Who was Benny Hill?

The late British actor, comedian and singer Alfred Hawthorne ‘Benny’ Hill was born in Southampton, Hampshire, England, on 21 January 1924, meaning that Aquarius was his zodiac sign. He had 18 acting and 24 writing credits, and is perhaps today remembered best for writing 59 episodes of the comedy series “The Benny Hill Show”, in which he starred alongside Henry McGee and Jackie Wright; the series aired from 1969 through 1989 and won three of its nine award nominations.

Benny died from coronary thrombosis aged 68 on 20 April 1992; he had suffered a heart attack on 24 February of the same year but refused a heart bypass, and was then diagnosed with kidney failure a week later, but refused to undergo kidney dialysis.

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Education and early life

Benny was raised in Southampton alongside his brother Leonard and sister Diana, by their mother Helen (nee Cave) who died in 1976 aged 82, and father Alfred Hill who was a manager of a surgical appliance shop, and who died aged 79 in 1972.

Benny studied at Taunton’s School, and upon matriculating in 1942 worked various jobs to financially support himself, including being a drummer, driver, bridge operator and a milkman. He then joined the British Army and was a mechanic in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME); Benny served as a searchlight operator, truck driver and mechanic in Normandy in September 1944, and was at the end of the war working in the Combined Services Entertainment division.

He fell in love with comedy while serving with the British Army, and chose his stage name ‘Benny’ after his favorite comedian, the late American entertainer Jack Benny.

Roles in TV series

Benny’s debut TV series role was playing a supporting character in a 1952 episode of the comedy “Kaleidoscope”, and the year 1957 saw him portray another supporting character in the episode “Fashions in Faces and Figures” of the comedy “Men, Women and Clothes”.

In 1962 and 1963, he starred in his own comedy show “Benny Hill”, which also starred Graham Stark and Patricia Hayes, and is a compilation of short comedy stories. In 1964, Benny made a guest appearance in an episode of both the comedy “ITV Play of the Week” and the musical comedy “A Christmas Night with the Stars”.

His only other TV series role was appearing in two episodes (1987-1988) of the comedy “Szeszélyes Evszakok”, which starred Imre Antal and Gyula Szombathy, and aired its 193 episodes from 1981 through 2004.

Roles in movies

Benny’s debut film role was playing the lead character Hugo Dill in the 1956 crime comedy “Who Done It?”, which also starred Belinda Lee and David Kossoff, and was directed by Basil Dearden. It follows a sweeper who’s won some money on lottery and has now become a private detective.

In 1957, Benny played Minstrel in the family comedy “Pantomania: Babes in the Wood”, and the year 1960 saw him portray Syd McCaffey in the popular romantic war comedy “Skywatch”, which starred Ian Carmichael and Tommy Steele, and was directed by Lewis Gilbert; it follows the lives of members of a British Army Searchlight Squad during World War II.

Benny portrayed Fire Chief Perkins in the popular 1965 adventure family comedy “Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines or How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 Hours 11 Minutes”, which starred Stuart Whitman and Sarah Miles, and was written and directed by Ken Anakin. It follows an international air race across the English Channel, and the movie won one of its nine award nominations, including an Oscar nomination for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen.

In 1968, Benny portrayed Toymaker in the hit family adventure fantasy “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”, which was nominated for an Oscar for Best Music, Original Song, and the following year saw him play Professor Simon Peach in the popular action crime comedy “The Italian Job”, which starred Michael Caine and Noel Coward, and was directed by Peter Collinson. It’s about a plan to steal a gold shipment by creating a traffic jam, and the movie was nominated for a 1970 Golden Globe for Best English-Language Foreign Film.

Some of Benny’s following roles were in the 1969 short comedy “The Waiters”, the 1970 comedy “Eddie in August”, and the 1971 short musical comedy “Benny Hill: Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West)”.

His next and final film role was playing various characters in the 1985 comedy “Video Spotlight”, in which he starred alongside Hill’s Angels and Alison Bell, and which is a compilation of short comedy stories.

Writing credits

Benny’s writing debut was the 1951 TV special “Hi There!”, while he then wrote the comedy series’ “The Benny Hill Show”, “Benny Hill” and “A Christmas Night with the Stars”.

He wrote the 1970 comedy movie “Eddie in August”, in which he starred alongside Nicole Shelby and Douglas Hill, and which follows Benny as he’s falling in love. Some of his following work was on the 1977 comedy movie “Benny Hill Down Under”, the 1981 comedy film “Benny Hill’s Video Revue”, and the 1982 comedy movie “Benny Hill’s V!deio S!deshow”.

A number of comedy videos featuring Benny were released following his death, including the 2000 “Benny Hill: The Lost Years – Benny and the Jets”, the 2000 “Benny Hill: The Lost Years – Bennies from Heaven” and the 2006 “Benny Hill: The Hill’s Angels Years”.

Awards and nominations

Benny won one of his three award nominations: a 1972 BAFTA TV Award for Best Script, for “The Benny Hill Show”.

He was also nominated for a 1972 BAFTA TV Award for Best Light Entertainment Performance and two Primetime Emmys for Outstanding Variety or Music Program in 1980 and 1981, all for “The Benny Hill Show”.

Love life and relationships

Benny never married and had no children; many people believed that the popular comedian was gay, but Benny stated on multiple occasions that this wasn’t true.

It’s known that he had proposed to two women, but that neither accepted; following his death in 1992, Australian actress Annette Andre revealed that she was one of the two women who had rejected Benny’s marriage proposal.

He loved French women and was a Francophile; Benny often visited France and mostly stayed in Marseille. It’s believed that he had a long-term girlfriend there, but this also remains unconfirmed.

Benny was single at the time of his passing, didn’t marry or have children.

Interesting facts and hobbies

On 4 October 1992, Benny’s grave was excavated by grave robbers after rumors began spreading that he had been buried with gold and jewelry; the coffin had to be buried again, this time with a thick concrete slab over it.

Benny never owned a house in London, but instead rented an apartment for 26 years; despite his millions of pounds, he didn’t own a car, never paid for a taxi as he preferred to walk, and bought cheap food at supermarkets. Benny always wore used clothes which had previously been patched up multiple times.

He was fluent in French, and travelling was the only luxury that he allowed himself.

In 2002, the British online newspaper “The Independent” ranked Benny #3 greatest British comedian of the 20th century, with #1 and #2 having been Stan Laurel and Charlie Chaplin.

Height, eyes and wealth

Benny would’ve been 99 today. He had brown eyes and grey hair, was 5ft 9ins (1.77m) tall and weighed around 175lbs (80kgs).

Benny’s net worth, at the time of his passing was estimated at over $15 million; he left most of his estate to his deceased parents, as his will had been written 30 years earlier, when Alfred and Helen were still alive, and Benny’s estate was thus divided amongst his seven nephews and nieces.

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