Last laughs from Benny Hill's school of humour: Ostracised at home, the comedian received a warm reception in the US. David Lister reports

BENNY HILL'S last sketch. It sounds like the title of a depressive piece of fringe theatre. But in fact it is exactly what it says, the last piece of comedy recorded by Hill shortly before his death in 1992, and not yet seen in Britain.

The comedian, though, was indeed depressed. His executive producer, Don Taffner, said yesterday that Hill was suffering from melancholy in between the bouts of filming, dejected by the way he had been refused access to the airwaves in Britain - the victim of a prevailing political correctness.

The setting of Hill's last sketches is untypical, a bar on the South Street seaport in New York where many of the familiar music- hall style gags take place.

In another sketch he is chased by a bevy of young women, again a typical and admittedly flagging ending to his shows, but this time the park is Central Park. Ostracised by British television, Hill wrote and filmed his final sketches in New York. The comedian made two half-hour shows for American audiences a few months before his heart attack. The first, under the title, Benny Hill Unseen, will be shown tonight on ITV, the second next month.

Mr Taffner, the American television executive who produced the shows, said yesterday: 'Benny was very happy during the filming but terribly melancholy as soon as it had finished. He really felt hurt the way he was treated in the UK.'

The comedy in the last Benny Hill sketches is overall fairly typical of the visual gags of his later years, but there are throwbacks to the more intellectually inventive Hill. For his American audience he indulges in a parody of Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire. He plays both the Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh parts, with evident parodies of both. Again the humour is of the music hall variety. 'There's not even a lock on the lavatory.' 'What's the difference? There's nothing worth stealing.'

The television sketches were the first the comedian made outside the United Kingdom, and were intended for a series, Benny Hill's World Tour, which was never completed. These sketches take place in New York. Others were planned for Australia and the far east. In 1991, when the sketches were filmed, British television had made Hill an outcast.

Thames Television refused to make any more shows even though they were by far its biggest earning exports with Benny Hill being watched in almost every country in the world. Accusations of sexism had frightened television executives into dropping Hill from the schedules.

The idea of taping a series in the United States was suggested to Hill by Mr Taffner. He told him American fans wanted to see him in an American setting. Hill was doubtful.

Mr Taffner recalls the comedian telling him: 'I want the subject of our sketches to be part of US culture. After all.

'There are certain words that are perfectly innocent in England, but can be very objectionable when used in America,' though he added almost bitterly, 'American audiences have more enthusiasm than their British counterparts and they're not afraid to show it.'

The programmes which have been shown in the US received rave reviews there. As well as Hill's regular cast, they include the actress, Lee Meredith, and Joey Faye, a star of American vaudeville since the Thirties.

Ironically, the mini-Hill revival comes just after the critically acclaimed West End opening of the play Dead Funny which tells of a Dead Funny Society, an obsessive group of Benny Hill worshippers.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
tech
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
life
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions