John Hilton

John Hilton (1880–1942), English journalist, lecturer, sociologist, and a pupil of F. M. Alexander.


Hilton started as an apprentice mechanic, but soon became works manager and later the manager at a firm of loom makers. When he was 28 a severe sciatica attack forced him to give up work. He started contributing articles to newspapers and became a speaker for the Free Trade Union and the Norman Angell Movement for preventing war. This work made him train his voice carefully. To combat bouts of depression, he took up deep breathing. A 1918 study of trade organizations led him to become Director of Statistics in the Ministry of Labour in 1919. He undertook a detailed statistical study on unemployment 1923–27, and worked for several years for the International Labour Organization. He was especially concerned about the human side of unemployment, but due to his lack of formal education or training, he appeared unorthodox. Not having a civil service background, he was passed over for promotion, and in 1931 he resigned. In that same year he was offered and accepted the Chair of Industrial Relations at Cambridge. The Professorship covered the relations between employers and employed and, generally, all industry and labour. He also contributed a regular column to the News Chronicle.

From 1933 until his death in 1942 he gave several series of lectures for BBC radio, on issues for the working man (e.g. unemployment, pensions, the gold standard, social services, the London survey, disarmament). The lectures were informal, but informative. He became one of the most well-known radio broadcasters in his time, with an audience of up to six million. Apart from many articles he published two books: Why I go in for Pools (1936) and Rich Man, Poor Man (1946).[1]

Connection with Alexander

Hilton was introduced to Alexander in about 1934 by Louisa Barr, an elderly lady in Bexhill who corresponded frequently with Hilton and who lent him UoS. Hilton continued to have lessons for the rest of his life. John Hilton was also involved with Dr Murdoch in bringing the Technique to the attention of the Director of Physical Training for the Army.

Writings on the Alexander Technique

An excerpt from Hilton’s address at a conference of the Institute of Labour management (17 October 1936), was published in UCL.[2]

Hilton describes his meeting with Alexander, quoted in Edna Nixon’s biography of Hilton:

There he was, a man of sixty-seven who looks fifty-seven, very gentle and quiet, the eye and manner of one who knows. He found me all wrong (after looking me over) from top to toe. I was in fact feeling all twisted up and on the rack. He found I simply wasn’t right anywhere: sagging belly, twisted spine, every muscle that should be lax in a horrible state of tension. Head all cock-eyed. Eyes all cock-headed! Two things in his teaching emerge in my mind. One, he denies there is any natural tendency to normality in the human make-up. Once you get wrong, it’s the hardest and chanciest thing in the world for you to get right; and the other is that you can’t possibly get right by trying. The fact that you are accustomed to being wrong will make it certain that what you think is the right position to hold is the wrong one.[3]


[1] The Universal Constant in Living by F. Matthias Alexander (Mouritz, 2000), endnote 187, p. 313-14.
[2] The Universal Constant in Living by F. Matthias Alexander (Mouritz, 2000), pp. 199-203.
[3] John Hilton – The Story of His Life by Edna Nixon (George Allen & Unwin, 1946), pp. 179-80.