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In Remembrance of Alfred Hawthorne Hill

21 January, 1924 ~ 19 April, 1992
Southampton, United Kingdom

Alfred Hawthorne Hill (21 January 1924 – 19 April 1992) was an English actor and comedian, notable for his long-running television programme The Benny Hill Show.
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Alfred Hawthorne Hill (21 January 1924 – 19 April 1992) was an English actor and comedian, notable for his long-running television programme The Benny Hill Show.


Alfred Hill was born in Southampton and grew up in Wilton Road, Upper Shirley, where he and his brother attended Taunton's School. During World War II, Hill was one of the students evacuated with the school to Bournemouth School, East Way, Bournemouth. After leaving Bournemouth School, Hill worked variously as a milkman in Eastleigh, a bridge operator, a driver and a drummer before he finally got a foot in the door of the entertainment industry by becoming an assistant stage manager.

Inspired by the 'star comedians' of British music hall shows, Hill set out to make his mark in show business. For the stage, he changed his first name to 'Benny', in homage to his favourite comedian, Jack Benny. Hill began appearing at working men's clubs and Masonic dinners before graduating to nightclub and theatre jobs.

Hill auditioned for Soho's famed Windmill Theatre (home of Revudeville, a popular show of singers, comedians and nude girls), but he was not hired. Hill's first job in professional theatre as a performer was as Reg Varney's straight man, beating a then unknown Peter Sellers for the role.

Private life

Hill had only a few friends, although colleagues insist he was never lonely but content with his own company. He never married, although he did propose to three women—one the daughter of a British writer—but was rejected by all three. Although he owned the family home in Southampton, he never owned his own home in London, nor a car. Hill preferred to rent a place to live rather than buy one, first a large double apartment in Queensgate, London for 26 years until 1986, and then a small flat in Teddington, within walking distance of the studios of Thames Television where he taped his shows.

His mother died in 1976 at age 82, and Hill kept the family house at 22 Westrow Gardens in Southampton as a shrine to her, not changing a thing. Before his move to Teddington, whilst looking for somewhere else to live in the Richmond area of London, he lived at 22 Westrow Gardens. Travelling was the one luxury Hill permitted himself; he became a first-degree Francophile, enjoying frequent visits to Marseille.

Until the 1980s, he enjoyed anonymity in France's outdoor cafés, public transport, and socialising with local women. Besides mastering French, he could also speak enough German, Dutch and Italian for travel purposes. Hill's overseas holidays were often gathering missions for comedy material, some inspired by foreign surroundings, or borrowed from regional acts.

Early career

Between the end of the World War II and the dawn of television, Hill worked as a radio performer. His first appearance on television was in 1949 on a show called Hi There. He continued to work intermittently until his career took off with The Benny Hill Show in 1955 on BBC Television.

Recurring players on his show during the BBC years included Patricia Hayes, Jeremy Hawk, Peter Vernon, Ronnie Brody, and his co-writer from the mid-1950s to early 1960s, Dave Freeman. He remained mostly with the BBC through to 1968, except for a few sojourns with ITV station ATV between 1957 and 1960 and again in 1967. He also had a short-lived radio programme, Benny Hill Time, on BBC Radio's Light Programme from 1964 to 1966. In addition, he attempted a sitcom anthology, Benny Hill, which ran from 1962 to 1963, in which he played a different character in each episode.

In 1964, he played Nick Bottom in an all-star TV film production of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Films and recordings

Benny Hill's film credits include parts in nine films including Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (1965); Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968), in which he played the relatively straight role of the Toymaker; The Italian Job (1969); and, finally, a clip-show film spin-off of his early Thames shows (1969–73), called The Best of Benny Hill (1974). Hill's audio recordings include "Gather in the Mushrooms", (1961), "Pepys Diary", (1961), "Transistor Radio" (1961), "Harvest of Love" (1963), and "Ernie (The Fastest Milkman In The West)" (1971).

He also appeared in the 1986 video of the song "Anything She Does" by the band Genesis. Hill's song, "Ernie (The Fastest Milkman In The West)," on the Best of Benny Hill album made the UK chart as Christmas number one single in 1971.

Main article: The Benny Hill Show
In 1969, his show moved from the BBC to Thames Television, where it remained until cancellation in 1989, with an erratic schedule of one-hour specials.
The most common running gag in Benny Hill's shows was the closing sequence, which was literally a "running gag" in that it featured various members of the cast chasing Hill and usually featured scantily-clad women as part of the chase, along with other stock comedy characters, such as policemen, vicars, old ladies, and so on. This was commonly filmed using stop motion and time-lapse techniques for comic effect, and included other comic devices such as characters running off one side of the screen and reappearing running on from the other.

The tune used in all the chases, "Yakety Sax", is commonly referred to as "The Benny Hill Theme". It has been used as a form of parody in many ways by television shows and a small number of films. The Wachowskis used the same style (and musical theme) in a scene in the film V for Vendetta (2006). It also appears in the cult movie The Gods Must Be Crazy. Hill's TV show was considered better than Monty Python by 2 TV stations (WOR and WLVI).

Reflecting opinion of the time within certain quarters, the 1980s alternative comedian Ben Elton denounced him as a "dirty old man, tearing the clothes off nubile girls". The Independent newspaper opined the vendetta was "like watching an elderly uncle being kicked to death by young thugs".Elton later claimed his comment was taken out of context.

In response to such claims, Hill's close friend and producer Dennis Kirkland said it was the women who chased Hill in anger for undressing them, all of which was done accidentally by some ridiculous means. An article on 27 May 2006 in The Independent quoted Hill and Dennis Kirkland as saying they believed this misrepresentation demonstrated critics could not have watched his programmes.

Not only did the show feature high comedy, but also a troupe of very pretty young ladies, known collectively as 'Hills Angels'. They would appear either on their own in a dance sequence, or in character as foils against Hill, giving his humour even more of a boost. Sue Upton, one of the longest serving members of the Angels, said of the man, "He was one of the nicest, kindest, most gentle of men to work with".

In a documentary on Benny Hill, the former head of entertainment at Thames TV who had cancelled the show, John Howard Davies, stated there were three reasons why he did so: "...the audiences were going down, the programme was costing a vast amount of money, and he (Hill) was looking tired."

Hill was devastated by the loss of his show.
US producer Don Taffner heard of Hill's plight and in 1991 produced a new show complete with Hill and his usual team, called Benny Hill's World Tour

Celebrity fans

Charlie Chaplin, who died in 1977, was a fan of Hill's work: Hill had discovered that Chaplin, his childhood idol, was a fan when he was invited to Chaplin's home in Switzerland by Chaplin's family and discovered that Chaplin had a collection of Hill's work on video. Hill and Dennis Kirkland were the first outside the family to be invited into Chaplin's private study. Hill was awarded the Charlie Chaplin International Award for Comedy at the 1991 Festival of Comedy in Vevey, Switzerland.
Radio and TV show host Adam Carolla claimed that he was a fan of Benny Hill and that he considered Hill "as American as the Beatles."

Indeed, during an episode of The Man Show, Carolla performed in what was billed as a tribute to "our favourite Englishman, Sir Benny Hill" in a more risqué takeoff of the sketches that Hill popularised. Carolla played a rude and lecherous waiter; a role Hill essayed numerous times in his shows—and the sketch featured many of the staples of Hill's shows, including a Jackie Wright-esque bald man, as well as the usual scantily-clad women.
Michael Jackson was a big Benny Hill fan "I just love your Benny Hill!" the young Michael Jackson told a bemused English music-press critic during a 1970s tour. "He's so funny!". During Benny Hill's decline in health he was visited by Michael Jackson who was in the UK on his Dangerous World Tour.

In Benny Hill: The World's Favourite Clown, filmed shortly before his death, celebrities such as Michael Jackson, Burt Reynolds, Michael Caine, John Mortimer, Mickey Rooney, and Walter Cronkite, among others, expressed their appreciation of and admiration for Hill and his humour (and in Reynolds' case, the appreciation extended to the Hill's Angels as well).

In 2006, broadcaster and critic Garry Bushell launched a campaign to erect a statue of Hill in Southampton, with the support of Barbara Windsor, Brian Conley and other British comedy favourites. Those taking part in the first fundraising concert included Neville Staple, Right Said Fred and Rick Wakeman.


Hill's health began to decline in the mid-1980s. He suffered heart problems, and on 24 February 1992, doctors told him he needed to lose weight and recommended a heart bypass. He declined and a week later was found to have renal failure. Benny Hill died at the age of 68 on 19 April 1992, Easter weekend. On 21 April, neighbours called the police, who then found Hill, dead, sitting in his armchair in front of the television. Ironically, on the day Hill died, a new contract arrived in the post from Central Independent Television. Hill's cause of death was officially called natural causes.

His death nearly coincided with that of Frankie Howerd, who had died at the age of 75, on 18 April 1992, only one day before Hill's death.

Hill was buried at Hollybrook Cemetery near his birthplace in Southampton on 28 April, 1992. In October 1992, following rumours that he was buried with large amounts of gold jewellery, an attempt was made by thieves to exhume his body.

However, when authorities looked into his open coffin the following morning, there was no treasure. Consequently, only the culprits or the first officer on the scene know whether anything valuable was inside.

Hill was reburied with a new coffin lid and a solid slab across the top of the grave.
Hill left his estimated £10 million estate to his late parents, who had already died as the only will was from 1961.

Next in line were his brother Leonard and sister Diana, both of whom were also dead. This left his seven nieces and nephews, among whom the money was divided.

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