Damien on… The Real Benny Hill?
The following is largely speculative. But as Benny cannot sue (being dead) here goes…
Having been born a little less than thirty years after Benny, I watched his rise, plateau and eventual fall – as it happened.
But the one thing that has always interested me – and which appears to have been overlooked by everyone else – is the fact he spent a lot of time GLOBETROTTING.
When interviewed (rarely) he claimed he travelled incognito, for the opportunity to “people-watch” – to get material for his shows.
However, I believe the TRUTH was somewhat different…
Benny’s formative years were spent in a period – only interrupted by WW2 – of great repression, in Britain.
And it was this period that shaped him. It gave him a FEAR of actual CONTACT with the fairer sex, from which he developed his “nudge-nudge” McGill style of humour.
After a grounding in live performing – which he hated – he started on radio. But the new medium of television was made for him. And so, during the Fifties, he slowly mastered its possibilities.
By the Sixties, he was a major star. But whilst that era is assumed, by those who were not there, to have been the height of sexual freedom – said freedom was in fact a long time coming.
Yes, The Pill came on line in 1960 – but at that time, it was only available to married women over 25, who had had at least one child.
And the miniskirt did not catch on until 1968.
Plus, relaxation of film censorship did not arrive until ’69.
Thus Benny’s early successes – at a time when British society was still pretty up-tight – were achieved using a style of sketch-humour that was actually fairly SOPHISTICATED. But now, you would have to be in your DOTAGE to remember those series.
For most people today, Benny Hill is that old geezer being chased around by scantily-clad girls, in time-lapse, to the tune of “Yakety Sax” – however, those pieces did not begin until the Seventies.
And it was at this time, freed from the necessity of live performing (he was now RICH) that multi-lingual Benny began filling the time between series with his world-wanderings.
People-watching, to get material for his shows – hmm.
The thing is, being myself a big-time comedy fan, I soon became aware that Benny was PLAGIARISING a lot of his material.
It was understandable – the voracious demands of TV were forcing him to come up with ever more stuff – and in those days, gags were pretty much public domain. Only in the Eighties, did British comics start writing their own “custom-made” material.
Therefore, I suspect that most of his people-watching took place in the rooms of small hotels in foreign countries – where, in those days, he would have been free to register under an assumed name. And the people he watched there – were comics on local TV.
I recall how a lot of his stolen material that I recognised was taken from obscure, foreign shows – that would have been unknown to most of the mainstream British TV audiences of that time.
So who knows how much MORE material came from foreign sources that no-one – not even ME – would be familiar with?
The fact is, much of his comedy is essentially SILENT – meaning that material could have come from ANYWHERE.
This would have enabled him to insert the plethora of SIGHT-GAGS in the scripted sketches supplied by the various series’ scriptwriters – which DEFINED his later style.
Foreign TV comedy is generally FILLED with such material – and it TRAVELS. It is ironic that Chaplin was one of his biggest fans, given that he too created VISUAL comedy, which sold world-wide (then again, Chaplin’s material was NOT PINCHED).
All of which means that Benny’s comedy series, so successful around the World, were largely created from material OBTAINED there – he was selling snow to the eskimos.
And then there was his sex-life.
Little is known about Benny’s actual relationships with women. It seems they were few in number and ended badly. He is on record as having proposed to three women – being turned down by all of them.
And so he reverted to those available to him, in The Business.
Former dancers on his shows have now come forward with stories of their encounters with him. But not for Benny the blissful simplicity of a roll in the hay.
No, he preferred just being “pleasured” – or pleasuring himself, while they turned him on. Again, that ball-crushing mid-twentieth-century British repression – the man might actually have died a VIRGIN.
But I believe those dancers were merely the tip of the iceberg.
In those small, foreign hotels, Benny would only have had to pass miniscule quantities of his considerable fortune to porters and they would have provided girls of any age, for his entertainment.
Although his fear of actual sex meant that the entertainment would likely have been limited to hand-jobs and the like. But how OLD might those girls have been?
In his last series, a young girl was featured heavily – whom Benny obviously ADORED.
Doubtless, she was chaperoned. But in the Sixties and Seventies, many foreign countries were WIDE OPEN for those with money to obtain discrete encounters with SERIOUSLY under-aged girls.
Apparently, Thailand was one of Benny’s favourite haunts.
Of course today, said girls would be unlikely to recall him in those far off days. Even though Benny’s shows continue to be screened around the World, if a few DID recognise him – being now probably settled down, they would have nothing to gain by telling their stories.
So it seems that “Operation Yewtree” will have to FOREGO the pleasure of adding Benny to its roster, that currently includes Gary Glitter (inevitably) Freddie Starr, Dave Lee Travis, Max Clifford, Jim Davidson, Rolf Harris, Stuart Hall and the execrable Jimmy Savile.
[for another take on Benny – checkout my Zen brother’s piece – http://corneliusatloppers.wordpress.com/2009/05/22/cornelius-on-benny-hill/]