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Alfred Hawthorne Hill, known by his stage name Benny Hill (21 January 1924 – 20 April 1992), was an English comedian and actor, notable for his long-running television programme The Benny Hill Show.
The Benny Hill Show
Hill had struggled on stage and had uneven success in radio. But in television he found a form that played to his strengths, allowing him a format that included live comedy and filmed segments, with him at the focus of almost every segment. It was to prove one of the great success stories of television comedy, keeping Hill a star for nearly four decades, generating impressive revenues for Thames TV, and remaining a cult series in much of the world long after Hill’s death.
The show had a music hall-derived format and its humour relied on slapstick, innuendo and parody. Recurring players on his show during the BBC years included Patricia Hayes, Jeremy Hawk, Peter Vernon, Ronnie Brody, and his co-writer from the early 1950s to early 1960s, Dave Freeman. Short, bald Jackie Wright was a frequent supporting player, who in many sketches had to put up with Hill tapping him on the head.
Hill 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. 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 series showcased Hill’s talents as an imaginative writer, comic performer and impressionist. He may have bought scripts from various comedy writers but, if so, they never received an onscreen credit (there is evidence that he bought a script from one of his regular cast members in 1976, Cherri Gilham, whom he wrote to from Spain and told her he was using her “Fat Lady idea on the show” in January 1977.)
The most common running gag in Hill’s shows was the closing sequence, the “run-off”, which was literally a running gag in that it featured various members of the cast chasing Hill as part of the chase, along with other stock comedy characters such as policemen, vicars and old women. This was commonly filmed using “under-cranking” camera techniques, 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, Boots Randolph’s “Yakety Sax”, is so strongly associated to the show that it 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 film The Gods Must Be Crazy.
From the start of the 1980s the show featured a troupe of attractive young women, known collectively as “Hill’s Angels”. They would appear either on their own in a dance sequence, or in character as foils against Hill. Sue Upton was one of the longest serving members of the Angels.