Classic TV revisited: The Benny Hill Show


ITV | 1969-1989

Starring Benny Hill, Louise English, Henry McGee and Bob Todd.

Benny Hill: saucy British comic who took America by storm with smutty routines which usually involved bumbling Benny lusting after scantily clad young women.

Benny made 58 shows for Thames TV between 1969 and 1989. He also made shows in the US.

Nicknamed King Leer, Benny was the son of a surgical appliance fitter. Lustful and bumbling are ideal descriptions of the japester.

Weren’t his shows corny old nonsense?
That’s a bit harsh. He was immensely popular. But yes, they were cancelled in the late ’80s. The PC tide turned against seaside postcard-style gags.

How did he get started?
Unlike comics such as Bob Monkhouse and Arthur Askey, he didn’t come from radio. Benny was a product of TV’s need for new talent in the mid-’50s.

Didn’t he buy loads of wigs?
Yes he bought up to 60 a year to impersonate contemporary stars such as Diana Dors and Isobel Barnett (What’s My Line)… and he had a fantastic memory for gags. Critics might say he succeeded by recycling old Chaplin material.

What was a typical show like?
They were unique. He only made three or so a year. His stock characters were Fred Scuttle, Prof Marvel and the Firemen’s Choir. whose catchphrase was “evein’ viewers”.

Who wrote the material?
Benny wrote most, using notes he took when travelling the world, and about his former life in Southampton.

Who else starred?
Hill’s Angels – foxy girls who chased Benny. Louise English, Henry McGee and Bob Todd became stars.

Didn’t Benny have a funny way of sending scripts to producers?
Yes. He never worked at the Thames offices, and instead would send in ideas written on the corners of newspapers, or on the cardboard found under the collar of laundered shirts.

Didn’t Benny make records, too?
Yes, Ernie (The Fastest Milkman In the West), Gather In The Mushrooms and Harvest Of Love.

His shows always seemed to end with him chasing a lot of girls in bikinis.
A myth, I’m afraid. The girls always chased him.

But he looked like a flasher?
Maybe, but he never overexposed himself on TV.

You’ve made Benny sound a bit of a joke.
He was certainly an unusual character. But few people could deny his power to amuse children and adults alike. He had universal appeal.

In 1979, at the age of 54, he conquered the US. A riot broke out in a California jail when inmates were prevented from seeing his show.

And a Mafia boss would only give a TV interview to Thames if Benny did a stint at his Las Vegas casino.

Benny must have been a rich man, given his huge popularity?
He was, and money is still generated for Pearson TV, which owns Thames, from his repeats, songs and videos sold across the world.

Did he flaunt his wealth?
He lived in a small rented flat in London and carried his work around in carrier bags.

Did his death signal the end of an era?
Yes. He died on the eve of a comeback show in 1992, the same night that comedian Frankie Howerd passed away.