Ward's Book of Days.

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APRIL 20th

On this day in history in 1992, died Benny Hill.

Hill was a comic singer and actor who attracted billions of viewers to The Benny Hill Show.

Alfred Hawthorn Hill was born on 21st January 1924, at Southampton. He received a rudimentary education at Tauntons School, Southampton and, as an evacuee, at Bournemouth School. As a boy he was inspired by the eminent American comedian Jacky Benny, and changed his first name in reverence of the great man. After army service, he took up an assortment of jobs, while trying to break into the entertainment industry. One job was a milkman, where he drove a horse and cart, pulled by a horse called Trigger, the inspiration for the hit single, Fastest Milkcart in The West.

Hill obtained some appearances at working-men's clubs and nightclubs and was occasionally offered theatre parts. In 1949, he took part in the radio show, Hi There, a compilation of sketches and comic witticisms. In 1955, he suggested to the BBC that a similar programme would go down well on television and, to his surprise, was offered the lead part in his own program. He had no forward plan as to what would be done on the show, and therefore, more to lack of inspiration that to egotism, he called the programme The Benny Hill Show.

The new programme consisted of brief sketches in which Hill played the lead part in the various guises of lecherous buffoon, rude waiter, incompetent presenter and egotistical singer. His characters were often foreigners, particularly unintelligible Chinamen or overbearing Germans, and full use was made of the double entendre and slightly ribald humour. He was ably assisted in his performance by a cast of supporting actors and an assembly of underdressed young women, collectively known as Hill’s Angels.

In 1969, the show moved from the BBC to Thames Television, where it remained, with the same format, until 1989. In the 1980’s the show came in for major criticism from the politically correct brigade. They accused Hill of sexism, by using girls as the object of the show’s humorous lechery, and racism due to the use of stereotype foreign characters. While this criticism was much exaggerated, Thames Television were concerned about falling ratings and, in 1989, axed the programme.

After his show was cancelled, Hill became lethargic and his health deteriorated. He gained weight and suffered heart problems. He died at his home in Teddington, where he had lived nearby Thames Television Studios, where his shows had been produced. In 2006, Channel 4 broadcast a documentary entitled, Is Benny Hill Still Funny? The programme endeavoured to discover whether his brand of humour could survive in 2006, when it had allegedly failed in the Eighties. The answer was an unqualified ‘Yes’! Hill is buried near his birthplace in Southampton. [Hollybrook Cemetery, Tremona Road, Southampton, SO16 6HW]

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