A dozen facts about TV comedy icon Benny Hill.
He was born Alfred Hawthorn Hill, but changed his name to “Benny” in 1945 because it sounded “less cockney” than Alfie.
His grandfather and father both worked as Circus clowns.
In his early career in Southampton, his payment for the night’s entertainment was always either a taxi home or half-a-crown.
In addition to entertaining, he held a string of casual jobs such as a weighbridge clerk at a coal and coke factory, a milkman, and a drummer.
One of his early gags was “On a serious note ladies and gentlemen, I shall now bring you Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address… 345a, Main Street, Gettysburg.” It brought down the house every time.
His first major TV show “Hi There” for the BBC in 1954 was a great success, and he became the first comic star to be made by television in Britain.
At the peak of his career he limited himself to just 5 episodes of the “Benny Hill Show” per year.
He has been seen in over 100 countries world-wide, and was especially popular in Cuba and Russia, where viewers would point their aerials towards Finland to pick him up.
When Charlie Chaplin, who rarely found other comedians funny, lay dying in Switzerland in 1977, he watched Benny Hill videos for company.
In 1990 he said that he had the mental age of “17” and was “far too young for marriage.”
His film roles included a bossy fireman in “Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines” (1965) and the toy maker in “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” (1968). Perhaps his most famous film role came in 1969 when he played Professor Simon Peach, an eccentric computer genius with an obsession with chasing overweight women in “The Italian Job” with Michael Caine.
Though he earned a vast fortune, he was not interested in money, and died in a modest flat in Teddington, South West London, near the Thames TV studios where he worked until 1989.