It has not been seen on TV screens for nearly 20 years despite having been one of Britain’s most watched programme and exported to half of the world’s countries.
But now The Benny Hill Show – famous in the 1970s for the comedian’s slapstick character chasing scantily-clad young women, but threatened by the ‘cancel culture’ of the modern age – has made a surprise comeback on a nostalgia channel.
The show, which consisted of short and often risqué comedy sketches, made Hill a huge star on first the BBC and then ITV, airing for four decades from 1955.
But Hill was dumped by broadcaster Thames in 1989 amid fears from executives that his raucous and racy sense of humour were seen by some as sexist and vulgar.
The rights to Hill’s TV shows were controlled following his death in 1992 by his estate and Thames TV and had not been licensed to any UK broadcaster since then.
But a series of re-runs which began last night now form part of the festive schedule on Freeview channel That’s TV Gold, renamed That’s TV Christmas for the season.
The long-running Benny Hill Show consisted of short and often risqué comedy sketches
The Benny Hill Show was famous for his character chasing scantily-clad young women
Hill was dumped by broadcaster Thames in 1989 amid fears from executives that his raucous and racy sense of humour were seen by some as sexist and vulgar
A series of Benny Hill re-runs which began last night now form part of the festive schedule on Freeview channel That’s TV Gold, renamed That’s TV Christmas for the season
The channel, also available on Sky and Freesat, launched under its new name at 9pm last night with a double bill of The Benny Hill Show – the first in a seven-week run.
TV specials from Kenny Everett, Mike Yarwood, Tommy Cooper and the Carry On team are also on the schedule, alongside rare repeats of prank show Beadle’s About.
Long-lost episode of Morecambe and Wise will air this Christmas
One series that is still a regular on TV screens at Christmas is Morecambe and Wise, but a new long-long episode is set to bring fans a treat this year.
The BBC are set to screen the old episode next month after it was found in an attic by Eric Morecambe’s son Gary, 65, inside a film canister marked only with a BBC stamp.
Comedy duo Morecambe and Wise
It has only ever been shown once before more than 50 years ago on October 8, 1970 when it was watched by an audience of 14million.
But the 45-minute film has now been restored and colourised by BBC experts, and contains sketches with songs and music from Paul Anka, Patricia Lambert and Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen.
A BBC source told the Daily Mirror: ‘We were so excited to hear that this episode, long considered lost, still exists. This should be a real Christmas treat for comedy fans. It’s an absolute delight.’
Hill has been cited as one of the first victims of ‘political correctness’ when his slapstick gags and cross-dressing became uncomfortable viewing for some viewers nearly two decades ago.
At the time Thames pulled the plug, the comic had earned the company an estimated £100million and his final episode attracted 9.58million viewers.
Hill was born ‘Alfred Hall’ in 1925 in Southampton and was remembered by his relatives and schoolfriends as the ‘class clown’.
He dropped out of school as a teenager and worked as a milkman before serving in the British Army during the Second World War as a mechanic with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.
While the conflict continued, he enjoyed entertaining troops in variety shows and adopted his stage name, Benny Hill, in homage to comedian Jack Benny.
After the war, Hill performed in London music halls and got his break in TV after comparing a BBC entertainment show.
His programme aired from December 1962 to December 1968 on the BBC, and from December 1969 to May 1989 on ITV, before re-runs took place until 1992.
At his height of his fame more Britons tuned in to watch Benny Hill than the moon landing and the comedian won his first of many awards in 1954 when voted TV Personality of the Year.
The Benny Hill Show received a total of 11 awards during his time with ITV and his shows were exported to more than 140 countries.
A string of modern comedians have hailed Hill’s influence on them. TV star David Walliams previously said in 2017 he wished Hill was ‘celebrated more on TV’.
Comedian Tim Vine from Not Going Out has claimed to have kept all his old Benny Hill VHS tapes, saying: ‘I never tire of it, and I think he’s hugely underrated.’
And the late Caroline Aherne, writer of sitcom The Royale Family, told a Channel 4 documentary in 1998: ‘I loved Benny Hill so much’.
And comedian Ben Miller of Armstrong and Miller fame said: ‘His early work was ground-breaking. He is the most successful comedian on a world-wide stage that Britain has ever produced.’
Hill, whose health declined in the 1980s, is pictured an ITV annual garden party in 1982
The Benny Hill Show received a total of 11 awards during the comedian’s time with ITV
At his height of his fame more Britons tuned in to watch Benny Hill than the moon landing
The Benny Hill Show programme aired from December 1962 to December 1968 on the BBC
When Hill died, US actor Jack Lemmon said: ‘In recent years my favourite comedian above all was Benny Hill, who was a master in his field.
‘Most comedians deliver a barrage of powder puffs; Benny gave you a cannon shot.’
Hill’s health declined in the late 1980s and he died of coronary thrombosis aged 68 in in Teddington, South West London, two months after suffering a mild heart attack.
Kris Vaiksalu, That’s TV Christmas head of programming, said: ‘We are excited to have secured the rights to two of the biggest shows in British TV history, The Benny Hill Show and Beadle’s About, for our seasonal rebrand this year.
‘These shows are part of our national cultural heritage. Watching age-old comedy is a national Christmas tradition but for two decades these particular favourites have been missing from the festivities.
‘We all need some festive cheer following the past year. Our viewers have inundated us with requests to show Benny Hill and we’re thrilled to be able to make this Christmas wish come true.’
He continued: ‘But there are lots more crackers on That’s TV Christmas. We’ve lined up a Christmas TV nostalgia-fest with some of the most famous names in TV and music from the past four decades.
The channel will show programmes from the Carry On team (Carry On Doctor in 1968, above)
Other shows in the coming weeks include Beadle’s About, the hidden camera show presented by prankster Jeremy Beadle, which ran from 1986 for 20 years
TV specials from Tommy Cooper will also feature on That’s TV Christmas in the coming weeks
‘We aim to give our viewers a special Christmas time full of magical memories. You better watch out… because Benny Hill and Jeremy Beadle are back on your telly this Christmas!’
Other shows in the coming weeks include Beadle’s About, the hidden camera show presented by prankster Jeremy Beadle, which ran from 1986 for ten years.
The Benny Hill Show is showing on That’s TV Christmas for seven weeks, available on Freeview channels 91 and 264, Sky channel 187 and Freesat channel 178