Alfred Hawthorn Hill (21 January 1924 – 18 April 1992), better known as Benny Hill, was a prolific English comic, actor and singer, best known for his television programme, The Benny Hill Show.
Alfred "Alfie" Hill was born in Southampton, where he and his brother attended Tauntons School. During the Second World War Hill was one of the scholars evacuated with the school to Bournemouth School, East Way, Bournemouth. After leaving Tauntons School, Hill worked variously as a milkman in Eastleigh, bridge operator, driver and 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. Benny'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.
Between the end of the war and the dawn of television, he worked as a radio performer. His first appearance on television was in 1949 in the television programme 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 1968, except for a few isolated sojourns with ITV station ATV in 1957–1960 and again in 1967. He also had a short-lived radio programme, Benny Hill Time, which ran on BBC Radio's Light Programme service from 1964 to 1966. In addition, he attempted a sitcom anthology, Benny Hill, which ran for three series 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. In 1969, his show moved from the BBC to Thames Television, where The Benny Hill Show remained until its cancellation in 1989, with an erratic schedule of one-hour specials
Benny Hill's film credits include parts in nine films including Who Done It? (1956); 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 TV shows (1969–73), called The Best of Benny Hill (1974). Hill's audio recordings include Gather in the Mushrooms, (1961), Pepys' Diary (song), (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, was the UK Singles Chart Christmas number one single in 1971.
Charlie Chaplin, who died in 1977, was an avid fan of Hill's work: Hill had earlier discovered that his childhood idol Chaplin was a fan when he was invited to Chaplin's home in Switzerland by Chaplin's family and discovered that Chaplin had a vast collection of Benny's work on video. Apparently, Hill and Dennis Kirkland were the first people outside the family to be invited into Chaplin's private study.
Hill's health began to decline in the early 1990s. He suffered heart problems, and on 11 February 1992, doctors told him that he needed to lose weight, and recommended a heart bypass. He declined, and was diagnosed a week later with renal failure.
Benny Hill died on or about 18 April 1992 (Easter weekend), alone in his flat at 7 Fairwater House, Twickenham Road, Teddington, at the age of 68. On 21 April, concerned neighbours had called the police, who then found Hill, deceased, sitting in his armchair in front of the television. On the day that Benny Hill died, a new contract arrived in the post to him from Central Independent Television.
The cause of death was listed as coronary thrombosis. (His death closely coincided with that of another British comedy icon, Frankie Howerd, who died on 19 April aged 75). Ironically a canned obituary appeared in a couple of newspapers on 20 April, with Hill saying that he and Howerd were "Great friends".
He was buried at Hollybrook Cemetery near his birthplace in Southampton. 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 within it, and consequently, only the culprits know for sure whether anything valuable was inside. Hill was re-buried with a new coffin lid and a solid slab placed across the top of the grave (info edited from Wikipedia)