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The Benny Hill Show
BennyHill.jpg
Benny Hill
Format Comedy Show
Starring Benny Hill
Country of origin  United Kingdom
No. of episodes 138
Production
Running time 25-60 minutes
Broadcast
Original run 20 October 1949 – 30 May 1991

The Benny Hill Show is a British comedy television show starring Benny Hill and various comedy character actors. It was produced by Thames Television (for the ITV network) from 1969 to 1989 and was broadcast in over 140 countries.

Incarnations before and after of the show had aired on the BBC from 1949 to 1968 and from 1957 to 1960 on ITV (this time produced by ATV). A one-off special by ATV was broadcast in 1967, another special produced in 1977 by the Australian broadcaster Network Ten and a one-off special produced by D.L. Taffner Entertainment (now DLT Entertainment Ltd.) and transmitted on by the American broadcaster USA Network in 1991.

Contents

Show format

The Benny Hill Show featured Benny Hill in various short comedy sketches, along with Thames Television show regulars Henry McGee, Bob Todd, Jackie Wright, Nicholas Parsons (in the early years), Jenny Lee-Wright, Sue Bond, Bettine Le Beau, Lesley Goldie, Cherri Gilham, Rita Webb, Diana Darvey, and others. The show also featured occasional extravagant musical performances by top artists of the time. Hill appeared in many different costumes and portrayed a vast array of characters. Slapstick, burlesque, and double entendre were his hallmark. Some critics accused the show of sexism, but Hill claimed that female characters kept their dignity while the men chasing them were portrayed as buffoons.[citation needed] Hill often made fun of himself, which endeared him to many.[citation needed]

Hill often used fast motion — also known as 'Undercranking' — and sight gags to create what he called 'live animation' and he employed techniques like mime and parody. The show typically closed with a sped-up chase scene involving himself and a crew of scantily-clad women, a takeoff on the stereotypical Keystone Cops chase scenes. These segments are among the best-known of Hill's work.

Benny Hill also composed and sang patter songs and often entertained his audience with lengthy high-speed double-entendre rhymes/songs which he would recite/sing in a single take.

The show's theme song, "Yakety Sax", which has gained a particular cult following on its own, was written by Boots Randolph. The show's musical director was noted pianist and easy listening conductor Ronnie Aldrich, and vocal backing was provided by session singers, The Ladybirds, (who also frequently appeared on camera from 1969 to 1974). For three episodes of the 1973–74 season, Albert Elms filled in for Aldrich as musical director.

Apart from the theme tune, another signature of the show was the enthusiastic announcer intro: "Yes! It's The Benny Hill Show!" (The announcer was often cast member McGee.) From 1975 onwards, Hill was also introduced at the start of each show as "The Lad Himself". The show closed with Hill's salute: "Thank you for being with us, and we look forward to seeing you all again — very, very soon. Until then, bye bye."

Hill was a pioneer in the use of the television camera to create comedic illusions. For example, in a murder mystery farce entitled "Murder on the Oregon Express" from 1976 (a parody of Agatha Christie's classic Murder on the Orient Express), Hill used both editing and camera angles — as well as his own skill for impersonations — to depict a Quinn Martin–like TV "mystery" featuring Hill in the roles of 1970s American TV detectives Ironside, McCloud, Kojak, and Cannon (as well as Agatha Christie's Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot). Hill seems to have realized that American audiences would identify better with his shows if they included humour that was derived in part from their popular culture.

During his television career, Hill performed impersonations or parodies of American celebrities, such as W. C. Fields, Orson Welles (renamed "Orson Buggy") and Raymond Burr, and fictional characters, ranging from The Six Million Dollar Man to Starsky and Hutch to Kenny Rogers, to The A-Team, to Cagney & Lacey. His own country's celebrities did not escape his comedic eye either: Hill also delivered impersonations of such British stars as Michael Caine (in his Alfie role), newscasters Reginald Bosanquet, Alan Whicker and Cliff Michelmore, pop-music show hosts Jimmy Savile and Tony Blackburn, musician Roger Whittaker, his former 1960s record producer Tony Hatch, political figures Lord Boothby and Denis Healey, and Irish comedian Dave Allen. On a few occasions, he even impersonated his former straight man, Nicholas Parsons. A spoof of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? saw him playing both Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.

In the late 1970s Thames Television purchased a week's transmission time on two of the largest American cable television stations to showcase their material for potential export sales; one station was in Los Angeles, the other in New York. This introduced the show to American audiences and was immediately popular; subsequent screenings involved a series of re-edited half-hour programmes culled from the ITV specials. Due to heavy editing the U.S. versions of his show have far less risqué material than those which were aired in the UK. The show was awarded the 'Special Prize of the City of Montreux' at the Rose d'Or festival in 1984. Selected sketches from the first four years (1969–1972) of the Thames run were also edited into a feature film, The Best of Benny Hill (1974).

Hill in 1977 produced a special in Australia (see below) whose contents found their way into scattered episodes of the U.S. half-hour syndicated edits. The cast of that Australian show included Barry Otto and Ron Shand.

Hill's repertory group

Hill generally enjoyed a good working relationship with most of his cast and crew, some of whom, namely Henry McGee, Bob Todd and Jackie Wright stayed with him for many years. The most notable male cast members were: McGee, Todd, Wright, Nicholas Parsons and Jon Jon Keefe. The most prominent of the young sexpot type females were Jenny Lee-Wright (who would later go on to become a top Foley artist in England), and Hill's Angels Sue Upton and Louise English. Of the character actresses, the best remembered were Rita Webb, Bella Emberg and Anna Dawson (in the later years).

Ironically, though many of his cast and crew became just as silly as Hill himself, few if any of them capitalised on their fame to move on to larger-scale projects. Some possible minor exceptions could be made for Diana Darvey (who had a brief career as an international cabaret star after her appearances on the show), Jackie Wright (who was rumoured to have an offer for an American comedy presented to him shortly before his death), and long-time Hill's Angel Louise English (who once received a fan letter from Burt Reynolds, praising her skills and beauty). However, the primary example of an exception to the rule would be Jane Leeves, who, years after having been a Hill's Angel, became famous for her portrayal of Daphne on the American comedy Frasier. Going further back, to BBC days, another future U.S. TV star, Susan Clark (of Webster fame), appeared on one of Hill's 1965 specials, and popular Australian personality Sue McIntosh (then known as Sue Donovon) appeared on another 1965 show.

As regards the impressions of cast members towards Hill, Sue Upton — in book excerpts posted on her official site — stated that contrary to the leering schoolboy air he often presented on TV, Hill was a model of kindness and courtesy to all his performers, particularly the female performers. She related how Hill would never force a female performer to do or wear something she wasn't comfortable with (and how outside of work, he was like a family member to her husband and two children). On her own site, Louise English related how, after her time on the show ended when it was cancelled, Hill would come to see her in every performance she did on stage. In one of the books written about Hill, Jenny Lee-Wright related the time she was on holiday in New York and happened to mention to a customs agent at the airport that she worked with Hill, and was then driven to a local television studio to answer questions about him on an interview show.

Guest stars and musical guests

Over the years, Benny Hill had relatively well-known actors and actresses who appeared as guests on the show, some of whom were already famous on other TV and radio programmes, including Don Estelle (It Ain't Half Hot Mum), Paul Eddington (The Good Life; Yes Minister / Yes, Prime Minister), Paula Wilcox (The Lovers, Man About the House), Patrick Newell (The Avengers), Hugh Paddick (Round the Horne), Kathy Staff (Crossroads, Coronation Street, Last of the Summer Wine), actress/singer Trisha Noble, entertainer Dilys Watling, stage and TV actress Stella Moray, gardener Percy Thrower, Carry On regular Liz Fraser, former Move lead singer Carl Wayne, and others. In the 1980s, as the climate of political correctness continued to grow, two of these former guests — Eddington and Wilcox — refused to allow the respective editions in which they appeared to ever be shown on British television again.

His show, in its first decade on Thames TV, also had an interesting (and often eclectic) array of musical guests. One of the more famous examples was Kiki Dee, who appeared on one of his black-and-white shows in 1971, a few years before her first big hit "I've Got the Music In Me." Other famous musical guests included Anne Shelton, who appeared on both his BBC and Thames shows; former Seekers lead singer Judith Durham; and The Mike Sammes Singers. Back in the BBC days, Alma Cogan, Cleo Laine and Petula Clark made appearances on the show, as did Dusty Springfield when she was part of the folk trio The Springfields. Hill was also big on Spanish music acts, and gave the first major exposure to groups such as Luis Alberto del Paraná and Los Paraguayos on his show.

With few exceptions, most of the musical numbers did not make it to the U.S. syndicated series.

Cancellation and Recommissing

In 1989, Thames Television dropped The Benny Hill Show. Newspapers reported that Thames had 'sacked' Hill as part of the trend of political correctness that was prevalent at the time; that in some quarters his show were seen as sexist.

In reality the show was dropped due to declining audience ratings: the show at its peak had 21 million viewers while the last episode made by Thames attracted 9 million viewers, Hill at his own insistence, worked to a year-by year contract.

In 1988 Thames told Hill they would not be offering another contract, and June 1989, Head of Light Entertainment John Howard Davies invited Hill in for a two minute meeting. Having just returned from a triumphant Cannes TV festival Hill assumed that they were to discuss details of a new series. John Howard Davies thanked Hill for all he had done for Thames Television and told him that they were dropping The Benny Hill Show

The cancellation toally devastated Hill (or, as one former supporting player put it, "He started to die from there") which was followed by a self-inflicted decline in Hill's health as he had no show and after doing a special in 1990, On April 1992 Hill died in the same day that a new contract arrived in the post from Central Independent Television for who he was going to start makeing a series of specials for.

Legacy of reruns/DVDs

Hill made far fewer shows than believed (roughly Four one-hour specials a year) and it was continued repeat showings and re-editing of hour-long specials into half-hour shows that maintained his high public profile. After 1980 half-hour compilation edits of The Benny Hill Show, which bore no relation to the U.S. syndicated package, began airing in the fall months on ITV in-between seasons which made the ratings go down from 20.00 million viewers to 17.95 million viewers which happend in the rest of the world as well.

The Benny Hill Show most recently aired in one-hour portions (not corresponding to the original hour-long format), twice nightly on BBC America. The series ran on the channel from October 2004 to April 2007.

The syndicated version consists of 111 half-hour episodes, re-edited from the original hour-long specials made by Thames Television and screened on Britain's ITV network three or four times a year. Half-hour edits also appeared on ITV, although the contents may be different from the syndicated U.S. versions.

The show is currently (February 2010) being broadcast on Australia's 7TWO channel.

The show has also been aired in India on UTV network and a few other networks. It has even been dubbed in various Indian languages, which proved to be a hit with viewers.

There is far less DVD material currently available in the UK, although in 2005 the Thames specials began to appear uncut on Region 2 DVD sets, each representing one year and entitled The Benny Hill Annual, as of 2010 going up to 1981, so far The Benny Hill Annuals 1970-1981 have been released on DVD by Network, However The Benny Hill Annuals 1982 and 1983 are due on 17 May 2010.

In 2004, the same year Benny Hill started airing on BBC America (originally in two half-hour shows), the Thames specials began to appear uncut on Region 1 DVD sets for the U.S., by A&E Home Video, entitled Benny Hill: Complete And Unadulterated. And unlike the UK sets, each set package represents multiple years of the shows in order of the original airings, with Benny Hill Trivia Challenges, a booklet, and extras:

  • Benny Hill Complete and Unadulterated: the Naughty Early Years set 1
    (11 episodes from 1969 to 1971)
  • Benny Hill Complete and Unadulterated: the Naughty Early Years set 2
    (10 episodes from 1972 to 1974)
  • Benny Hill Complete and Unadulterated: the Naughty Early Years set 3
    (10 episodes from 1975 to 1977)
  • Benny Hill Complete and Unadulterated: the Naughty Early Years set 4
    (10 episodes from 1978 to 1981)
  • Benny Hill Complete and Unadulterated: the Hill's Angels Years set 5
    (9 episodes from 1982 to 1985)
  • Benny Hill Complete and Unadulterated: the Hill's Angels Years set 6
    (8 episodes from 1986 to 1989)

In total, all 58 episodes of the Thames years of TBHS are showcased in the collection.

As for his BBC works, roughly half of the total shows he did for them still exist. The best of the surviving editions were released on Region 1 DVD by Warner Home Video in 2005 under the title Benny Hill: The Lost Years, and contain sketches originating from shows that first aired between 1958 and 1968.

It is unknown if any collections of his various specials will be released.

Programme summary

The various Benny Hill programmes were as follows:

  • Hi There on BBC (1949) Hill's first show and special.
  • The Centre Show on BBC (retitled The Forces Show for the rest of the series) (1952) 7 episodes was a monthly variety show that Hill hosted and performed sketches in.
  • Showcase on BBC (1954) 8 episodes was a monthly variety show that Hill hosted and performed sketches in.
  • The Benny Hill Show on BBC (1955-57,1958,1961,1964-66,1968) 32 episodes last three BBC shows were purposely wiped shortly after transmission, because Hill jumped to Thames Television, other episodes junked in accordance with the network's general policy of not retaining programmes that were felt to have no further commercial value, though the earliest episodes would have gone out live unrecorded. According to the IMDB, the only surviving portions of the final BBC series (last 3 shows) consist of 20 minutes of filmed inserts for the very last show. Also according to IMDB, most of his other 1960s show, up to the 20 April 1968 edition, remain in the BBC archives.
  • The Benny Hill Show on ATV (1957-60,1967) 9 episodes
  • Benny Hill on BBC (1962-63) 19 episodes was a sitcom/anthology featuring Hill playing a different role each week, out of the 19 half hour episodes only 2 survive due in accordance with the network's general policy of not retaining programmes that were felt to have no further commercial value.
  • The Benny Hill Show on Thames (1969-89) 58 episodes
  • Eddie In August (1970) was a attempt to bring his career into something big, featuring Hill in another 25 minute slient short, which was made on the condition that Hill was obligated to leave the BBC after two-decades to make a series of specials for Thames which was filmed before the first 4 specials showin in 1969-70
  • The Waiters (1971) a attempt to break onto the big screen, featuring Hill in a 30 minute slient short which was made in 1969 and left on the shelf for until Paramount picked it up
  • Benny Hill Down Under (1977) (Channel 10, Sydney) A Benny Hill 'special' filmed in Australia. 1 episode While Hill's comedy frequently made use of scantily clad women generally in stockings and suspenders from 1978 till 1984, this episode is notable for the only total female nudity in all of his television output. Three naked girls are seen in an outdoor shower. The comedy in the sketch derives from Hill's reaction to the appearance of a completely naked blonde girls in front of him. As of 2007, this programme is the only one of Hill's post-1968 television works not to have been issued on DVD.
  • Benny Hill's World Tour: New York! (1991) (USA Network) The last 'Benny Hill Show', produced after Hill's dismissal from Thames television. 1 episode

References

  • Funny, Peculiar - The True Story of Benny Hill by Mark Lewisohn
  • In the 2006 Family Guy episode titled Stewie B. Goode, after Stewie takes a drink, he announces that it's time to have a "sexy party", at which time a throng of scantily clad women parade across the screen, Stewie chasing them in a parody of Hill's own lascivious skirt-chasing antics.

External links

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