell, then sandy-brown-haired with not a trace of grey—woke before dawn, looked at his watch, and promptly slept again till Annie brought in the morning paper, a cup of tea, and some letters that had just arrived. Amongst them was a note from Lord Winslow's secretary, saying that his lordship would arrive at Browdley Station by the noon train, in good time for the foundation-stone-laying; and this made George very happy and proud, because Lord Winslow was not an ordinary kind of lord (a type which George, never having met any, imagined for himself and then proceeded to scorn on principle), but a special kind who had not only devoted a lifetime to public service but had also written several distinguished books.
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