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BENNY HILL BRIEF BIOGRAPHY
British comic genius Benny Hill was born Alfred Hawthorn Hill in Southampton, on January 21st, 1924, and he was the most famous British comedy star since Charlie Chaplin, with his shows being seen in over 140 countries.
Benny Hill's shows were backed up by talented co-stars Henry McGee, Bob Todd, Jackie Wright, and Rita Webb. McGee was an excellent foil to Benny Hill's impish humour, often playing the smirking, smug interviewer - which he did to perfection.
The many memorable Benny Hill sketches included the interview with Benny as French film director, Pierre de Terre, with a pretentious interviewer played superbly by Henry McGee; the chat show from hell, with four guests - one dead, a footballing vicar with his flies open, a monosyllabic 'hell raiser', and a drunken, horny female singer - and still over 40 minutes to go! Also, Jackie Wright being interviewed by Benny. Little Jackie is meant to be in shadow, as he's a wanted man, but Benny's in shadow, and Jackie's in the full glare of the lights!
Benny Hill's first television appearance was as early as 1949 in the programme, 'Hi There'. His career really took off when the BBC gave him his own show, simply called 'The Benny Hill Show', which began in 1955. The show switched to ITV in 1969. 'The Best Of Benny Hill' was a compilation of clips, put out as a film in 1974.
Hill's talents were underused in films, though he did appear in some of the biggest movies of the 1960s, namely 'Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines (1965)', 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)', and 'The Italian Job (1969)'.
Benny Hill was also a fine songwriter, and his most famous song, complete with a hilarious, almost early pop video, was 'Ernie (The Fastest Milkman In The West)', a number one in the UK for several weeks in 1971. Hill had been a milkman, though whether the song was in any way autobiographical, who knows!
In 1979 Benny Hill's TV show was screened in the US for the first time, and he built up a solid fanbase there, with fans including actor Burt Reynolds.
In the 1980s, back in the UK, new comedians such as another comic genius, Ben Elton, were accusing Hill's shows of sexism. Hill was hurt by this, and also had a dig at 'new comedy' containing too many profanities. TV executives tended to side with Elton's stance, and Benny Hill's show was axed. Personally, the claims of sexism against Benny Hill don't stand up. The men in Benny Hill shows are made to look like sex mad buffoons. So who's being degraded? The genius of Hill's comedy contained many ingenious elements anyway. The playing with words was important to Benny's shows, and he and Ronnie Barker were the masters of wordplay. The surreal element was never far from his shows either, nor was slapstick, and one of the regular features saw Benny patting bald Jackie Wright's head very fast. Benny Hill was just a great ideas man, whose humour could also be quite cutting, i.e. as a TV announcer, in regards to British soap, Coronation Street: "We hope the loss of sound and vision didn't spoil your enjoyment."
Benny Hill passed away on April 20th, 1992, in Teddington, Middlesex. Another British comedy legend, Frankie Howerd, had died a day earlier. Charlie Chaplin was a Benny Hill fan. Nuff said.
- Paul Rance/booksmusicfilmstv.com.
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