Born in in January 1924, Benny Hill is probably one of the best known British comedians of all time. Although in this country he was slated for his style of his humour; saucy postcard, supposedly not politically correct, and with loads of scantily clad women (well what is wrong with that!) and eventually Thames TV bowed to the critics and in 1989 took his show off, he is revered throughout the world, and is one of the few British comedians to ever make is very big in the US. There has, however, been a revival in his popularity among DVD releases, and both the BBC and ITV material is now becoming available, with a few budget compilation DVDs thrown in for good measure.
Benny had worked on radio, but TV is where he is remembered, and on the 15th January 1955, The Benny Hill show began its long and groundbreaking run on BBC Television. He had already appeared as host on a number of variety series, but with his own show, where he wrote and performed, he was able to develop his skills in mimicry and use of make-up to parody other popular shows, rightly believing that anyone watching his show would watch the others that filled the schedules and understand the jokes.
These early shows have been absent from the UK screens apart from clips in tributes and documentaries, and were never broadcast in the US, so this latest DVD release, Benny Hill: The Lost Years, is an ideal opportunity to revisit the early work that formed the foundation of comedy shows that were truly international. Filled with riotous musical send-ups, fractured fairy tales, wacky commercial spoofs and pitch-perfect impressions, this collection captures the vast range of one of England's most inspired comics!
This DVD is released in the US on the 2nd August and is priced around $20 and contains gems from Benny Hill's first television series - never broadcast in the US with over thirty minutes of previously unreleased sketches, starring Benny Hill with June Whitfield, Patricia Hayes and Jeremy Hawk. I also beleive that it contains cast biographies. More details will be posted when the disc arrives and I have had time to review it properly.
:: ITV (Thames Television)
The ITV material is not being left on the shelf anymore either, and Network have released a total of four volumes in a series: The Benny Hill Annuals. Each volume takes the Thames Television special shows from a particular year and presents them complete in their original unedited form, so at last we are able to make our own minds up about how unPC this really was. The 1970 Annual contains 4 special shows of the standard format, and one, Eddie In August, that is a little different and included as an extra. Within the standard format we have the McGill postcard style of saucy humour plus a lot of material that followed on directly from his BBC shows with mimicry, mime, and parody.
Eddie In August, is a one-off comedic play which Hill wrote, starred in, directed and even provided the music for - a real one man band! Hill was a great fan of Jacques Tati and this silent comedy, and this was moulded in the saem vein, following the romantic misfortunes of an ineligible bachelor, where the leching and leering finds a context. Whether Hill planned this as a one off, or as a route to escape the saucy humour of his sketched based shows is debateable, and entirely academic, as it didn't hit the mark with the audiences, and remained a single show.
1971 is respresented by 5 shows, (2 of which are in black and white), so although there are no extras with this volume, there is still the same amount of material. Whilst I personally have found some of the material dated withboth volumes, there is a lot of good material here, and it does showcase Hill as a top comedian. The variety acts that appear from time to time in the shows don't stand up to scrutiny after such a long time though, and I can only assume that audiences were subtley different in the early 70s to actually put up with some of them, but that said, these two volumes are a must for any fan of Hill, and should be high on the wants list of those who are curious, as they should dispel the myths that built up around Hill during the late 80s with many 'alternatives' knocking the humour, and a succession of agenda based tributes and documentaries. Whilst there is still a lot of evidence to support many claims, being able to see shows as transmitted does shed a whole new light on things, especially when they date from a period that the memory can no longer recall with accuracy!
The 1972 annual is comprised of all of the specials from 1972, which, alongside his other output for Thames Television, is regarded as his best body of work. With the assistance of his very own 'Three Stooges' - Henry McGee, Bob Todd and Jack Wright - Benny hill was able to become a global star as he topped the ratings both in the UK and America.
- 23 February 1972
- 22 March 1972
- 25 October 1972
- 27 December 1972
The 1973 annual pulls together four classic shows from the year, which were broadcast on the following dates:
- 22nd February 1973
- 29 March 1973
- 5th December 1973
- 27th December 1973
Joined by his usual team of stooges - Henry McGee, Bob Todd and Jack Wright, - and the hills Angels, The Benny Hill Annual - 1974 follows on from previous Benny Hill releases as a prime example of the seaside picture postcard humour Benny perfected. It features all of Benny's favourite characters, including the uselss fitness instructor, inept doctor and Fred Scuttle, this edition contains both shows that Benny made in 1974, plus the two shows that he made in 1969, including the classic Christmas Day show.
- 7th February 1974
- 13th March 1974
- 19th November 1969
- 25th December 1969
The 1975 annual contains all four shows that Hill made that year. The broadcast dates are:
- 8th January 1975
- 12th March 1975
- 24th September 1975
- 17th December 1975