Benny Hill (Entertainer)
(Alfred Hawthorne Hill)
b. 21 Jan 1924 – d. 19 Apr 1992
British Army 1944-1947
(World War II, Driver/Mechanic, Europe)
Benny Hill was drafted into the British Army (Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers) as a mechanic and arrived in Normandy 1 September 1944. He was a searchlight operator for the Third Light Anti-Aircraft Searchlight Battery which landed at the famous Mulberry floating harbors. From there they were sent to Dunkirk where a pocket of 7,000 Germans had been bypassed. Though they nicknamed the area 'buzz bomb alley' they saw little action, though a few men were killed while on guard duty.
Hill was not a natural soldier. In training he developed a bad case of 'guardsman's foot' and he never did get the hang of driving. But his sense of humor was as sharp as ever. When his sergeant asked him what a 'fine sight' was, he replied, 'Two dinners on one plate.'
He was eventually transferred to Germany and began entertaining, ending up in the production 'Stars in Battledress'.
The popular story that the Army discovered him was dismissed by Benny when he wrote: "No, the Army did not discover me. In fact, when I was in Germany with an entertainment unit, the officer in charge took a dim view of my style and insisted on compering the show himself. Most of my time was spent lumbering huge wicker baskets and crates of stage props."
However, not everyone took a dim view of Benny's act and a sergeant by the name of Harry Segal, who had been an old pro of the music halls since childhood spotted something that he liked about Benny's performance. He encouraged a downhearted Benny to persevere and gave him confidence with gentle encouragement. During an outbreak of influenza, which had hit the unit, Segal ordered Benny out onto stage to do a solo act. Among the audience was a Colonel Richard Stone, in charge of Combined Service Entertainment throughout Europe. After the war Stone became Benny's life-long friend and agent.
Hill admitted to hating his actual service, claiming that there was always someone above you to shout, 'You're an 'orrible dozy little man. What are you?' 'I'm a horrible dozy little man, sergeant.' He later summed up his service with, 'I was five years in the army and never got a stripe.'