Comedic Legend: Benny Hill
Benny Hill is a legendary comedian and actor. He is best remembered for The Benny Hill Show. Its format was a compilation of burlesque, slapstick, as well as double entendre. The show was a combination of live comedy and filmed segments. Almost every episode of the show included Hill performing in some way. In 1971, The Benny Hill Show peaked in its popularity with over 21 million viewers. It was also exported to more than 96 countries around the world.
On January 21, 1924, Alfred Hawthorne (Benny) Hill was born in Southampton, England. His father was named Alfred Hill and worked at selling condoms. He later became a manager of a surgical appliance store. His father, and grandfather whose name was Henry Hill, each worked as circus clowns at some point in their lives. His mother's name was Helen née Cave.
Benny Hill worked a variety of jobs before he began his comedy career. He was an assistant stage manager with a touring review, a milkman, a drummer, as well as a bridge operator. In 1942, when World War II started, Hill was trained as a mechanic by the British Army. After September 1944, he was a searchlight operator and truck driver in Normandy. After this time, he was transferred to the British Army's Combined Services Entertainment division.
Hill was a fan of the well-known comedians of British music hall shows. They inspired him and he was determined to make himself known in the world of show business. This is when he changed his name to Benny. It was a way he could honor Jack Benny, who was his favorite comedian.
Post World War II
When World War II was over, Hill started working as a radio performer. He later moved into television. His first television appearance occurred in 1950. In the 1960s, Hill attempted to create a sitcom anthology called Benny Hill. It ran from 1962 to 1963. During this sitcom, Hill played a variety of characters during each episode. In 1964, he was involved in an all-star television production of A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare. At this time, Hill also had a radio program on BBC's Light Program called Benny Hill Time. It ran for three years from 1964 to 1966. The format of the radio show was topical. Hill played various different characters during the series. This included Fred Scuttle, Harry Hill, and others.
The Benny Hill Show
During his career, Hill struggled to succeed at being on stage. His radio career gave him uneven success. It was when he was performing on television that he discovered a media forum where he could put his comedic strengths on display. The Benny Hill Show was made by combining filmed segments with his live on-stage comedy. The humor it provided depended on parody, innuendo, as well as slapstick. The first episode of The Benny Hill show aired on January 15, 1955. The final episode aired on May 1, 1989. The show was broadcast on the BBC until 1968. Starting in 1969, the show was broadcast by Thames Television until its last episode. It was perfect for displaying all the talents of Hill as a comic performer, imaginative writer, as well as impressionist.
Common Running Gags
One of the most common gags viewers saw on The Benny Hill Show was known as the run-off. This is a gag involving certain members of the cast chasing Hill. It would also include comedy characters as an old woman, policeman, vicars, and others chasing him. The music played during this gag was "Yakety Sax" by Boots Randolph. This song has been so strongly associated with The Benny Hill Show that it was often referred to as The Benny Hill Show's theme. Starting in the 1980s, the show started featuring a troupe of attractive young women. They were referred to as Hill's Angels. These young women often appeared on their own or as part of a dance sequence as well as a character in one of Hill's many skits.
Hill preferred to rent an apartment rather than purchase one. During his life, Hill never owned his own home. He rented a double-room apartment for 26 years in London's Queen's Gate district. In 1986, Hill moved to Teddington and lived in Fairwater House. He also never owned any type of vehicle, and he did have a license to drive. Hill never married or had any children. There were two women he asked to marry him, but both of them declined his offer. Hill was very wealthy, but up to his death, he remained engaged in the frugal living habits he had learned from his parents. He walked for miles instead of paying for a taxi, bought cheap food at supermarkets, and always mended and patched his clothes.
Hill was a huge fan of France and often visited there. His favorite place to stay in France was Marseilles. There he was able to anonymously go outdoors, socialize with local women, and travel freely in public. Hill was fluent in speaking French and could also speak basic Italian, German, Dutch, and Spanish. Traveling to foreign countries was the only luxury Hill let himself enjoy. He refused to stay at five-star hotels and preferred staying at places that provided modest accommodations.
During the late 1980s, Hill's health declined. On February 24, 1992, he experienced a mild heart attack. Physicians told Hill he must lose weight. They also recommended he have heart bypass surgery. After hearing this from physicians, his health only got worse. It was later discovered he had kidney failure. On April 20, 1992, Hill was found dead. He was sitting in his armchair in front of his television. Hill was 68 years old. His cause of death was listed as coronary thrombosis. On April 26, 1992, he was buried near his birthplace in Southampton at Hollybrook.
It is estimated that at the time of his death, Hill's estate was valued at over 12 million dollars. In his will, he left his estate to his parents. They had both died several years earlier. Next in line for his estate was his brother and sister, but they were also deceased. Hill's estate was ultimately divided among several of his nieces and nephews.
Hill was featured as one of Channel 4's Heroes of Comedy programs in 1998. In 2002, Hill was ranked as the third greatest comedian of the 20th century by DJ Taylor. He was ranked just below Stan Laurel and Charlie Chaplin.