"The pleasures of drink last but a moment, Cigarettes make you sick, you could die; But the love of a beautiful woman, oh! That's the best thing that money can buy!"

Famous for becoming the most internationally recognized British comedian, Benny Hill is most fondly remembered from his role as host of "The Benny Hill Show", a television series that ran for four decades and has been syndicated in over 109 different countries. His unique brand of cheeky humor is known and loved the world over.

Who was Benny Hill?

Born Alfred Hawthorn Hill on January 21, 1924 (or 1925) in Southampton, England, the boy who would grow to up to be one of England's most famous international comedians dreamed of becoming a star, much like his idol Charlie Chaplin. His grandfather who introduced him to Burlesque shows and the Vaudeville humor that would so strongly influence his future work. His dream of become a comedy star would be fulfilled after many years of hard work.

Finding his direction early in life, Benny was a dedicated actor in school plays and local theatre. Before enlisting for mandatory National Service in 1940, Benny had held jobs as a milkman and a drummer. He would draw on these jobs for inspiration later in his career. Returning to London after being discharged from service, Hill adopted his stage name, as a tribute to his favorite comedian at the time, Jack Benny. He landed a job as a theatre manager and various bit parts around town. His first real part came in 1941 with a production of "Stars in Battledress". Hill later followed the more traditional route of comedians by performing in revues at music halls and men's clubs. Radio work and a brief partnership with comedian Reg Varney soon followed. Benny's talent for impressions and comic timing landed him his first television role in 1949, with an appearance on "Hi There".

Seeing the power of the new medium of television early on, Hill began hosting a handful of variety programs for the BBC in the early 1950s. His first movie role followed in 1956, when he played the role of a bumbling private eye in Who Done It?, a box office flop. His most important role actually came one year earlier.

The Benny Hill Show began in 1955. Between 1955 and 1969, when production moved to Thames Television, the show had a wildly irregular schedule. Canceled and renewed over and over, the show still managed to launch Hill to superstardom. Refining his style of cheeky humor, songs and impressions made the show a fan favorite early. Benny also appeared in several more motion pictures, with notable roles in The Italian Job, and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

In 1969 the move from ATV to Thames Television launched the golden age of the Benny Hill Show. Hill gained national popularity with his saucy comedy. The show was loaded with bawdy humor and sexual innuendos. The slapstick skits often featuring Hill and a supporting cast of scantily clad women known as "Hill’s Angels" were an instant success. The show was a runaway hit and ran from 1969 till 1989. Benny was on top of the world.

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. These shows were syndicated on North American television beginning in 1979. With the release of the show in North America, Benny Hill became a household name in both the United States and Canada. The show itself has been seen in 109 countries and won a BAFTA as well as Golden Rose Of Montreaux Award. The series amassed a huge 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. Benny's TV career came to an end in 1989, when his show was dropped from ITV, but his popularity continued to build around the world until his death several years later.

Benny Hill died alone at his home in Teddington, Middlesex, England on April 18th, 1992, suffering a heart attack while sitting in his favorite chair watching television. He had suffered with a chronic heart condition for years before his death. He was 68 years old.

Benny Hill's death stirred up a controversy. Worth an estimated 7.5 million pounds, Benny's will was years out of date. It directed that his earnings be given to his parents, both long dead. Next in line were his estranged brother Leonard and sister Diana, also dead. The executor of his estate divided the money among Hill's seven nieces and nephews. A note was found among Benny's belongings assigned huge sums of money to long time friends and costars Sue Upton, Louise English, Henry McGee, Bob Todd and Dennis Kirkland. Neither signed nor witnessed, the note had no legal standing.

What made him so funny?

There are some things that are pure Benny Hill. Raising his hand to his forehead with a palm facing out and optionally crossing his eyes and sticking out his tongue, Benny made the reverse salute his trademark. The famous theme song from the Benny Hill Show is recognized around the world, with its comical saxophone melody featured prominently at both the beginning and ending of most shows. The song is actually titled Yakety Sax. Hill was a master of the reaction shot, wrote slapstick comedy on par with that of the Three Stooges, and pantomimed like few others outside of silent films. His sketch comedy was fast paced and over the top with sight gags and smuttiness. Many segments of naughty rhyming songs written and performed by Hill, with accompanying leers and winks, appeared on the show. Buxom girls were constantly being chased or ogled by Hill, usually ending with a slap or a wide rolling eye grin from Benny.

Hill was adept at playing idiots who on a slightly closer inspection turned out to be both sly and lecherous. Many reoccurring characters, like Fred Scuttle the inept security guard, played along side an impressive supporting cast. Actor Jackie Wright provided the ultimate sidekick to Hill's buffoon in his role as the small, elderly bald man Hill lovingly slapped on the top of the head in many skits.

The Benny Hill Show ended in almost the same way every week. A chase featuring sped up photography and a combination of Hill, well-endowed women, British bobbies, jealous boyfriends, amorous ugly people and the little bald man raced across the screen to the distinctive theme song.

Benny Trivia

Benny was left-handed, stood 5' 10 1/2" tall and never owned a car in his entire life. He died a bachelor after having proposed to two different women.

There is actually heated debate over what year Benny Hill was born in. Both January 21, 1924 and January 21, 1925 are stated as his birthday. Actual birth records exist for both dates. Hill himself was never sure. By the time it was discovered, everyone who knew for sure had passed on.

He was one of only a handful of early television comedians who had control over the production of their shows. Only Jackie Gleason and Milton Berle had similar control in American broadcasting.

After Benny's death, his estate was cataloged. In his small apartment, Hill kept all the many awards he had won over the course of his career in a large box. None were on display.

Hill lived happily within walking distance of the studio which he produced so many of his shows. Even though had earned millions of pounds over the course of his career, he did his own grocery shopping, and in fact never used the second floor of his two story flat.

The Benny Hill show was not universally loved in Great Britain. After a series of complaints about the sexual nature of much of the humor shown, Hill started casting the children of his production crew to appear in skits with him. None of the children were professional actors, and Hill delighted in showing their genuine reactions to his madcap actions. These children became known as the "Little Angels".

The Quotable Benny Hill

I'm not against half-naked girls...well, not as often as I'd like to be.

Have you noticed that all the people in favour of birth control are already born?

Why would I make one woman so miserable when I can make so many women very happy?

(When asked to comment on rumors that he had sexual affairs with women on his shows): "I never yell, I never tell, but I'm grateful as hell."

Benny's Body of work

Hill worked as an actor, a writer, a composer and even a hit singer, with his humorous single "Ernie The Fastest Milkman In The West". This list is guide to his various works over his long and successful career.

  • Who Got Benny's Millions? - archive footage of Benny - 2002
  • Benny Hill: A Tribute - archive footage of Benny - 1992
  • Benny Hill's World: New York! - Host - 1991
  • The Crazy World of Benny Hill - Himself - 1988
  • Genesis Music Video "Anything She Does" - Guard Fred Scuttle - 1986
  • Benny Hill's V!deo S!deshow - Himself - 1982
  • Best of the Benny Hill Show - Himself - 1981
  • To See Such Fun - Himself - 1977
  • Best of Benny Hill - Himself - 1974
  • The Waiters - Waiter - 1971
  • The Italian Job - Professor Simon Peach - 1969
  • "Benny Hill Show, The" TV Series - Host - 1969
  • Chitty Chitty Bang Bang - Toymaker - 1968
  • Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines, or How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 hours 11 Minutes - Fire Chief Perkins - 1965
  • A Midsummer’s Night's Dream - Bottom - 1964
  • Light Up the Sky! - Syd McGaffey - 1960
  • Pantomania: Babes in the Wood - Minstrell -1957
  • Who Done It? - Hugo Dill - 1956
thanks to anotherone for telling me the name of the Benny Hill show theme song, Yakety Sax.