Benny Hill

Active - 1956 - 2003  |   Born - Jan 21, 1925   |   Died - Apr 20, 1992   |   Genres - Comedy

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Biography by Hal Erickson

From boyhood, British entertainer Benny Hill dreamed of being the principal comedian in a stage review, but the immediacies of eating interfered, so he took such jobs as milkman, bridge operator and drummer. At 16, Hill landed his first gig as a comic, headlining a troupe of 12 lovely young ladies. He played the provinces for years, somehow always missing out on his target arena of London. Hill learned his distinctive down-to-earth style from watching American comedians like Danny Thomas and Danny Kaye, performers who slid into the comic punch line rather than hammering it to death like most British musical hall comics. As his jobs increased in stature, Benny tried briefly to be a film star, but his first movie Who Done It? (1956) turned out to be a "who saw it?" His popularity growing thanks to a series of antic television commercials, Hill began performing regularly on the BBC-TV network, taking time out for the occasional film part in such international productions as Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (1965) and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1969). Thanks to the loose British-TV standards in regards to feminine nudity and ribald humor, Hill maintained his following with a potpourri of smirky, suggestive jokes and comic sketches - always redeemed by the performance's bad-little-boy ingenuousness. Tired of the weekly grind, Hill moved to Thames Television in 1969, where he agreed to turn out only five or six specials per year. It was from these specials that the weekly, half-hour syndicated The Benny Hill Show was gleaned. This package was introduced on Los Angeles TV in early 1979, scored an instantaneous hit, and soon became one of the most sought-after syndicated properties in America. While prudes and bluenoses ranted, raved and tore their hair, Benny Hill scampered about pinching female bottoms and leering at the remaining portions of the anatomy on a Monday-through-Friday basis in most markets. Hill's fame was international by the early '80s, but unlike other major comics he preferred to confine his work to the TV studio, disdaining personal appearances and nightclubs. An utter extrovert on camera, Benny Hill was exceedingly private in real life, so much so that he tried to avoid public places as much as possible, even though one of his great passions in life was travelling from country to country. He also avoided any long term romantic relationships, at least until late in his life. Benny Hill remained a number-one syndicated TV attraction into the late '80s, at which time his series was transferred to cable TV, where it remains as of this writing as a fixture of the Comedy Network. Suffering a sudden heart attack, Benny Hill died in April of 1992 - one day after the death of another highly-regarded "racy" British comedian, Frankie Howerd, whose own TV series was distributed in America on the coattails of Benny Hill's success.

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