What needs to be said about Benny Hill? His influence is still persuasive after all these years. What fan of comedy doesn’t anticipate an outlandish chase when Boots Randolph’s “Yakety Sax” plays? He made it cool to goof up a moment of authority with the palm forward salute, Hill owns the split body routine with the wrong legs attached to his torso? He made Thames TV logo and jingle his personal calling card. Benny Hill’s comic legacy is on full display with Benny Hill: The Complete Megaset – The Thames Years 1969 – 1989.
He’d been a comedy figure in England since the 1950s. But for the longest time he was only known in America for bit parts in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and The Italian Job. Neither role hinted at what he was doing on TV across the Atlantic. In the late ‘70s, The Benny Hill Show finally came to America thanks to syndication. Various UHF channels wanted something that appealed to the crowd not interested in the 11 o’clock news. This was a series bound to let your brain waves settle before sleep. Hill was not the absurdist with the cerebral humor on par with Monty Python’s Flying Circus. He was all about carnal slapstick and constant innuendos. When the iconic Thames TV logo and theme popped up on the screen, it was time to relax in a world filled with dirty old men, sexy British women and jokes that didn’t require you read the newspaper.
What’s remarkable about Benny Hill is that over the course of his 20 years on Thames, he only produced 58 hour long episodes. His season often was 3 episodes long. Yet it seemed like he made hundreds of episodes back in the ‘70s when it ran in America since they sliced up the hour long action into 20 minutes for late night fun. Turns out they also snipped away the more risque moments. Thus getting to watch the British versions is a revelation. The naughty nature is cranked up. A normal comedy show has dozens of writers typing out the funny. Benny carefully wrote all the episodes himself. This truly was his show. He refined his style and paid tribute to other forms of comedy. Like Abbott and Costello, Benny Hill kept burlesque active after the clubs had long closed down. Even though he liked to give monologues filled with double entendres, he understood that the audience enjoyed a good visual gag. Each episode included a healthy dose of English Roses since guys needed more than a doughboy comic to keep their attention. The show offered a bit of fun for everyone.
A constant on The Benny HIll Show was a crew of middle aged guys that understood Benny’s style. Henry McGee was the most sophisticated of his supporting cast. He easily fit the roles of the business man and the TV newscaster. Bob Todd was tall goofy guy that looked natural at being out of place. Jackie Wright’s the bald little man with an accent so thick that he need subtitles and a cryptographer. Wright left the show in 1983 for health reasons and died around the time the series was suddenly canceled by Thames. His presence is missed in the final batch of episodes. They found another old guy, but it’s not a good substitution for Wright.
Critics attack The Benny Hill Show as sexist. While there are sexist characters in the numerous sketches, they never get away with their slimy actions toward the female characters. The ladies always get the last laugh on the desperate clowns. This isn’t completely a dirty old man’s paradise. Although the Hill’s Angels dance numbers will appeal to dirty old men who like an ‘80s fashions in motion. Even after two decades off the air, there’s a whimsy to Benny’s humor that relieves the burden of modern life. Benny Hill: The Complete Megaset – The Thames Years 1969 – 1989 lets you laugh without caring about being sophisticated. Yet since this is a British series, you feel a little classy as opposed to laughing at a Jim Belushi sitcom.
The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The transfers look fine considering the fact that studio elements were shot on video while location work was done on film. The shows look as good as when you were a kid sneaking a peek at Benny Hill’s antics. The audio is mono mixed for Dolby Digital Stereo. You’ll get the full effect of “Yakety Sax.”
Benny Hill: The World’s Favourite Clown (52:11) lets Benny talk about his life as he prepares for what would be his final comedy special. The highlight is when Hill talks about discovering Charlie Chaplin had video cassettes of his show. No honor could be greater for him than knowing the Little Tramp taped him.
Benny Hill: Laughter and Controversy (45:14) is the A&E Biography hosted by Peter Graves (Mission: Impossible). Benny’s life is charted from his struggles on the stage and radio to massive success on TV. His first BBC series started in 1955. The piece paints him as a lonely guy who was fixated on his TV series. Unlike some Biographies that constantly reuse the same footage (like Paul Lynde), there’s a lot of vintage Benny from his early BBC shows. He wasn’t always a doughboy.
Eddie In August (25:07) is Benny Hill’s comic master work. He’s an everyman who wants nearly every woman that crosses his path. It’s non-dialogue driven special that’s all about the slapstick. This is Benny at his cheekiest. He truly was a child of Chaplin and Keaton.
I Was A Hill’s Angel (37:58) is a three part special about the woman who brought a touch of beauty to a crew of middle aged guys. Best are stories about Jackie Wright. Nobody knew what he was saying.
Benny Hill Trivia Quiz is on all six volumes. Plenty of questions for after you’ve watched the show.
Benny Hill: The Complete Megaset – The Thames Years 1969 – 1989 contains all the genius of the cheekiest Englishman to ever conquer the world. Here are the complete versions of the episodes that were clipped down for The Benny Hill Show that made America laugh in the late ‘70s. The two biographical documentaries give a sense of the man who reminded us that there was nothing wrong with laughing at a fart joke. The boxset contains all six volumes of the earlier DVD sets in one compact collection. This is a must buy for anyone who hums “Yakety Sax” during inappropriate moments.
A&E Video presents Benny Hill: The Complete Megaset – The Thames Years 1969 – 1989. Starring: Benny Hill, Henry McGee, Bob Todd and Jackie Wright. Boxset Contents: 58 episodes on 18 DVDs. Released on DVD: October 5, 2010.
About The Author
Joe Corey is the writer and director of "Danger! Health Films" currently streaming on Night Flight and Amazon Prime. He's the author of "The Seven Secrets of Great Walmart People Greeters." This is the last how to get a job book you'll ever need. He was Associate Producer of the documentary "Moving Midway." He's worked as local crew on several reality shows including Candid Camera, American's Most Wanted, Extreme Makeover Home Edition and ESPN's Gaters. He's been featured on The Today Show and CBS's 48 Hours. Dom DeLuise once said, "Joe, you look like an axe murderer." He was in charge of research and programming at the Moving Image Archive.