Benny Lee, entrepreneur and showman

Benny Lee holding model of the S.S. Brighton, 1959
Image scanned from the collection of Trevor Chepstow, Sports Stadium Brighton Archive

Benny Lee will be best remembered as Brighton’s premier sporting entrepreneur and showman. His reputation rests almost entirely on the time he ran the Sports Stadium in Brighton and made it the premier ice hockey town in England.

He was born in Notting Hill, the son of Harry Lee, who promoted boxing at the Royal Albert Hall. His elder brother Harry was a speed skater and his younger brother, Sydney, was billiards and snooker champion of Great Britain. Benny’s sporting talents were apparent from the start, as he followed in his brother’s footsteps by taking up roller-skating.

Champion roller skater and ice skater
In 1927 he became the amateur half-mile speed roller skating champion and later became the half-mile champion of the world. In 1928 he won the European championship at the Ville de Vere Stadium in Paris. One of Benny’s more unusual feats was the time he roller-skated from Hyde Park, London, to Brighton. He covered the distance in exactly four hours, an amazing feat even by today’s standards, but particularly remarkable considering the state of the roads in 1927.

His next career move was to apply for the position of ice skating instructor and floor manager at Streatham Ice Rink. This was a bold move, considering that at the time he couldn’t skate on ice! This minor hiccup was soon put right as he went on to win the London professional ice championship. He finally became General Manager in 1938. After his demob from the RAF he returned to the rink to continue the job of getting the rink back into shape after the war.

Turning the Sports Stadium into a goldmine
In 1951 he took up the appointment of General Manager at the Sports Stadium in Brighton. The Sports Stadium was home to the famous “Brighton Tigers” ice hockey team and was famed for its spectacular ice shows, produced by the impresario Tom Arnold. Benny quickly turned the Stadium, which had been losing £900 a week, into a goldmine and in 1957 was made a director.

In the forthcoming years the rich and famous beat a path to the stadium’s door and Benny Lee was always there to greet them. Always immaculately dressed in his mohair dinner suit, and never without a Havana cigar, his famous trademark, Benny epitomised the “Beau Brummel” image of the best-dressed man in a town of well-dressed men. His wife Gola was never far from his side, every inch the perfect hostess.

The S.S., as it was known locally, was the Mecca for sport and entertainment in the South of England. The 4,000-seater stadium was packed for years as the great “Brighton Tigers” won every accolade there was to win in the field of ice hockey. Spectator violence was unknown, the only aggression coming from the competing teams on the ice. Benny’s talent and entrepreneurial skills had turned the rink into one of the most famous venues in England. His talent for recognising what the public wanted has never been repeated by anyone else in the town to this day.

Even after the rink closed in 1965, Benny Lee’s determination to succeed never dimmed. His legacy to the town was his ability to promote Brighton as one of the great sporting towns in Britain. At the age of 86 his days of showmanship finally came to an end. His likes are sadly missing from the town today!

Comments about this page

  • My aunt, Eileen Whybrow, was personal secretary to Benny in the early 1960s, and I met him several times as a child. He would ‘arrange’ for me to win the jackpot on the fruit machine he then kept in his office! I often skated at the S.S. and watched wrestling by Dale Martin Promotions when the ice was boarded over to make way for the wrestling ring. As a memory today, I have in my possession a boxed medal from the British Ice Hockey Association (National League) engraved ‘1957 – 58 WINNERS BRIGHTON TIGERS B. LEE’.

    By Steven Booth (24/08/2006)
  • Hi Steven
    I would love to see the medal you have!

    Sports Stadium Brighton Archive

    By Trevor Chepstow (19/03/2007)
  • I remember Benny Lee with great affection from the early 70s when I worked in the car wash underneath Kingsway Court where he parked his car. He was always polite and generous and a true gentleman…..fond memories indeed.

    By Rod (05/03/2008)
  • My Dad was a Brighton Tiger in the 40s’ His name is Lee Thorne. He is probably one of the very few that are still living. He resides in London, Ontario Canada. He’s heard that they will be opening a new arena and he is excited to hear this news.

    By Gillian Benoit (03/04/2008)
  • Dear Trevor Chepstow, I have only just read your note dated last March (sorry!). I have several Brighton Tigers programmes and paper decals, Ice Show programmes (one dated Christmas 1945) with some blank letter headed paper from the SS and a telegram from Benny to my Aunt as well as the medal mentioned before. You are welcome to have them for your archive, if you can contact me and I’ll arrange to send them to you. Best wishes, Steven Booth.

    By Steven Booth (27/11/2008)
  • Regarding the above post, my correct email address is:

    By Steven Booth (03/12/2008)
  • I have nothing but pure nostalgia and admiration for the dear old Sports Stadium and Benny Lee who made such a wonderful job of running it. I first discovered the delights of the ol the S.S.whilst still at school, somewhere around 1954. It became an integeral part of my life. I loved the skating sessions, the ice hockey and the ice shows. To me, the place was paradise. Amid promises, from the Rank Organisation, of a suitable replacement which never really materialised, the building was shamefully demolished. The site then served as a car park for many years, a period during which this wonderful contribution to the social life of Brighton and surrounding areas could have continued to function. I think it must have broken Benny’s heart when the place closed.

    By John Upton (24/07/2010)
  • I used to travel in my early teens to Brighton on a Saturday evening from Worthing with my schoolmate, who was also named Peter, to watch the Dale Martin Promotions wrestling at the Sports Centre and remember with great affection Benny Lee who took us into his office to find us some wrestling posters and memorabilia of our favourite stars.  I remember this black suited, grey haired man with bow tie, and very large cigar in hand who had the kindest face, sitting behind his desk talking to 2 scruffy kids from Worthing. We left for home at the end of the evening amazed this man had spared the time to make us feel very special. He was a true gent in every sense and from then on always gave us a wave and smile. God Bless you Benny you were a Class Act.

    By Peter Boddy (16/08/2014)
  • I used to travel from Worthing with my mate Steve Dunn. We saw all the great names of the day including Ricki Starr, Zebra Kidd, Joe Cornelius, Johnny Petrs, Bruno Eldrington, Ian Campbell and many many more.

    By P Smith (21/11/2016)
  • Benny Lee was my uncle. My father was Sydney Lee who was a professional billiards and snooker player. I would love to hear from any of the family still around.

    By Susan Jones (04/07/2017)
  • Dear Susan Jones (July 2017),  I have a signed photo by Benny, his personal calling card as General Manager of the Sports Stadium, and my Aunt’s photo of him with Mr. Gentry, and Alan Weeks outside the old building, and in colour! I will gift and send to you: call me: 07966201981

    Steven Booth (Nephew to Eileen Whybrow – Benny’s Secretary)

    By Steven Booth (25/02/2018)
  • Dear Susan Jones, I have now found a classic postcard of your Uncle and the SS – let me know if you want it, and the items I wrote to you about 3 years ago. (Steven Booth – Nephew to Eileen, Benny’s Secretary)

    By Steven Booth (16/02/2020)
  • Hi Susan, I am Bessie’s granddaughter. I’d love it if you got in touch. You can find me on Facebook. Esther Honour. Named after Hetty! Otherwise email I obviously have many family photos.

    By Esther Horney (02/09/2020)

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