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Hill was born into a prosperous middle class family of Methodists in York. His father was a solicitor. He attended St Peter's School, York. When he sat his entrance examination at Balliol College, Oxford, The two history tutors from Balliol College, recognised his ability and offred him a place to forestall any chance he might go to Cambridge.
Before he went to Oxford in 1931, Hill had a prolonged holiday in Freiburg, Germany, Where he witnessed the rise of the Nazi Party; he later said it contributed significantly to the radicalisation of his politics.