Biography of a Comic Legend who Failed to Move with the Times
Born Alfred Hawthorne Hill in 1924, Benny Hill had a rough ride to stardom. Like many fellow-comics of his time, he began his career on the variety circuit as a straight man to Reg Varney - although successful as part of a double-act, he was booed offstage when he went solo.
In the mid-Fifties he enjoyed some success on the stage and on radio; but he shot to stardom on television, where THE BENNY HILL SHOW became a staple of the schedules, at first on BBC and subsequently on Thames Television.
Hill was an ideal television performer, with the camera able to focus on his India-rubber face and his repertory of expressions ranging from mock-innocent to outright lascivious. His humor was always bawdy, reminiscent of the old seaside postcards sold in British resorts.
At the age of fifty, he became an international star as his television shows were a hit in the United States and elsewhere. Yet despite the millions of pounds he earned, Hill remained frugal in his habits; he never bought a house of his own, and the interiors were always sparsely furnished. Work was his life, and he had little time for leisure pursuits other than traveling.
Hill's cheery on screen personality contrasted starkly with his offscreen behavior. He shunned the limelight, and lived an anonymous existence with few friends. Familiarity was always his watchword; he hated meeting new people, or even rehearsing in front of strangers in the studio.
By the end of the Eighties, his style of humor had begun to pall. The "nudge-nudge, wink, wink" ogling of beautiful young women seemed highly sexist, while Hill himself resembled a dirty old man trying to sustain perpetual youth by surrounding himself with dolly birds. Hence it was hardy surprising that Thames should dispense with his services in 1990. He died two years later.
Looking at old episodes of THE BENNY HILL SHOW now, we can undoubtedly admire his wit and his verbal dexterity, but most of his jokes seem particularly unfunny - not only sexist, but racist as well.
This episode from the BIOGRAPHY channel told a straightforward tale, without offering any deep insight into Hill's complex character.
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