Monday, May 12, 2008


I don't know the criteria for knighthood but the English badly missed the mark when they over-looked comedian Benny Hill. I'm certain if he was American, he'd be on the new three-dollar bill or at least have him on a series of postage stamps.In our country, Benny is a stranger to today's generation. Maybe there's a problem with the rights to his old TV shows or perhaps the powers that be, think his cutting-edge humor wouldn't be relevant today.

To test the latter possibility, I introduced Hill to my son through U-TUBE. As I expected, Andrew liked it a lot and wanted more. What I can't fathom is, that despite the enormity of his success in the U. K., (The Benny Hill Show, in one form or another viewed consecutively from 1955-1988), the program (or programme as the English spell it), slipped into obscurity, got cancelled and even worse...soon Benny Hill became a persona non grata. To find out why this great talent was tossed aside, let's go back to the beginning.

Alfred "Alfie" Hawthorne Hill was born on January 21, 1924 in Southampton England. He worked in a wide range of odd-jobs before getting into show business. Once he got his foot in the door, Hill, in honor of comedian Jack Benny, changed his name to Benny Hill.

In his early television years, Hill produced four shows a year on the BBC. These shows, because of his unique style of humor (or humour as the Brits spell it) were greatly anticipated by his tremendous following.

Down through the years, especially in the mid-eighties, Hill was prodded into doing more and more. When Thames Television took over for the BBC, he was encouraged (monetarily) to produce a weekly program. The cleverness of the routines wore thin due to over-exposure...which lead to redundancy, sameness and the most dreaded...repetition. But beyond the material, there was something else causing mass negativity towards Hill.

In Hill's shows, a common theme included scantily clothed women being chased by him. This is especially true in his signature closing credits segments with "YAKETY SAX" music in the background. Somehow, in "sexually progressive" England, this concept was deemed by "experts" to be degrading to women. This accusation is particularly wrong because most of the time, the women turned the tables on Hill and started chasing him.

In Britain, a grass-roots movement to oust Hill was started by certain entertainment critics. They claimed this sort of humor, in addition to be sexist was passe...even though independent researchers would prove that a new generation of viewers loved the Benny Hill Show.

Four years after he was off the air, Benny Hill was found dead in his apartment, April 19, 1992.

Similar to two other English comedians, Charlie Chaplin and Peter Sellers, Benny Hill led an odd, perhaps unhappy and/or unfulfilled personal life. A work-aholic, he was remembered by his small circle of close friends to be, a happy hermit and completely dedicated to his craft. He never married (he proposed twice but both women turned him down) and he never owned a car or a house. Benny even lived with his mother until she passed-away in 1976.

He enjoyed traveling abroad but used those experiences to sharpen his foreign language skills and develop more material from observing the locals.

Hill named his predeceased parents as the primary beneficiaries in his will, (approx $20 million {US}). Curiously, his secondary beneficiaries were already dead too. Therefore, his fortune slipped into the hands of his tertiary beneficiaries; seven nieces and nephews. Hill did however provide a tidy sum for his close friends especially cast members and other associates of his show. Unfortunately for them, the proper legal procedure wasn't followed, (a legitimate oversight? Or Hill's warped sense of humor) ? Nevertheless, this "technicality" allowed the nieces and nephews to contest that portion of the will. They fought it out in court and his family won the entire inheritance.

In the end when Benny Hill's career soured, I can't help but think there was a conspiracy against him. To say his style of humor was passe is ridiculous! In the good old U. S. of A., even the low-brow "THE THREE STOOGES" are considered to be classics with each generation developing new "stooge-a-philes."

I say, "Don't pull Sir Benny down, pull him up.  Out of the cracks of the abyss and celebrate his comic genius. Make him what he deserves to be remembered as, (albeit posthumously) an English national treasure."

Hopefully, PBS or someone else will start showing the old re-runs again. If not, I'm sure there are DVD's out there somewhere and I guarantee he'll make you laugh. I just wish I had the "Yakety Sax" sound effect dubbed over this last paragraph.

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