Saturday, December 13, 2008

Benny Hill

One of my first memories of British television goes back to the early 1980’s. Most people had seen British television on PBS with such series as Fawlty Towers or Good Neighbors (The Good Life) but my earliest memory goes back to our CBS affiliate WCCO with the one and only Benny Hill. WCCO would broadcast Benny Hill Sunday nights at 10:35 after the news. I would sit and watch it with my mom. Of course being of a young age, most of the sexual innuendo would fly right over my head. Come to think of it, it probably flew over my mother’s head. Why would she let me watch it at such a young age? I would look forward to the bit every week where Benny would run after the women or the women would run after Benny to the tune of Yakety Sax which was basically the theme tune for the series. For commercial stations such as WCCO, Benny Hill must have been syndicated in half hour episodes with commercial breaks. We certainly did not get whole episodes.
As it is December, when I randomly chose Benny Hill, I decided to try to find something with some Holiday flair. I only have about 22 episodes of the series in my collection. Most sourced from the A&E DVD releases. So I looked through my database to see what would be appropriate and found from Disc 1 Episode 2 which was broadcast on December 25th 1969. Seemed to be a good choice!

Watching the episode was like stepping back through time. The humor is both simple and complex. Benny Hill uses word play very well. I do know that later on, Benny gets a little more overt in trying to get the ladies but here he is quite subdued. My favorite sketch of the episode is ‘The Short Happy Life of Maurice Dribble’. It’s about a man’s whole life, from birth to death, sped up over a matter of 10 minutes. Within the sketch, there is some great music which I instantly recognized yet can barely describe. It is like sped up music which sounds like it is being played backwards yet had an old time feel to it. I am sure anyone who is a fan of Benny Hill will know what I am talking about. There is also Benny’s Bloopers. This week part of the bloopers, which are not real bloopers but fabricated as bloopers or screw ups, focuses around shooting a western in a saloon. Benny comes in as a cowboy, asks for a beer at the far end of the bar. The bartender is at the other end and should slide the beer down to Benny to catch. Obviously, we know what is going to happen. We know what is going to happen when Benny walks into the saloon. Hell, we know what is going to happen when we even see the saloon set. It’s still funny! The bartender slides the beer down to Benny who gets distracted at the moment he should grab the beer and of course the beer slides off the bar onto the floor. Over the course of this segment, it happens probably about 6 times. Maybe because I am simple, I laughed at it every single time.

I think the only thing that bored me to tears and stuck out like a sore thumb in this episode were the musical numbers. Now, I have seen my fair share of Benny Hill episodes. I have seen him sing many songs, which have never really done much for me but in this episode he had musical numbers from 2 musicians. The Ladybirds and Miss Ira Heath. After doing a little research, apparently The Ladybirds did over sixty appearances on the show over the years. I have never seen them before prior to watching this episode. Regardless, the musical numbers have always bored me even though The Ladybirds did a decent rendition of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You”. It was respectable but I had absolutely no interest in Miss Ira Heath singing “Wedding Cake”.

The last sketch, before the obligatory chase scene, was a take off on “This Is Your Life”. Like many of Benny’s sketches, this was overly long (kind of like my blog) but had warmth and charm about it (unlike my blog) which made it worthwhile to watch. I am not sure what was up with this sketch as it felt like the presenter (Nicholas Parsons) just had, for his script, a list of questions and Benny would make up the answers of the spot as he went a long. There were some truly excellent quips to this as Benny was not the subject of the “This Is Your Life” style program but played the different parts of the people who the subject of the program knew from over the years. When the subject realized it was about his life, he received a small box of chocolate from the presenter. Every time Benny came out as a different character he would be interviewed by the presenter and leave when he was finished. As he was leaving the set, you could see if was taking off his costume only to put on a new one before coming back out on stage. My favorite bit from this scene is that he is dressed as a lady for one of the characters. Before he leaves on this occasion, he asks for a piece of candy from the guy who this program is about. Benny takes the piece, pops it in his mouth, and goes off stage to change. When he comes back, as a different character I think as a band leader, he says to the guy he took the candy from as a different character still chewing it, “You didn’t tell me it was a caramel!” Well… made me laugh! I thought the DVD was presentation was quite nice. As I mentioned earlier, this is the A&E release and not the PAL Network release. I know the first thing that we are not going to get since it is a R1 release are ad caps. It’s too bad since these make the program complete and can often lead to nasty editing jobs. This wasn’t too bad though. I thought the quality of the episode was great. Obviously a mixture of film and video from a 2” tape converted to NTSC, I though it looked fine. I did think some of the sequences of the episode were out of sync in terms of audio. I wasn’t sure if it was my system or the DVDs. Another thing I really liked about the DVD sets is that each episode is chaptered by skits or musical numbers. I know I should expect that as it is the only smart thing to do but I just feel you never know what to expect from these companies. The smart things isn’t always the thing they choose to do.
I remember many occasions over the years telling people I really enjoy British television and their response being, “Do you mean like Benny Hill? I don’t like him!” This always made me sad for 2 reasons. Number one is obviously not all programs are like Benny Hill and secondly, why do people not like Benny Hill? From what little research I did, Benny even gets a cool reaction in the UK. He was attacked by grave robbers less than six months after he was buried. Give the guy a break! I have watched Benny Hill on and off over the last twenty years and will always remember him best as when I was watching him get chased to the tune of Yakety Sax! More people should do the same!
Next week: More Christmas goodness with a couple of episodes of Keeping Appearances. Sea Fever and Historical Pageant.

1 comment:

Daniel Rider said...

Love the Benny Hill Show!