Benny Hill, January 21st 1924 - April 20th 1992, was a British comedian, actor, and songwriter, best known for "The Benny Hill Show" which ran on the BBC, and later Thames Televison, from 1955-1989.
Alfred Hawthorn Hill was born on January 21st 1924 in Southampton, England, to working-class parents.
In school, Hill performed in class productions, but was not a model student.
Hill worked briefly as a milkman and as a drummer, before moving to London in 1941, at the age of seventeen. In London he worked as an assistant stage manager for the revue Follow the Fan, and then secured a performing role in the traveling revue Send Them Victorious.
In 1942 Hill turned eighteen and was conscripted. Hill served as a driver/mechanic in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers in Dunkirk and Germany. Hill was not a model soldier; he saw little active service, received frequents tirades from sergeants, and was never promoted above private.
"I was five years in the army and never got a stripe."
After VE day Hill returned to London for leave and applied for the services' travelling revue: Stars in Battledress. Hill was accepted but had a problem: he didn't have an act.
With one day left of leave, Hill visited the Windmill Theatre in Soho and watched comedians, hoping for inspiration. Hill was particularly impressed by a comic named Peter Waring, who had a relaxed, natural style, in sharp contrast to the loud manic style popular with comedians at the time.
And so Alfie Hill improvised an act, began calling himself "Benny"--in deference to his favorite comedian, Jack Benny—and joined Stars in Battledress.
After Stars in Battledress Hill returned to London, and to the Windmill Theatre, where he auditioned but was rejected.
The Windmill was infamous for its scantily-clad dancing girls, and most comedians found it a tough room. Although Hill never performed there, its combination of songs, jokes, and dancing girls would provide a template when he launched "The Benny Hill Show" on the BBC ten years later.
[The Windmill Girls]
In the late forties and early fifties Hill worked on radio and then television. He made his television premier on the show "Hi There" in 1949, and by 1954 was named England's "TV Personality of the Year."
In 1955 the BBC offered Hill his own show and "The Benny Hill Show" was born.
The show ran on the BBC from 1955 to 1969, then moved to Thames Television where it continued until 1989 when it was cancelled.
Hill cultivated the stage persona of a dunderheaded buffoon, but behind the scenes he was a skilled and careful craftsman.
Hill had almost complete creative control over his show. He directed and wrote music, lyrics, and scripts, and developed the innovative quick-paced editing techniques for which the show would become famous.
"The Benny Hill Show" first aired in the United States in 1979, and became hugely popular almost immediately.
Although the show was cancelled in 1989 Hill recorded a special "Benny Hill in New York" in 1991, and at the time of his death, in April of 1992, was reportedly working on another television contract.
"The Benny Hill Show" was eventually shown in ninety-seven countries and acquired fans all over the world.
One fan close to home was Phoebe King, who lived in a nursing home in Felixstowe, Suffolk, and was wheelchair-bound from cerebral palsy.
King sent a fan letter, to which Hill responded personally, including a signed portrait. The two continued to correspond over the next three years and then met in person at his show.
After that, Hill frequently visited King at her nursing home and took her out for dinner and champagne.
Hill sometimes referred to King as his "girlfriend," and indeed their friendship seems to be the closest thing that he ever had to a long-term relationship. Hill never married, never had any children, and lived modestly in a simple apartment.
As a result, he amassed a considerable fortune: estimated to be worth roughly thirty million dollars at the time of his death.
Hill had mentioned in interviews that he intended for King to inherit his estate, but when he died—of a heart attack, while watching television at home--in 1992 he did not have a will and consequently his estate was split among his only living relatives, seven nieces and nephews.
"Just because nobody complains doesn't mean all parachutes are perfect."
"Last week I caught you with the butcher, you were kissin' and cuddlin' and such,
Oh how could you kiss the butcher when we owe the milkman so much."
"I spent all my money on women and drink, and like a fool I squandered the rest."
"You give damned short rides on this fairground of yours, Lord, oh please let me go 'round again."
Bonus Video: Police Raid in Waterloo Station
- Birthday Date: Tuesday, 21 January 2014