British Comedian

Benny Hill was born in Southampton in the south of England in 1924. His family was lower middle class, Hill's father being the manager of a medical appliance company. Hill was attracted early to the stage and saw many live stage shows at the two variety theatres in Southhampton. Hill saw army service in the later years of World War II and it was there that he began to perform as a comedian. After demobilisation, Hill began working in variety theatre where he slowly learned his craft. In 1956 Hill starred in the feature film comedy Who Done It ?(Ealing Studio). Hill starred as a hapless, bungling private detective. The film was only mildly funny although Hill did display touches of the comic slapstick and characterisation that were to become part of his genius. However the film was only moderately successful and did nothing to further Hill's career. Instead it was in the new medium of television that Hill was to shine.

Hill's career as a British comedian fits between that of earlier figures such as Tony Hancock and later performers such as Frankie Howerd. Whereas Hancock established his definitive comic persona in radio and then extended this to television, Hill was in effect created by television. Yet Hill was also the most traditional of comedians and his programs had strong roots in variety theatre, revolving around comic songs, routines and sketches rather than an on-going comic characterisation and situation. And although Hill had his own show on the BBC as early as 1955, his career was actually launched by the 1960s vogue for comedy on British television. Other British comedians such as Ken Dodd, Charlie Drake and Frankie Howard were also to gain their own shows around the same time but none had the comic genius and stamina of Hill.

Part of this genius lay in his writing. Hill wrote all his own material, a grueling task which explains the relatively small number of programs produced. Indeed under his later contract with Thames Television, Hill was given full control of his program such that he could undertake a program when, in his opinion, he had accumulated enough comic material. Hill also had a hand in producing some of the offshoots of The Benny Hill Show such as the 1970 half-hour silent film Eddie in August.

Although all 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 show that ran on network television from 1951 to 1971: "Good night, God bless." However, Hill was without Skelton's often-maudlin sentimentality, substituting instead a ribald energy and gusto. Equally though, Hill's humour was very much in a broad English vaudeville and stage tradition. The socialist writer, George Orwell once drew attention to the kind of humour embodied in the English seaside postcard--henpecked and shrunken older men and randy young men, both attracted to beautiful young women with large breasts and frequently tearing or missing some of their underwear and an older, fatter and unattractive mother--and some of this also fed into Hill's television comedy just as it was to feed into the Carry On feature films.

While Hill's publicity often portrayed him as a kind of playboy who liked to surround himself with beautiful, leggy showgirls, this was an extension of his television persona and had nothing to do with his private life. In fact Hill never married and lived alone in what would have been a lonely life had it not been for the heavy work demands imposed by the television show.

Hill's humour with its smut and double-entendres was never entirely acceptable to the moral standards of some and his sexism made him seem increasingly old-fashioned. The forces of political correctness finally had their way in 1989 when Thames Television canceled the program due not to only complaints about its smuttiness but also because its old-fashioned sexism had become increasingly intolerable. Thames finally sacked Hill. In his last television appearance, in 1991 he appeared as himself, the subject of the BBC arts documentary series, Omnibus. Although over the last three years of his life, Hill was to talk in interviews about a comeback, it was the end of his career. He died alone at his home in April of 1992. The cause of death was a heart attack. Benny Hill once told an interviewer that, like Van Gogh, he would be appreciated in 100 years time. The statement implied that he was not recognised as a great comedian and was belied by the enormous international popularity of his program and by the fact that in the 1970s and 1980s he was several times voted the Funniest Man in the World by the British television audience.

-Albert Moran


Benny Hill
Photo courtesy of Benny Hill Productions

BENNY HILL. Born (Alfred Hawthorn Hill) in Southampton, Hampshire, England, 21 January 1925. Attended local schools in Southampton. Served with Royal Engineers during World War II. Began as amateur entertainer in Southampton, while also working in shops and as milkman before taking the job of assistant stage manager and actor, East Ham Palace, London, 1940; made TV debut, 1949; became popular radio guest in the early 1950s; had his own BBC television show in 1955; made film debut, 1956; comedy star with his own long-running comedy sketch show; moved from BBC to Thames Television, 1969-89. Recipient: Daily Mail TV Personality of the Year, 1954; TV Times Hall of Fame, 1978-79; TV Times Funniest Man on TV, 1981-82; Charlie Chaplin International Award for Comedy, 1991. Died in Teddington, London, 19 April 1992.


1949       Hi There
1952      The Service Show
1953      Show Case
1955-89 The Benny Hill Show


Who Done It?, 1956; Light Up the Sky, 1960; Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines, 1965; Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, 1968; The Italian Job, 1969; The Waiters, 1969; The Best of Benny Hill, 1974; To See Such Fun, 1977; Benny Hill: The Motion Picture, 1979; The Unedited Benny Hill, 1983; Le Miracule, 1986; The Benny Hill Special, 1987.


Educating Archie; Archie's the Boy.

STAGE (selection)

Stars in Battledress, 1941; Paris by Night; Fine Fettle.


Ernie (the fastest milkman in the West), 1971.


Johnson, Terry. Dead Funny. London: Methuen Drama, 1994.

Smith, John. The Benny Hill Story. New York: St. Martin's, 1989.


See also Benny Hill Show; British Programming