Mortimer reveals secret, lonely life of Benny Hill

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The Independent Online

Sir John Mortimer, creator of Rumpole of the Bailey, has written a television screenplay chronicling the life of the comedian Benny Hill.

Sir John Mortimer, creator of Rumpole of the Bailey, has written a television screenplay chronicling the life of the comedian Benny Hill.

Matt Lucas, the star of cult comedy Little Britain, is being lined up to play Hill, tracing his development as a comedian from childhood and examining the personal foibles which remained secret until his death at 68.

"Like all comics, he was a very lonely, strange person," Sir John said. The BBC is planning a series on the lives of several comics, including Tommy Cooper and Spike Milligan.

Despite Hill's trademark smutty humour and troupe of pretty young females, Hill's Angels, a cause of his loneliness was his lack of success with women, Sir John said.

"He fantasised about all those girls ... I think he tried to be cheerful but I don't think he had much luck with girls and he had this incredible mean streak," he said.

"His mantelpiece was full of the cheques he never cashed. He died alone in this awful little flat and nobody realised he was dead until they smelt him."

Sir John's famous creation, the barrister Horace Rumpole, inhabited a very different world from Hill, but the writer believes they are similar characters.

"It's a sad comedy, which is what I specialise in, eccentrics like Rumpole," Sir John said. "I very much enjoyed doing it."

Alfred Hawthorn Hill was born in Southampton on 21 January, 1924. His ITV sketch comedy, The Benny Hill Show, ran for 20 years from 1969 to 1989. He was the most popular British comedian to appear on US television where his show was syndicated from 1979.

His series were sold in more than 90 countries, including Russia and China. He died without making a will and a Channel 4 documentary about what happened to his £7m fortune, Who Got Benny's Millions?, had nearly four million viewers.

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