Bawdy Facts About Benny Hill, Britain’s Most Baffling Comedian

April 29, 2024 | Brendan Da Costa

Bawdy Facts About Benny Hill, Britain’s Most Baffling Comedian

Benny Hill was the English comedian whose bawdy humor titillated and tickled audiences to tears. But, behind the scenes, his innocence was almost heartbreaking.

1. His Life Was His Biggest Joke

Benny Hill was the star of his own show, The Benny Hill Show, from 1955 to 1989. His use of double entendres and overtly racy gags came to define an entire era of British comedy. But when the lights dimmed and the cameras stopped rolling, Hill was an entirely different person. And, sadly, his life would be his biggest joke. 

image of Benny Hill wearing uniformLyman Green, Flickr

2. He Had Vaudevillian Veins

Alfred Hawthorne Hill had comedy in his veins from day one. Born in January of 1924 in Southampton, Hampshire, both his father and grandfather had been circus clowns. Hill’s family even made weekly trips to the theater, instilling in him a deep appreciation for the art of show business. 

But, just because he was born with vaudevillian veins didn’t mean fame would come easy.

Portrait image of Benny HillsEvening Standard, Getty Images

3. He Was A Child Laborer

By the age of six, Hill was already a paid performer, singing for pennies at the beach. By the time he reached his teens, he knew he wanted nothing more than to make show business his business. So, he dropped out of school and started work as a milkman until he had enough money to pay for his ticket to London.

He was a long way from the top.

image of England 1938, LondonRichard, Flickr

4. He Made His Way On Stage

There are different stories telling how Benny Hill got his start on stage. According to some accounts, he simply went knocking on theater managers’ doors until someone let him in. Another story says that Hill made his theatrical debut while working as a stagehand. One of the actors showed up sloshed and unable to perform, allowing Hill to step in.

Either way—once he was on stage, there would be no getting him off.

image of Benny Hill on the scene with a girlThames Television, The Benny Hill Show (1969-1989)

5. He Had “Small Parts”

Hill soon got a small promotion and started working for £3/week as an assistant stage manager. Whenever possible, the theater manager promised to give him “small parts” on stage. True to his bawdy sense of humor, even late into his career, Hill joked that he still had “small parts”. Of course, he was not referring to the stage.

image of benny Hills on a perfrormance setThames Television, The Benny Hill Show (1969-1989)

6. He Was A Draft Dodger

Shortly after making his debut, Hill turned 18. Dreadfully, this meant that he was eligible for the draft for WW2. There was just one problem with that—he was having way too much fun on stage. But he was a clever comedian. Hill believed that he could simply pretend that he never got his draft letter because he was always traveling around with the comedy revue.

Too bad he wasn’t as clever as he thought he was.

image of Benny Hills with long hairThames Television, The Benny Hill Show (1969-1989)

7. His Past Caught Up With Him

Hill couldn't outrun the Army forever—and soon an ominous reminder showed up at his door. While preparing for a performance at the New Theatre in Cardiff, two servicemen appeared at the stage door and "suggested" that he turn himself in and report for duty. 

Even on the battle lines of WW2, however, Hill would manage to make people laugh.

image of Benny Hills in a home guard uniformFox Photos, Getty Images

8. He Was A Comedic Combatant

At first, Hill served as a mechanic with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. But the joke was on the Army—Hill didn’t know the first thing about engines and had never even driven before. Eventually, his superiors figured out where his true talents lay and transferred him to the Combined Services Entertainment Division where he regaled his fellow servicemen with his unabashedly blue humor.

It was the beginning of something beautiful.

Image of Benny Hill in a solider uniformThames Television, The Benny Hill Show (1969-1989)

9. He Took On A New Persona

Hill returned from WW2 with a whole new act. He adopted the stage name Benny Hill as a tribute to his comic hero, Jack Benny, and took his bawdy humor out on the street. Right up into the early 1950s, Hill had some hits and misses. While touring with the Sky High revue, however, he reached the lowest point in his career.

image of Benny Hills and other man standingThames Television, The Benny Hill Show (1969-1989)

10. He Got Apathetic Applause

Hill’s saucy sense of humor had worked on the all-male, women-starved audiences of fellow servicemen. Back at home, however, his crude act had a harder time catching on. During a performance in Sunderland with the Sky High revue, a clearly unenthused crowd slow-clapped Hill off the stage. The incident left him traumatized.

Hands clapping, applausebdavid32, Shutterstock

11. He Was A Nervous Wreck

After getting slow-clapped off stage, Hill made no secret of his dislike for live performances, claiming that the audience threw off his timing. Hill’s press agent, Dennis Kirkland, explained that live performances “made him [Hill] sweat; literally shake with nerves”. 

As it turns out, Hill wouldn’t need a live audience to put on a good show anyhow.

image of Benny hills with hat and suitThames Television, The Benny Hill Show (1969-1989)

12. He Was A Futurist

While most comics laughed off the introduction of the television as a passing fad, Benny Hill quickly recognized it for what it was—a revolution in comedy. The best part? If he got on TV, he could put on a show free from the terrifying gaze of a live audience. 

With a head full of salacious jokes, Hill penned hundreds of sketches and ran off to the BBC. Too bad he had a meeting with his harshest critic.

image of a Benny Hills with cowboy hatThames Television, The Benny Hill Show (1969-1989)

13. He Came Face To Face With His Harshest Critic

When Hill arrived at the BBC, he met with a man named Ronald Waldman. A few years earlier, after watching one of Hill’s live performances, Waldman had written a scathing review of the hopeful comedian. He claimed that Hill suffered from a “lack of comedy personality and lack of comedy material”. 

Hill was about to make him eat his words.

British television executive Ronnie WaldmanGary Winogrand, Getty Images

14. He Landed The Opportunity Of A Lifetime

As soon as Waldman read Hill's latest ribald skits, everything changed. They were so funny that the old critic forgot all of his old complaints about Hill and offered him his own television show on the spot: Hi There. Things were finally looking up—but fame can be a double-edged sword.

image of benny hillsThames Television, The Benny Hill Show (1969-1989)

15. He Got His Own Show

Hill parlayed his early television successes with the BBC into his own hit show. Just four years after making his TV debut, he landed The Benny Hill Show. Television played to Hill’s strengths, where his slapstick humor and clever innuendo resonated with audiences. He had no way of knowing then just how big his show would get.

image of a cover for benny hills showJacob Whittaker, Flickr

16. His Show Captured Hearts And Gold

Even though it pushed the boundaries of acceptable comedy, The Benny Hill Show skyrocketed in popularity. By 1977, the show aired in over 100 countries and had a viewership of 21.1 million people. Hill’s unique blend of slapstick comedy, bawdy humor, and parody even netted him accolades like a BAFTA and the coveted Rose d'Or.

However, his meteoric rise also attracted controversy.

image of Benny Hills with a agency cast staffluke cox, Flickr

17. He Stirred The Pot

Hill’s unapologetic locker room-style of humor often left audiences rolling with laughter at home. But just as many viewers felt scandalized by his audacious jokes. His racy gags and gallant comic style were seen as too far by some, and complaints started rolling in. 

Hill, however, had an unexpected answer for his critics.

image of benny Hills making ugly faceThames Television, The Benny Hill Show (1969-1989)

18. He Recruited Little Laughs

In response to the criticisms, Hill decided to introduce another element to his sketches: children. Hoping that the carefree and innocent laughter of little kids would lighten the grown-up humor, Hill started writing kids into his sketches. It was a clever move that checkmated his critics. But it wasn’t exactly how it seemed.

image of Benny Hills with childrenThames Television, The Benny Hill Show (1969-1989)

19. He Kept It Close To Home

Hill had an unflinching commitment to authenticity and refused to hire child actors who would have laughed on cue. Instead, he preferred to hire the children of the television crew that worked his sets. He believed that their reactions were more genuine and authentic—and predictable. 

But while fans adored him, they would have been shocked if they ever saw the real Benny Hill.

image of Benny hills in the park with kidsThames Television, The Benny Hill Show (1969-1989)

20. He Was Intensely Private

In stark contrast to the larger-than-life, slapstick persona that Hill developed for his sketches, he was a deeply private individual. In fact, he was borderline reclusive. Even at the height of his fame, he declined almost every request for an interview that came his way. He even turned down opportunities to make his star shine brighter.

image of Benny Hills in black sweaterThames Television, The Benny Hill Show (1969-1989)

21. He Turned Down Johnny Carson

Because his show aired across the world, Hill's fame went far beyond Britain. American TV titan, Johnny Carson, was a big fan and repeatedly invited Hill to appear on The Tonight Show. However, Hill declined all the invites, reportedly due to the inconvenience of the long trip from England to California. 

His true reasons, however, ran deeper.

image of Johnny CarsonAlan Light, Flickr

22. He Had No Luck In Love

Hill never married and had no children, choosing to concentrate solely on his career. His bachelor lifestyle, however, was not entirely by choice. Despite showing an ease with women on camera during his spicy sketches, behind the scenes, it was another story. Hill was almost painfully awkward in his relationships. 

A few tear-jerking, cringe-inducing stories prove it.

Benny Hills on a set with womenThames Television, The Benny Hill Show (1969-1989)

23. He Was Surrounded By “Bill’s Angels”

In a 1955 interview for the Daily Mirror, surrounded by several giggling girls in skimpy clothing, Hill faced a pressing question. The interviewer asked how a funny, successful comedian surrounded by beautiful women hadn’t yet found a wife. Hill’s response was, at once, incredibly endearing and totally unexpected for the blue comedian.

British comedian Benny Hill poses with a group of showgirlsWattie, Getty Images

24. He Just Wanted A Nice Girl

In response to the interviewer’s playful question, Hill gave an unexpectedly genuine response. “You see so many chocolates,” he said, “you don’t bother to take a closer look.” Hill went on to explain that he didn’t want a glamor girl, but rather an ordinary, sensible woman who worked “in an office or a factory or a shop”.

He came close to finding that special someone twice.

image of a Benny Hill on a set with a brideThames Television, The Benny Hill Show (1969-1989)

25. He Let The Right One Get Away

Despite not wanting a glamor girl, Hill began dating Doris Deal, a dancer from the Windmill Theatre. Though they spent time together, holding hands and having meals in the West End, Hill hesitated when it came to marriage. When Deal realized that Hill wasn't ready to settle down, she promptly left him. 

Next time, he wouldn’t wait so long.

image of Doris DealSam Salt, Flickr

26. His Proposal Fell On Deaf Ears

Much of Hill’s love life remained a mystery—until 1992 when a former lover made a devastating revelation. Shortly after his passing, the actress Annette Andre came clean about her time with Hill. She claimed that Hill had proposed to her back in the 1960s. However, to avoid rejecting him outright, she pretended not to hear him.

His string of romantic misfortunes didn’t end there.

image of Annette AndreDove, Getty Images

27. He Battle Unfounded Rumors

Even if they thought that his jokes sometimes crossed a line, audiences still loved Hill. So, it was a mystery to them that he hadn’t yet found himself a wife. Amidst the gossip of his failed relationships, a scandalous rumor emerged. Some speculated that Hill might have been playing for the opposite team. 

Hill was almost too naive to even deny the allegations.

image of Benny Hills standing in front of a boardThames Television, The Benny Hill Show (1969-1989)

28. He Was Definitely Not Queer—Just Queer

In the early days of his career, some queer dancers that Hill worked with mustered up the courage to ask him if he shared their persuasion. Not understanding the subculture meaning of the word “queer”, Hill innocently replied, “Not really, but I’ve got my funny little ways”. Later on, he firmly denied any allegations of being queer.

 At least, in the colloquial sense of the word.

Image of a Benny Hills SmilingThames Television, The Benny Hill Show (1969-1989)

29. He Felt Unloved And Ugly

Sarah Kemp, one of Hill’s closest friends, made a truly heartbreaking revelation years after the comedy legend passed away. Kemp unveiled that, beneath Hill’s funny exterior, lay a deeply sad man. She claimed that Hill had told her that he felt unloved and unattractive to women. His quirks, however, extended far beyond his love life.

image of Benny Hills wearing hatThames Television, The Benny Hill Show (1969-1989)

30. He Was Scared To Spend A Penny

The Benny Hill Show was one of the most successful shows on television, making Hill one of TV’s highest paid stars. But you’d never know it. Despite being wildly wealthy, Hill was notoriously frugal, to the point of being obsessive. His penny-pinching didn't only extend to himself; it had ramifications for those around him as well.

image of penny coinsRuggiero Scardigno, Shutterstock

31. He Didn’t Even Help His Mother

In a testament to Hill's extreme thriftiness, there is a story of his refusal to help out his poor mother. Despite always remaining close to his parents, Hill allowed her to suffer. Allegedly, the wealthy comedian refused to pay to fix a leak in his mother’s house because of the expenses. In all fairness to Hill, he wasn’t being cruel to his mother.

He barely even spent money on himself.

image of holding handsChristophe Badouet, Shutterstock

32. He Dressed Like A Homeless Person

Hill’s absurd frugality extended to his own personal well-being. His savings mantra seamlessly wove itself into his personal lifestyle—and his wardrobe. Hill wore the same set of affordable outfits until they became worn out and threadbare. 

Then, he simply mended them to avoid the cost of buying new clothes. Shockingly, that wasn’t even the worst of it.

image of Benny hills in the park with hatThames Television, The Benny Hill Show (1969-1989)

33. He Walked Everywhere

Thanks to his time in the Army, Hill had become a skilled driver with a working knowledge of engines. However, throughout his career, Hill chose to walk halfway across London to work instead of driving himself or hailing a taxi. In fact, he never even owned a car. But, if you thought that he would at least invest in good footwear for all that walking, you’d be wrong.

English comedian and actor Benny HillR. Brigden, Getty Images

34. He Had Holes In His Shoes

Clowns usually have big, shiny shoes. Hill, however, had the furthest thing from that. Poignantly exemplifying Hill's penny-pinching practices, he reportedly glued the soles of his shoes back on instead of replacing them when they got loose. This act further underscored his distaste for unnecessary expenses, even when it came to basic necessities.

Luxury was the last thing on his mind.

image of an old shoesAnneka, Shutterstock

35. He Was Always Out And About

Hill could easily have afforded a personal assistant—or a whole team of them. Instead, Londoners often spotted the celebrity comedian out and about, running his own errands and buying his own groceries. Of course, Hill only ever purchased groceries that were on sale, often walking around from store to store for the best deals.

He did, however, have one curious indulgence.

image of Benny Hills in the marketThames Television, The Benny Hill Show (1969-1989)

36. He Was A Frequent Flier

While Hill did everything he could to keep himself from spending pennies of his millions, he did have one indulgence. He liked to travel the world. Hill frequently jetted to the most sought after destinations, preferring Marseilles to all other locations. But it wasn’t the baguettes and berets that kept bringing him back there.

image of Benny Hills flyingThames Television, The Benny Hill Show (1969-1989)

37. He Preferred Anonymity

For a deeply private man like Hill, fame was something of a curse. He enjoyed sharing laughs with his fans from the safe distance of a television broadcast. But, with an international audience, there weren’t many places he could go. Thankfully, France was one of the few countries where his show hadn’t really caught on and he could stroll the streets in near total anonymity. But he should have been careful what he wished for.

Before long, he’d be begging to be famous again.

image from Paris from 1960KKB, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

38. He Wasn’t So Funny Anymore

By the late 1980s, Hill's show was on a steady decline. While his sense of humor hadn’t changed, the world around him had. As the social morays changed, audiences turned away from his suggestive jokes, causing a rift between him and his viewers. Things continued to take a sour turn, triggering controversy within the comedy world.

image of Benny Hills Talking in front of cameraThames Television, The Benny Hill Show (1969-1989)

39. His Comedy Was Dangerous

In 1987, alternative comedian Ben Elton badmouthed Hill on both Saturday Live and in Q magazine. Elton stated that Hill's comedy had contributed to a harmful culture against women. “We know in Britain, women can't even walk safe in a park anymore,” Elton said. “That, for me, is worrying”.

It was even more worrying for Hill.

Ben Elton talking on the sceneSteve Rapport, Getty Images

40. His Fans Came To His Rescue

Despite the rising voices against Hill’s comedic style, his fans and the general public rallied behind him and against Elton. GQ magazine also supported Hill, comparing Elton’s comments blaming Hill for societal degradation to blaming pianists for elephant poaching. However, not everyone shared the magazine's sentiments.

image of Ben EltonFairfax Media Archives, Getty Images

41. He Was A “Dirty Old Man”

Unlike GQ and the majority of Brits, television censors had had just about enough of Hill’s dirty jokes. A censor spokesperson remarked, “the convention is becoming increasingly offensive[...]It's not as funny as it was to have [half-clothed] girls chased across the screen by a dirty old man”. Things went south from there.

image of Benny Hills with his tongue outThames Television, The Benny Hill Show (1969-1989)

42. He Was Off The Air

In 1989, John Howard Davies, the then-controller of BBC productions, gave Hill the shock of his life. Davies called Hill into his office for what Hill believed was going to be a standard contract renewal. Instead, Davies thanked Hill for his many years of comedy and showed him the door. Just like that, Hill’s illustrious run had come to an end.

image of John Howard DaviesMirrorpix, Getty Images

43. He Tried To Make A Comeback

Following his unexpected dismissal, Hill took a hiatus in 1990, returning in 1991 with Benny Hill's World Tour. This new venture was supposed to have him travel across the globe, performing skits where his show had seen immense popularity. However, only one episode was ever made, titled Greetings from New York. Unbeknownst to many, this would be Hill's final TV appearance.

image of Benny hills on TVThames Television, The Benny Hill Show (1969-1989)

44. His Health Went Down-“Hill”

The shock of his dismissal had taken a larger toll on Hill than even he knew. Behind his humor and on-screen energy, Hill's health had begun to deteriorate. Regardless of his aspirations to craft more shows and bring more laughs to audiences, fate had other plans. 

His sinking health would soon cast a long shadow over his career aspirations.

image of Benny Hills as a boat captainThames Television, The Benny Hill Show (1969-1989)

45. He Was A Has-Been

In February 1992, Thames Television succumbed to persistent audience requests and decided to air reruns of The Benny Hill Show. The re-edited shows (which didn’t include Hill’s naughtiest jokes) transported audiences on a nostalgic trip back to Hill's heyday. But it was a sad testament to the fact that his best days were behind him.

Only tragedy lay ahead.

image of Benny Hills as an angelThames Television, The Benny Hill Show (1969-1989)

46. His Heart Was Under Attack

Without the love of his adoring fans, Hill’s heart was beginning to give out—actually. The aging funnyman suffered a minor heart attack the same month that his reruns began to air on TV. Hill’s physicians recommended a heart bypass operation, but Hill, stubborn (aka cheap) as always, refused the surgery. He underestimated the seriousness of his condition.

It would cost him more than money.

image concept for heart attackthebigland, Shutterstock

47. He Didn’t Listen To His Doctors

Just a week after his heart attack, Hill received even more bad news—he had kidney failure. Despite the severity of his condition, he continued in his stubborn manner, declining to undergo much-needed kidney dialysis. With his health spiraling downward and his refusal to seek treatment, Hill’s friends and colleagues began to worry.

They had every right to be concerned.

image of Benny Hills at a hospital sceneThames Television, The Benny Hill Show (1969-1989)

48. He Simply Vanished

In mid-April 1992, with the shadow of the Grim Reaper hovering over him, Benny Hill completely fell off the radar. His close-knit circle of friends had not heard from him and his colleagues were left wondering about his whereabouts. His disappearance was sudden and it seemed that he had retreated far from everyone's reach. He was, truly, gone.

image of Benny Hills on the sceneThames Television, The Benny Hill Show (1969-1989)

49. He Hadn’t Gone Far

Concern arose when a neighbor picked up an unpleasant smell emanating from Flat 7 of Fairwater House, where Hill lived on the Twickenham Road in Teddington. The neighbor, certain that the odor could only mean one thing, reached out to Dennis Kirkland, Hill's long-time agent. What Kirkland found that fateful day was deeply shocking.

image of Benny HillsALLYOU Grzegorz Wasowicz, Shutterstock

50. He Left Everyone In Tears

Kirkland arrived at Hill’s flat, climbed a ladder and peered through a second-floor window. What he saw was heartbreaking; Hill was slumped on his sofa surrounded by dirty dishes, glasses, videotapes, and piles of papers. His lifeless body was blue and bloated and eerily still. Even more terrifying, a dried trail of blood had seeped from one ear.

Hill’s last joke left everyone in tears.

image of death of Benny HillsMathieu Polak, Getty Images

51. He Went Back Home

Hill's coroners cited coronary thrombosis as the cause of his ultimate demise. Hill was laid to rest at Hollybrook Cemetery, in Southampton, near his birthplace, on April 28, 1992. His tragic and unexpected passing marked the end of a comedy era that had brought laughter to millions of viewers. 

The only question was, who would inherit his legacy?

St. Mary's Church, Willsden, north, Shutterstock

52. He Still Had Millions

Hill's sizeable wealth (that he never spent), valued at approximately £16,600,000 by 2021 standards, went mostly to his parents as per his will. There was just one problem—they were six feet under the earth. Hill had not updated his will in three decades. 

Since his parents predeceased him, Hill's considerable fortune went to his only surviving relatives; seven nieces and nephews whose names he barely knew.

image of pounds moneyMakhh, Shutterstock

53. He Couldn’t Rest In Peace

In a macabre twist to Hill’s already morbid end, on October 4, 1992, grave robbers broke into his coffin. They believed, as the rumors said, that Hill had been buried with a bounty of gold and jewelry. Of course, he hadn’t—and the joke was on the robbers. To prevent any further incidents, Hill's reburied coffin was topped with a thick concrete slab, putting him to undisturbed rest.

Just as he liked it.

image of Funeral Of Benny HillMathieu Polak, Getty Images

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