Experience piled onto experience. In 1946 he co-starred in his first big film, The Hills of Donegal.
Soon after came The Toff series. Hollywood gave him a call and with high hopes, John set out for the land of
tinsel and glamour. Initially, things looked good for the fast-rising young British actor. In one year he was
scheduled to appear in nearly a dozen films. Sadly, only one - Istanbul - was ever completed. The reason
for this upset was that the great Hollywood decline was just starting to bite. Television was, of course, the culprit.
John, being a practical man, decided the only solution was to jump onto the horse that was winning. He asked for - and
received - contractual permission to go ahead on his own and do television work.
The Challenge of live television, as it had mostly to be at that time, was immense. There was little room for mistakes
and many a lesser actor fell by the wayside in those early days. But John Bentley's decision turned up trumps.
Before very long he was in Africa, filming all thirty nine episodes of that fantastically successful TV series, African
John will tell you that his meeting with Noele Gordon was fortunate in the extreme. He felt himself almost unworthy
of the call to be interviewed by Noele in her Midland Profile TV show and will still insist now that there can't
have been many interesting people around that day!
The producer of the programme was Reg Watson and it was he who later on was chosen to produce Crossroads.
At first, the Crossroads characters were kept at a fairly local level. But when the idea came up to bring another man
into Meg Richardson's life, it was decided he was to be a little more worldly. And so Hugh Mortimer was created.
But who was to play him? Reg and Noele's minds went back to the chat show and - of course! - who better than John
Bentley, a man with superb acting ability and world-wide experience. John agreed to play the part and the famous relationship
began ... from then on, it was Hugh and Meg!
John Bentley takes up the story: "When I first came into Crossroads I'd already been in the business for quite
a number of years and I'd been in many tight spots in my time. I shall never forget, however, my first day's rehearsal.
It was snowing and I had tonsilitis - in fact, to put no finer point on it, I felt absolutely dreadful. Then I took
a look at the schedule. The work load was staggering and I just felt like going home!" Luckily for Crossroads
fans, he didn't.
John sees Hugh Mortimer's character as being very different to his own. He insists that he possesses little of
the gambling instinct - or even the business flair - that so personifies the tough, uncompromising personality of Hugh.
However, now, he feels that time has rubbed away a few of the rough edges and that some of the John Bentley character is showing
Naturally, there can be problems when appearing in a series like Crossroads. Many viewers follow the story
with such conviction that they find it hard at times to separate fiction from reality. John had his first taste of this
when he was about to undertake his first-ever appearance as a solo artist. He recounts: "During one of the popularity
streaks when things were swinging between Meg and Hugh, a certain gentleman engaged me for a couple of night's cabaret.
He didn't really know if I could do anything and for that matter, he probably didn't care. He just hired me because
Hugh was a popular character."
John liked the idea. It had been some years since he'd had the opportunity of singing, and the thought of two nights
of cabaret appealed to him. "I'd been written out of the programme for a month o two, and I must say that I don't as
a habit watch it every evening. Anyway, one day while I was working in the garden the phone rang and it was the promoter.
He said to me, 'Do you know that Hugh Mortimer's done the dirty on Meg?' Well I didn't, but it gradually dawned on me
that Hugh had obviously just erred badly in some way and with my television image in grave danger of falling disastrously
in the popularity stakes, the man wanted to cancel the engagement."