Louise English tells Viv Hardwick about her days as one of Benny Hill’s Angels as she prepares to co-star with David Essex in new musical, All The Fun Of The Fair, which tours to Darlington.

AT 16, Louise English gained national fame by becoming one of the scantily-clad Hill’s Angels being chased or chasing Benny Hill in the Benny Hill Show before his style of comedy was unceremoniously dumped by ITV in 1989.

She went on to become one of Hill’s leading ladies in sketches and forged a rare friendship with the comedian, who went down in history as dying alone in the front of the television in 1992, aged 68.

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English, whose early break was the role of a ballerina in the classic 1976 children’s film, Bugsy Malone, has moved on to musicals, was recently seen in Hello Dolly! with Anita Dobson and Darren Day, and returns to Darlington’s Civic Theatre next week in All The Fun Of The Fair with David Essex.

Looking back, she adamantly denies that Benny Hill was the sad and introverted character portrayed in the media.

“Lovely Benny. He was a very professional man to work with and extremely funny and a very sensitive man. He was a super guy,” she says.

In 2002, Channel 4 made a programme called Who Got Benny Hill’s Millions? which claimed there was a mystery about what happened to the £7m of the £10m estate left by the comedian.

“I don’t think the money disappeared and I don’t think there was a ‘sadness of the clown’ side to him. He was sensitive and I don’t think he was introverted. He wasn’t lonely, he was very happy and just loved his work and was just a normal, lovely person. He just kept himself to himself and didn’t go to any showbizzy parties and I suppose that’s why people didn’t get to know him.

Then people make things up and it was presumed that he lost all his money and presumed he was lonely. He wasn’t at all. I believe he left lots behind and his family did very well.

“They’ve also done lovely programmes about him on TV and he was very much loved by the people who worked with him. It certainly didn’t do my career any harm,” says English.

The story goes that her name was on a list of friends that Hill made with nominated amounts of money. The note was vague as to its intention and unsigned, so Hill’s millions were shared among seven nephews and nieces.

Although Hill’s work is seldom repeated on UK TV, he remains tremendously popular in the US, Australia and Europe.

Looking forward, the Londoner feels excited about bringing a new show to the stage, especially when she’s been cast as David Essex’s love interest.

“It’s so exciting. You’ve picked a very good time to speak to me because we’re minutes away from dress rehearsal and we open at Darlington next week.

“All David’s songs was given to Jon Coway (the Scarboroughbased boss of entertainment group Qudos) and he wrote a play around them ensuring that there was a reason for each one to be there. It’s cleverly done and songs like Hold Me Close are used well. I think the fans will like it because they’ll know everything he’s put on record,”

she says.

English plays Rosa, a clairvoyant, who starts the show off by foretelling a dangerous future and revealing that she’s in love with Levi Lee, the widower and funfair owner played by David Essex.

For younger musical fans, there’s a love story between Rosa’s daughter, Mary (Emma Thornett) and Levi’s son Jack (Paul-Ryan Carberry).

When I point out that a few thousand women would probably want to be ahead of Rosa in the queue for Essex, she bursts into laughter.

“He’s fabulous to work with and so professional. He knows exactly how he wants things on stage. I’d never met him before this tour and it’s nice to work with someone so nice. He’s so charming and good-looking, but I haven’t quite fallen into the personal fan club away from the stage,” English jests.

She is definitely a fan of Darlington because of its mix of shops and restaurants and is looking forward to the Civic Friends’ group welcome which makes the venue one of the best in the country.

■ All The Fun Of The Fair, Darlington Civic Theatre, Monday-Saturday, Box Office: 01325-486-555