Thanks to his
work in television, especially The Benny Hill Show, Benny
Hill is the most universally recognised of British comedians. However,
what most audiences outside of the United Kingdom know as The
Benny Hill Show, was in fact a compilation series of 111 half-hour
episodes, composed of sketches and numbers drawn from his British
ITV series produced over a 20 year period from 1969 to 1989, and
syndicated on American television from 1979 onwards.
picked up a cult following, making Hill the most popular British
comedian to appear on U.S. television. The compilation series was
sold in over 90 other foreign language markets, including Russia
and China, that normally did not buy British comedy. However so
much of Hill's series was based on sight gags and humour that audiences
in many parts of the world came to appreciate the comedy. In point
of fact, the early series of The Benny Hill Show appeared
on the BBC. Hill's television career was launched in 1955 and his
show ran, off and on, on the BBC until 1968 with a brief season
with ATV in 1967. In 1969 he moved to Thames Television and it was
there that he was to make the programs on which most of his fame
His early work
was inventive local in its references. Some of the BBC shows are
fondly remembered for his many inspired and usually hilarious impersonations
of such icons of British television such as Hughie Green (of the
talent series Opportunity Knocks) and Alan Wicker of the
travel/foreign correspondent series Wicker's World. The Thames
series was quintessential Benny with the cherubic/budgy Hill dominating
sketches, slapstick routines and silent film type pantomimes of
comedy and sight gags. Hill was adept at buffoons who on a slightly
closer inspection turned out to be both sly and lecherous. Indeed
lechery and smuttiness were a hallmark of many of the shows, in
which tall, beautiful girls were constantly being chased or ogled
by Hill and a group of stereotypical males such as Henry McGee,
Bob Todd, Jackie Wright and Nicholas Parsons. Wright in particular,
as the small, bald man, invariably cropped up in a comic fire brigade
or as a cowboy in various of the slapstick sketches. Hill himself
often played a series of stock figures such as the short-sighted
Professor Marvel, a cowboy, Captain Fred Schutle and a member of
the fireman's choir. His characteristic trademarks included a broad
accent, whether Southern American, Devon or other "British" versions,
an oafish salute and often a jacket buttoned too tightly across
the chest. His songs and rhymes were rendered with the look of a
happy idiot that constantly broke into a leer.
his material was original, Hill nevertheless owed a comic debt to
U.S. entertainer, Red Skelton. Like Skelton, Hill worked in broad
strokes and sometimes in pantomime with a series of recurring comic
personae. Hill even adopted Skelton's departing line from the latter's
1951-71 network program: "Good night, God bless." However, Hill
was without Skelton's often maudlin sentimentality, substituting
instead a ribald energy and gusto.
The Benny Hill Show
Photo courtesy of DLT Entertainment Ltd.
1955-1968 Irregular Schedule
1967 Irregular Schedule
1969-1989 Irregular Schedule
Hill, R.I.P." The National Review (New York), 11 May 1992.
Frank. "Wink, Wink, Nudge, Nudge." The National Review (New
York), 25 May 1992.
Terry. Dead Funny. London: Methuen Drama, 1994.
John. The Benny Hill Story. New York: St. Martin's, 1989.
also Hill, Benny