- Category : Comedian
- Type : GE
- Profile : 4/1 - Opportunistic / Investigator
- Definition : Split - Small (20)
- Incarnation Cross : JX Limitation
Alfred Hawthorn Hill (21 January 1924 – 19 April 1992), better known as Benny Hill, was a prolific English comic, actor and singer, best known for his television programme, The Benny Hill Show.
Alfred "Alfie" Hill was born in Southampton, where he and his brother attended Tauntons School. During the Second World War Hill was one of the scholars evacuated with the school to Bournemouth School, East Way, Bournemouth. After leaving Tauntons School, Hill worked variously as a milkman in Eastleigh, bridge operator, driver and drummer, before he finally got a foot in the door of the entertainment industry by becoming an assistant stage manager. Inspired by the 'star comedians' of British music hall shows, Hill set out to make his mark in show business. For the stage, he changed his first name to 'Benny', in homage to his favourite comedian, Jack Benny. Hill began appearing at working men's clubs and Masonic dinners before graduating to nightclub and theatre jobs. Hill auditioned for Soho's famed Windmill Theatre (home of Revudeville, a popular show of singers, comedians and nude girls), but he was not hired. Benny's first job in professional theatre as a performer was as Reg Varney's straight man, beating a then-unknown Peter Sellers for the role.
Hill worked compulsively and had only a few friends, although colleagues who knew him closely insist that he was never lonely, but content with his own company. He never married, although he did propose to two women — one the daughter of a British writer — and was rejected by both. He never owned his own home, nor even a car, instead preferring to rent a small flat in Teddington, a convenient walking distance to the studios of Thames Television, where he taped his shows. His mother lived with him until her death shortly before his. Before his move to Teddington, he lived at 22 Westrow Gardens in Southampton.
Travelling was the one luxury he consistently permitted himself. Hill became a first-degree Francophile, enjoying frequent visits to Marseille. Until the 1980s, he could enjoy the anonymity of France's outdoor cafes, public transport, and socialising with local women. Besides mastering French, Benny also could 'get by' speaking German, Dutch and Italian in his travels. Hill's overseas holidays were often gathering missions for comedic material, some newly inspired by foreign surroundings, or borrowed from regional acts.
Hill was a distant relative of the Australian actress and singer Holly Valance (Hill's cousin being Valance's grandfather).
Between the end of the war and the dawn of television, he worked as a radio performer. His first appearance on television was in 1949 in the television programme Hi There. He continued to work intermittently until his career took off with The Benny Hill Show in 1955 on BBC Television. Recurring players on his show during the BBC years included Patricia Hayes, Jeremy Hawk, Peter Vernon, Ronnie Brody, and his co-writer from the mid-1950s to early 1960s, Dave Freeman. He remained mostly with the BBC through 1968, except for a few isolated sojourns with ITV station ATV in 1957–1960 and again in 1967. He also had a short-lived radio programme, Benny Hill Time, which ran on BBC Radio's Light Programme service from 1964 to 1966. In addition, he attempted a sitcom anthology, Benny Hill, which ran for three series from 1962 to 1963, in which he played a different character in each episode. In 1964, he played Nick Bottom in an all-star TV film production of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Films and recordings
Benny Hill's film credits include parts in nine films including Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (1965); Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968), in which he played the relatively straight role of the Toymaker; The Italian Job (1969); and, finally, a clip-show film spin-off of his early Thames shows (1969–73), called The Best of Benny Hill (1974).
Hill's audio recordings include "Gather in the Mushrooms" (1961), "Transistor Radio" (1961), "Harvest of Love" (1963), "Ernie (The Fastest Milkman In The West)" (1971), among many others. He also appeared in the video of the song "Anything She Does" by the band Genesis.
Hill's song, "Ernie (The Fastest Milkman In The West)," on the Best of Benny Hill album made the UK Chart as Christmas Number One Single in 1971. A link to the lyrics is provided in the External Links section of this article.
The Benny Hill Show
In 1969, his show moved from the BBC to Thames Television, where The Benny Hill Show remained until its cancellation in 1989, with an erratic schedule of one-hour specials.
Ben Elton criticised him for sexism, as did other comedy performers who came to fame in the 1980s. Curiously, a common criticism was that Hill played a "dirty old man" who chased women in public places, when in point of fact it was an established part of the comedic style of The Benny Hill Show that the women always chased Hill. Hill and his producer Dennis Kirkland believed that this misrepresentation of his show demonstrated that Hill's critics could not have actually watched his programmes.
Similar charges were also aimed at the Carry On films which became unfashionable amongst the media elite at the time. To quote his biographer Mark Lewisohn, "In Britain, Benny Hill is taboo . . . I have seen people recoil at the mention of his name." His show is rarely repeated on terrestrial, satellite or cable TV, although it has recently been aired on the BBC America cable channel. An Australian TV channel, Seven Network has shown some episodes lately called "Great Comedy Classics".
Charlie Chaplin, who died in 1977, was an avid fan of Hill's work: Hill had earlier discovered that his childhood idol Chaplin was a fan when he was invited to Chaplin's home in Switzerland by Chaplin's family and discovered that Chaplin had a vast collection of Benny's work on video. Apparently, Hill and Dennis Kirkland were the first people outside of family to be invited into Chaplin's private study.
Radio and TV show host Adam Carolla has also claimed that he was an avid fan of Benny Hill and that he considered Hill "as American as the Beatles." Indeed, during an episode of The Man Show, Carolla performed (in what was billed as a tribute to "our favourite Englishman, Sir Benny Hill") in a slightly more risqué takeoff of the "undercranked" sketches that Hill popularised. Carolla played a rude and lecherous waiter—a role Hill essayed numerous times in his shows — and the sketch featured many of the staples of Hill's shows (including a Jackie Wright-esque bald man, as well as the usual scantily clad ladies).
Comedian Carlos Mencia is also known to give tributes to Hill at the end of his popular show, Mind of Mencia, saying that he was an inspiration to him.
Parramatta Eels legends Peter Sterling and Brett Kenny were ardent fans of Benny Hill, and it has been suggested some of their backline movements were inspired by Hill skits.
In a documentary (Benny Hill: The World's Favorite Clown) filmed before Hill's death, a variety of celebrities (Burt Reynolds, Michael Caine, John Mortimer, Mickey Rooney, and Walter Cronkite, among others) expressed their appreciation of and admiration for Hill and his humour (and in Reynolds' case, the appreciation extended to the Hill's Angels as well).
In 2006, the broadcaster and critic Garry Bushell launched a campaign to erect a statue of Benny in Southampton, with the support of Barbara Windsor, Brian Conley and many other British comedy favourites. Those taking part in the first fund-raising concert included Neville Staple, Right Said Fred and Rick Wakeman.
Hill's health began to decline in the early 1990s. He suffered heart problems, and on 11 February 1992, doctors told him that he needed to lose weight, and recommended a heart bypass. He declined, and was diagnosed a week later with renal failure.
Benny Hill died on or about 19 April 1992 (Easter weekend), alone in his flat at 7 Fairwater House, Twickenham Road, Teddington, at the age of 68. On 21 April, concerned neighbours had called the police, who then found the deceased Hill sitting in his armchair in front of the television. On the day that Benny Hill died, a new contract arrived in the post to him from Central Independent Television.
The cause of death was listed as coronary thrombosis. (His death closely coincided with that of another British comedy icon, Frankie Howerd, who died on 19 April aged 75.)
He was buried at Hollybrook Cemetery near his birthplace in Southampton. In October 1992, following rumours that he was buried with large amounts of gold jewellery, an attempt was made by thieves to exhume his body. However, when authorities looked into his open coffin the following morning, there was no treasure within it, and consequently, only the culprits know for sure whether anything valuable was inside. Hill was re-buried with a new coffin lid and a solid slab placed across the top of the grave. These circumstances were similar to that of Romy Schneider after her burial.
In Hill's will, he had left his estimated £10 million (GBP) estate to his late parents. Next in line were his brother Leonard and sister Diana, neither of whom he had enjoyed the closest of relationships with, and both of whom were also deceased. This left his seven nieces and nephews, amongst whom the money — approximately £7.5 million — was divided. A note was found among his belongings assigning huge sums of money to his close friends Sue Upton, Louise English, Henry McGee, Bob Todd and Dennis Kirkland, but because it was neither signed nor witnessed, the note had no legal standing.
Is Benny Hill Still Funny?
On 28 December 2006, Channel 4 broadcast the documentary Is Benny Hill Still Funny?. The programme featured an audience that comprised a cross-section of young adults who had little or no knowledge of Hill's comedy style. The aim was to discover whether or not the "politically incorrect" criticism of Hill was valid to a generation that enjoyed the likes of Little Britain, The Catherine Tate Show and Borat. The participants were asked to watch a 30-minute compilation that included examples of Hill's humour from both his early BBC and later Thames shows. The responses were continuously measured and the results demonstrated that nobody took offence at any of the sketches shown. In addition, the "appreciation" figure was revealed to be very respectable, which would have guaranteed a series commission had it been a modern television pilot programme. Hill's silent "Wishing Well" sketch was discovered to be the most popular. Alternative comedian Ben Elton, a harsh critic of Hill in the 1980s, was interviewed in the programme. Although still having reservations on certain aspects of Hill's sketches, Elton admitted he was an admirer of Hill's talent and abilities as a comic performer. There is now a growing school of thought which recognises Hill as a comic genius who fell foul of social change and was rejected while he was still in his prime.
Fans have described the usual chase scene included in the Benny Hill Show as a 'running gag that is a running gag'. The tune used in all the chases, "Yakety Sax", is commonly referred to as 'The Benny Hill Theme'. It has been used in form of parody in many ways by television shows, a small number of films and, mostly, videogame parodies.