Britain has long boasted – if that's the right word – a series of comedy stars who managed to create the brightest of performance worlds yet lived a private life in contrasting darkness: Tony Hancock, Frankie Howerd and Kenneth Williams spring to mind.

However, the prize for the classic paradoxical life must go to Benny Hill, who died in 1992 and is now featured in a new stage show coming to Glasgow’s Tron Theatre. Written by and starring Grant Smeaton, Whatever Happened To Benny Hill? is a tale of extreme public adulation and criticism – and private sadness.

Even as a schoolboy, born in 1924 in Southampton, Alfie Hill wasn’t remarkable enough to be defined as a shy loner. Instead, the youngster whose TV shows would eventually be broadcast in 100 countries was the epitome of ordinariness.

In public, that is. Behind closed doors the man who would become Benny (in tribute to Jack Benny, and the belief that a Jewish-sounding name would provide success by association) would wear ridiculous outfits in drag in order to garner laughs.

Alfie Hill’s personal backdrop was certainly designed for (black) comedy. His egotistical, oafish, bullying dad, who insisted his children address him as The Captain, was a small shop-owning condom exporter whose shop counter featured a giant wooden phallus for demonstration purposes.

Psychologists could later surmise that young Alfie, a classic mummy’s boy, was perhaps intimidated by the teak organ. While mesmerised by the near-naked female chorus girl form he saw as a 12-year-old in backstage visits to the ever-so seductive variety shows of the 1930s (he ignored the cold dressing rooms and cracked mirrors), the adult Hill would avoid sexual intercourse.

And, in perhaps a classic case of self-protection, he’d only “fall” for females who were way beyond his reach.

Young Hill, however, deemed ultimate personal satisfaction would derive from audience laughter and so studied the comedy greats of the period.

The problem was that when it came to performing, he just wasn’t funny.

At 16 he came second in a local talent competition to a boy who ate razor blades and sewed buttons on to his face.

However, after leaving school he began to amuse the girls who worked beside him in Woolworths, and later the housewives to whom he delivered milk. But by the time he entered theatre as a dogsbody, appearing across the country until the draft board caught up with him, he still couldn’t win over an audience. They were often enraged by his tentative delivery and appalling material. When he once sang “A: you’re adorable, B: you’re so beautiful”, a heckler shouted “C: you’re a ****”.

Some audience members threw nails on to the stage to prevent him going down on one knee for his (execrable) Al Jolson impression.

Yet there’s a school of thought that argues Hill’s early comedy was at times too clever for the variety audience. Sometimes surreal and satirical, it was influenced by the likes of Jacques Tati, and indeed Hill, who became fluent in French, would travel to Paris to watch comedy and steal gags.

Later on television in the 1950s, he would pre-date Monty Python’s Dead Parrot sketch, in which he passed off a stuffed duck as a parrot, blaming its condition on “shrinkage”.

Television became his salvation. “He didn’t need to project, and could develop his ingenious and pointed flair for silent comedy,” said a critic at the time. “And his cheesy, saucy, pseudo-variety act, with jokes notoriously stolen from other comedians, particularly Americans, somehow attained a spruceness and an archness that it had never had live.”

There’s no doubt audiences loved Hill, whose show attracted 20 million viewers by the 1970s, while Thames Television made £20 million per year flogging his shows to the US. Yet, by the late 1980s, Hill had upped the sexual content in an attempt to beat Kenny Everett at his own game (Hill’s dance troupe was named Hot Gossamer) and the audiences dropped to (a still significant) 12m.

The critical onslaught increased, led by feminists and PC flag-wavers such as Ben Elton. Hill’s classic park chase sketch in which he’d pursue a scantily dressed woman while his Yakkety Sax theme played in the background was regarded as sexist and pervy, even though producer Dennis Kirland protested that the women always came out on top. It didn’t matter that acts such as French and Saunders at the time contained a high sex content. A fearful Thames dropped the Benny Hill Show.

Of course, the comedy chase scenes were a metaphor for Hill’s tragic personal life: despite being an international success, he failed to win over women he adored, instead settling for “factory girls” whom he’d invite to his almost bare bachelor home and offer poached eggs on toast and cheap lingerie in return for fellatio.

Bob Monkhouse revealed that his emotionally stunted friend liked the factory girls because they would call him “Mr Hill” and be “respectful”.

Was Benny Hill truly a comedy great? Charlie Chaplin and Greta Garbo believed he was. Sadly, we remember him most for his Fred Scuttle beret and close-up shots of young ladies’ backsides. Had he lived on, there’s little doubt Hill would have been reinvented in the eyes of the public, particularly since the likes of Little Britain and Catherine Tate’s series proved every bit as saucy.

Ironically, the day he died alone in his spartan flat a new contract offer arrived from Central TV. It was the only possible ending for a tragi-comedian.

Whatever Happened To Benny Hill? is at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow, July 20-23