Lee was born on 11 August 1916 in Glasgow, Scotland. He started his singing career as tenor in the school choir. Leaving school at 14, he became a tailor's apprentice, but soon left to join an all-purpose act, which sang, danced and performed acrobatics all around one of the main variety circuits of Britain.
Lee's acrobatic days lasted for only one evening on account of a nose injury. He was back in Glasgow, tailoring shirts and in his spare time playing drums for his own semi-professional dance-band. Wishing to return to the stage full-time he joined the Glasgow Citizens Theatre, where he received a good grounding in straight acting. This led to his first BBC radio audition in 1938.
In 1941, Lee was heard singing by Johnny Claes, a trumpeter who had recently formed a swinging dance-band called the "Claepigeons". He liked the sound of Lee's voice and signed him on as a vocalist. Soon Lee was singing and recording with many bands of the day, including that of Sid Phillips. He was frequently heard on the radio, and not only as a band singer. He played the part of Eddie Cantor in a radio version of the film Show Business (1944). His other radio series included Top Ten (1944) and Music from the Movies (1946).
Lee's voice became popular enough for him to be featured as a solo singer and not just a band singer. In 1948 he was supported by the close-harmony group the Keynotes on "Rambling Rose". Next year he duetted with Joy Nichols, the star of Take It From Here, singing "On the 5.45". The Decca company came in with a contract and from 1950 he recorded such hits of the time as "Enjoy Yourself (It's Later Than You Think)", and "Down at the Ferry Boat Inn" with the Stargazers. Every type of pop song seemed to suit Lee, and he covered Guy Mitchell's no 1, "Pretty Little Black-Eyed Susan", and the Hank Williams hillbilly hit, "Your Cheatin' Heart". He enjoyed comedy numbers and sang "Close the Door" with a chorus of young children on a special series made for Christmas 1955 entitled Benny Lee's Children's Party.
Television brought Lee a sequence of successes beginning when he was cast as the host of the BBC's first ever series for teenagers. Cautiously subtitled "a fortnightly magazine for under 21s", Teleclub on its first outing introduced the pop star Teddy Johnson and radio's "Man In Black" with Valentine Dyall. This was in 1953, the same year that Lee played Mr Pegg the myopic tailor to Terry-Thomas in the fifth series of How Do You View? His short-sighted measuring of the elegant "Master Terry" was a highspot.
The following year Lee was cast as Arthur Honeybee in an early situation comedy, Friends and Neighbours. Peter Butterworth played George Bird, and with their small-screen wives, Avril Angers and Janet Brown, they recorded the programme's signature song. It became a hit, not for them oddly enough but for Billy Cotton and his band. Lee was later one of the supporting comedy cast in the Michael Bentine series It's a Square World (1960) with Clive Dunn, Dick Emery, and Bruce Lacey, the madcap inventor. Much later, he portrayed Mr. Klein in the British sitcom, Are You Being Served? (1981).
Lee also appeared in the films, Keep It Clean (1956), My Wife's Family (1956), The Girl Hunters (1963) and Mahler (1974), portraying Tarbottom, Arnold, Nat Drutman and Uncle Arnold respectively.
- Keep It Clean (1956)
- My Wife's Family (1956)
- Carry On Sergeant (1958; uncredited)
- The Girl Hunters (1963)
- A Stitch in Time (1963; uncredited)
- Mahler (1974)