Sports editor Benny Hill: funnier than the other bloke

JANINE SELF pays affectionate tribute to her former Sheffield Morning Telegraph sports editor, who died last week

Benny Hill’s favourite joke was that he was much funnier than that other bloke. To a generation of wet-behind-the-ears sports journalists, he was pretty scary too!

Benny, former sports editor of the Morning Telegraph, Sheffield, died last week at the age of 82. Supposedly he told his dear wife, Dinah, to arrange the funeral for a Monday “so the Sunday men can come”.

So next Monday it is. No doubt Dinah will spend the days until then ticking off a list of instructions left by her inimitable husband.

No one who knew Benny would be surprised. He had an almost obsessive drive for perfection and organisation. He wanted Telegraph Sport to be the best and he demanded high standards from his staff, his “bright young men.”

Quite obviously, there is a gender anomaly here, but he said it as a compliment, and I took it as one.

Benny did not want to give a “chuffing woman” a reporting job. He had previously happily employed Val Culley as a sports sub-editor, but he drew a line in the sand at a woman covering football.

So when a young, unfortunately female, journo whacked off a general letter of enquiry to the editor, Benny was less than pleased at being told to interview me.

The phone rang at midnight and my flatmate answered it. I was fast asleep when there was a bash on the door and the immortal words “Benny Hill wants to talk to you.”

Yeah, right. Sleepily, I stumbled out of bed, picked up the phone ready with a mouthful of abuse. Benny got there first.

Broad Barnsley accent and with plenty of pipe-puffing, he explained that he was under instruction to invite me for an interview but, as he wasn’t going to give a job to a chuffing woman, there would be no point me turning up, would there?

Looking back, I have no idea why I did it, but I called his bluff. On the contrary, I said, I would love to head up to South Yorkshire for a chat. Apparently, that’s when I got the job. For being pig-headed enough to travel from Sussex to Sheffield for a pointless interview.

Suffice it to say the interview was as bizarre are the telephone conversation. Most of it took place at a Sheffield cobblers while we waited for Benny’s shoes to be re-soled ” but that’s another story.

I joined the Morning Telegraph in August 1982 and had the privilege of working with some fantastic journalists. Andy Elliott would go on to be sports editor of the Press Association while Edward Chadwick became sports editor for The Sun.

All three of us were brought up on the names that went before – far too many to mention.

Benny asked for three years unremitting hard slog, then used his network of contacts to help move us on. In my case, it was a pal from the Barnsley Chronicle who just happened to be the sports editor of the Daily Mirror in Manchester!

We never quite escaped Benny’s net. Up to his death he edited the Stop Press column in the Barnsley programme, pilfering his Christmas card list to provide an opinion piece ” for free.

Once a season, regular as clockwork, Benny Hill would be on the phone again, demanding 400 words of perfection. Oh, and he was funnier than that other bloke!

□ Benny Hill was sports editor of the Morning Telegraph, Sheffield, from 1976-1986. He joined the Morning Telegraph in 1960 from the Barnsley Chronicle and edited the Stop Press section of the Barnsley match programme for 36 years until his death last week.

His funeral is at Darfield Wesley Methodist Church, Barnsley Road, Darfield on Monday, February 8 (2.15pm) and afterwards at Tankersley Manor (Church Lane, Tankersley). Family flowers only. Donations to British Red Cross Society via John Heath & Sons, Earsham Street, Sheffield, S4 7LS.

Janine Self is a sports reporter at The Sun

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