In the second of our series 'Where Are They Now?', we turn to a figure who in actual fact was a much-loved national treasure over many years, but who in recent times has amazingly failed to register even as a pothole on the 'Sat Nav' of the nation's collective psyche. After much research, and the calling in of numerous sexual favours, I eventually managed to discover the fate of the one and, thank God, only, Benny Hawkins.
For those whose memory is shorter than Nicolas Sarkozy in socks, Benny was the loveable clod who, between 1975 and 1988 had the primary function of trying, (and invariably failing), to make Brummies look intelligent at 'Crossroads', a West Midlands motel with something of the flavour of a downmarket 'Ibis'. Having contracted Benny for initially six months only, in return for as many horse manure food parcels as any human stomach could possibly digest without exploding, television company ATV/Central must have soiled their corporate pants when the rubber-lipped barrel of lard stole the show, and millions of viewers tuned in every night over several years to find out whether Diane Hunter WAS going to lose her mind and agree to marry him.
When the series effectively ended in 1988, Benny apparently found that his peculiar talent for making people scratch their heads and ask themselves whether it was his hat or whatever was between his ears that contained the most wool. In actual fact, it was not a question that demanded much thought in the answering.
A representative of his agency Dimwit Solutions told me that following the axing of 'Crossroads', Benny initially went into mime. He would stand by lamp standards, post boxes, litter bins, and in fact anything inanimate, and spend hours imitating it. "He was a master at the genre," said Lenny Lumpmerchant of Dimwit Solutions. "He was what you would called a 'method mimer'; he would 'become' the tree, the fence, the toilet door. An absolute master of his art. Sadly, it was not an art much in demand at the time."
However, his dedication to his art, and his willingness to do things that would drive people insane with boredom within 18 seconds, led Benny to Honey Farm, where he was employed for several years as a scarecrow in a field used for growing all manner of root vegetables.
But underneath that mild exterior, all was not going well. Lenny Lumpmaster takes up the story. "I'm afraid he went from Honey Farm to the Funny Farm," said Lumpmaster, shaking his head sadly. "The poor guy just couldn't handle the pressure of being a scarecrow. Standing around all day, strapped to a four by two piece of timber crossbeam was too much for him. Farmer Honey found him in the field one day, singing the Queen classic 'I Want To Break Free' in a falsetto voice."
Several months later, in the mid-1990's, and under the influence of a variety of prescription medication, Benny was back looking for work. He successfully applied for the role of trainee punchbag to legendary British heavyweight boxing comedian Frank Bruno, a demanding role that involved Benny climbing daily into a large leather bag, being strung up in a sweaty gym, and thereafter being punched repeatedly and very hard for several hours every day by someone who was, at least, his intellectual equal.
It was this role that was, ultimately, to prove the turning point in Benny's life. When he was let out of the bag, several years later, it was discovered that the repeated punching had knocked so much sense into him that his IQ had skyrocketed from single digits to 278! Suddenly, not only could he add up to five using his fingers, but he was able to do calculus and logarithms without the aid of a safety net. In 2002, Benny obtained 92 GCSE's, 34 A Levels, six degrees in applied Mathematics, and, bringing us right up to date, in 2007 he was made Emeritus Professor of Astrophysics at Trinity College, Cambridge.
Which explains why, when I eventually managed to catch up with Professor Benjamin Hawkins during a whistle-stop lecturing tour of Ivy League universities in North America, I was unable to understand a single word he said. 'Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose', as they say in DeliFrance.