Dennis Kirkland was an English television producer and director best known for his long association with comedian Benny Hill.
Born in North Shields, England on December 2, 1942, he started out as a child actor, starring in television advertisements that aired on the then-new Independent Television upon its start-up in the 1950s. In his teens, he worked behind the scenes in the television industry, starting out as a property master for Tyne Tees Television, going on to work for the Windmill Theatre and Royal Opera House in London. by the mid-60s, he was hired by Associated TeleVision as a floor manager, where he began his friendship with Benny Hill in 1967.
In 1968, Kirkland started working as a floor manager at Thames Television, later becoming a warm-up man on "The Benny Hill Show." Over time, he directing children's shows such as "Rainbow" and "The Tomorrow People," eventually graduating to directing "What's On Next?," a British sketch comedy series. In 1979, Kirkland was reunited with Benny for much of his career as the producer and director of "The Benny Hill Show" for the rest of the shows run. With Benny, he helped create the Hill's Angels with the help of Sue Upton and convinced Benny to re-hire Bob Todd, who had been dismissed earlier in the series. Kirkland was part of the series at the height of it's popularity, but beyond the series, he also worked with the other top comics in London, including Tommy Cooper, Ken Dodd, Jim Davidson and Eric Sykes. Kirkland also produced the 1979 remake of "The Plank" with Sykes, a movie that won awards at the Montreux TV Festival.
It was during Dennis Kirkland's time with "The Benny Hill Show" that the series first became dogged by charges of sexism in the press. Kirkland's own daughter, Joanna Kirkland, joined the series to give it a more family-friendly theme, but in June 1989, John Howard Davies replaced Philip Jones, the man who had helped launch "The Benny Hill Show," as the new Head of Light Entertainment for Thames Television. Once in control of the network, Davies invited Hill and Kirkland in for a meeting on the auspices of renewing the show. Both Kirkland and Hill had just returned from a triumphant Cannes TV festival where Benny had been lauded as one of the most successful comedians in England. On their arrival, Davies spoke separately to Hill and then Kirkland that he was cancelling the series, effecting killing in one divide-and-conquer swoop one of Thames Television's most popular shows. Years later, Thames officials called it "one of the worst decisions ever made." Worse yet, the newspapers credited the cancellation to Benny Hill for ending the series, but by the following month, newspapers corrected the story to reveal how had Davies had lacklusterly dumped the show.
Following the cancellation, Kirkland continued to work with Hill for American producer Don Taffner to direct Benny Hill's World Tour: New York in 1990 for Central Independent Television. The show was going to be a pilot for a brand new series, but when neighbors called Kirkland to report that Hill's television in his London apartment was running non-stop, it was Kirkland who investigated and found Benny. He had been dead two days.
Despite Hill's death, Central went ahead with the show anyway with Kirkland directing and comedian Freddie Starr hosting. The project was panned by the critics. In 1993, Kirkland published the book, "Benny: The True Story," a memoir about his friendship with Hill. It was re-released in 2002 as "The Strange and Saucy World of Benny Hill." Kirkland continued to work in television in Britain and Ireland, but in January 2006, he was admitted to the hospital because of a low sodium count. He passed away at the age of 63 on February 16, 2006. He was survived by his second wife, two sons and a daughter, actress Joanna Kirkland.
- Dalton Abbott Railway Choir
- Pepy's Diary
- Holding Out for a Hero
- The Crook Report
- Club Chicago-Go
- The Halitosis Kid
- R. Dibble: Handyman
- The Herd
- Cagney and Lacey
- Forever Love
- The B-Team
- The Hot Shoe Show
- Talking Point
- The Monte Carbolic Show
- Big Poppa
- A Tribute to the Lower Tidmarsh Volunteer Fire Brigade
- Wonder-Gran meets Dr. Jackal and Mr. Hyde
- Name That Tune
- Butch Cafferty and the Fundance Kid
- Women's Lib Television
- The Police Raid in Waterloo Station
- Leprechaun TV