Hilton was born in Middlesex. He studied at the Slade School of Fine Art, London and also enjoyed a bohemian lifestyle in Paris during the 1930s. Hilton joined the army in 1939 and spent the years of 1942 to 1945 as a prisoner of war. He began painting in an abstract style in the early 1950s. From 1957 Hilton spent an increasing proportion of his time in St Ives in Cornwall, settling there in 1965. During this period he moved away from abstraction and began to incorporate landscape and figurative motifs into his work.