The Benny Hill Show

The Benny Hill Show

infobox television
show_name = The Benny Hill Show

caption = Benny Hill
format = sketch comedy
runtime = 60 minutes
starring =Benny Hill
country = UK
network = ITV
first_aired = November 19, 1969
last_aired = May 1,1989
num_episodes = 58
imdb_id = 0063869
tv_com_id = 3329|

"The Benny Hill Show" is a British Comedy television show starring Benny Hill and various comedy character actors. It was produced by Thames Television from 1969 to 1989 and was broadcast in over 140 countries. Previous incarnations of the show had aired on BBC Television from 1955 to 1968, and on Associated TeleVision from 1957 to 1960 plus a one-off special in 1967.

how 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, Lesley Goldie, Cherri Gilham, Rita Webb and others. The show also featured occasional extravagant musical performances by top artists of the time. Hill often demonstrated his versatility as an actor by appearing in many different costumes and portraying a vast array of characters. Slapstick, burlesque, and double entendre were his hallmark. Some critics accused the show of sexism, but Hill often pointed out that the female characters were all intelligent and kept their dignity, while the men chasing them were all comically portrayed as buffoons.Fact|date=April 2008

Hill often used sped-up film — 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 most popular of Hill's work.

Many comedy sketches were derived from Benny trying to find any opportunity to try to spy on a gorgeous woman in a state of undress, and on occasion, 'cop a feel' (some of these scenes were edited out of the U.S. television versions but are uncensored in the DVD releases). Hill sometimes pats the always shapely bottoms of a number of young women in his shows from the early 80s. In one sketch, Hill pretends to be a man doing weight training by hoisting girls clad in bikinis above him. He then lowers the girls so that their bikini clad behinds rest on his face. Hill's comedy often made fun of himself, which endeared him to many. In another sketch, Hill plays the passenger of a bus which gets stuck in the mud. The passengers get out and push, including the inevitable pretty girl clad in the shortest and tightest of shorts. Hill leers at her derriere and then chooses to push her bottom instead of the bus. In numerous sketches, women have their dresses accidentally torn off in a public place, leaving them wearing only frilly panties, bra and stockings. A multitude of men are often included in the scene to add comedy value with their leers.

Benny Hill was also a proficient composer and singer of sophisticated 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 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).

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 ability of the television camera to create illusions and also how it could be used for comedic value. 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). This also serves as a possible indication of Hill being canny enough to realize that American audiences would identify better with his shows if he had some humour that was derived in some part from their popular culture. During his television career, Hill performed impersonations or parodies of American celebrities, such as W. C. Fields, with Mae West (played by Cherri Gilham), 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, musicians Roger Whittaker and Engelbert Humperdinck, 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.

The show was first broadcast in the United States in January 1979 and screened there with a series of re-edited half-hour programs 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 became hugely popular in the U.S. as well and maintained high ratings through its entire run. 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 three years (1969–1972) of the Thames run were also edited into a feature film, "The Best of Benny Hill" (1974).

Hill later recorded some shows for U.S. television, and 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 which, 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 Parana and Los Paraguayos on his show.

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

Criticism and cancellation

In 1989, Thames Television dropped The Benny Hill Show while the ratings were still some of the highest in the country.

At the time many argued that the show was the victim of political correctness citing many examples of television show cancellations of equally popular shows that also didn't conform to the new media agenda. 1980s British comedy stars such as Ben Elton were also dismissive of Hill's penchant for using pretty girls in his shows. A significant change in the tone of the programmes came in 1981 when following the move by Kenny Everett to the BBC a 'Hot Gossip' style risque dance troupe Hill's Angels was introduced into the show. Thames' final broadcast of a brand new Benny Hill show attracted more than 9 million viewers across the ITV Network

The board of Thames Television was unaware of the decision to cancel the show and attempted to entice Hill back. Hill's friend and producer/director, Dennis Kirkland, was furious and persuaded Hill to go to Central Independent Television to make a new series of programmesFact|date=December 2007. A contract from Central arrived on the day of his death.

Legacy of reruns/DVDs

"The Benny Hill Show" most recently aired in one-hour portions ("not" corresponding to the original hour-long format), twice nightly on BBC America (Dish Network channel 135/DirecTV channel 264/Comcast channel 162). 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 has also been aired in India on UTV network and a few other networks. It has even been dubbed in various Indian languages, which is proving to be a great 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 February 2008 going up to 1981.

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 1969-70-71)

*Benny Hill Complete and Unadulterated: the Naughty Early Years set 2 (10 episodes from 1972-73-74)

*Benny Hill Complete and Unadulterated: the Naughty Early Years set 3 (10 episodes from 1975-76-77)

*Benny Hill Complete and Unadulterated: the Naughty Early Years set 4 (10 episodes from 1978-79-80-81)

*Benny Hill Complete and Unadulterated: the Hill's Angels Years set 5 (9 episodes from 1982-83-84-85)

*Benny Hill Complete and Unadulterated: the Hill's Angels Years set 6 (8 episodes from 1986-87-88-89)

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 1955 and 1968.

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

Programme summary

The various "Benny Hill Show" programmes were as follows:

* "The Benny Hill Show" on BBC (1955-68) 32 episodes

* "The Benny Hill Show" on ATV (1957-60) 8 episodes and a special (1967) 1 episode

* "The Benny Hill Show" on Thames (1969-89) 58 episodes

* "Benny Hill: the Lost Years" (1965) part of the materials produced for BBC.

* "Benny Hill: Golden Classics" (1969) two-disc collection.

* The Best of Benny Hill (1974) a film compilation of sketches produced on Thames, up to this year.

* "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, 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 girl in front of him. As of 2007, this programme is the only one of Hill's post-1969 television works not to have been issued on DVD.

* "Benny Hill's World Tour: New York!" (1991) (ITV - D.L. Taffner) The last 'Benny Hill Show', produced after Hill's dismissal from Thames television. 1 episode


* [ Benny Hill] page at the Museum of Broadcast Communications
*imdb title|id=0063869|name=The Benny Hill Show
* [ Biography] at BBC America
*"Funny, Peculiar - The True Story of Benny Hill" by Mark Lewisohn
* [ "The Benny Hill Show"] page at the Museum of Broadcast Communications

External links

* [ The Benny Hill Songbook] Lyrics and transcripts
* [ Benny's Place featuring Louise English & Hill's Angels] A tribute to Benny Hill
* [] Article with complete list of appearances on television, radio and record

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