“58 full-length episodes. 585 classic sketches. On 18 discs.”
In England he’s been known as the funniest man on television. I probably wouldn’t go that far. He’s certainly an enigma. Over his 20-year television career, he dominated the British comedy scene. His work was often controversial. Benny loved the ladies, and his characters all had a weakness for the female co-stars. His work was sometimes a bit hard to understand. He was decidedly British with all of the quirks and oddities that go along with that moniker. Whatever you might call his style, his work was almost always very funny. Benny Hill was a clown at heart, and he played that part to its fullest. He might not have walked around in baggy pants, or worn pancake makeup, but a clown is truly the best way to describe Benny Hill. His facial expressions were always priceless. Much of his comedy was silent. He didn’t talk often in many of his most beloved routines.
Benny Hill started life as Alfred Hill in Southampton, Hampshire. He took the name Benny as his stage name from Jack Benny, whom the young man had always admired. Like many comedians of his time, he got his start first in radio. But it was in television that he would leave an indelible mark. One of the first trademarks of his show was the large collection of well-endowed young ladies later called Hill’s Angels. The act played out well for several years until a strong feminist movement in the early 1980’s began a well-publicized campaign against the show. It was labeled exploitive, and critics began to pile on by the time the show ended. While Hill’s characters certainly treated women with obvious disrespect, his female co-stars almost always had the kindest things to say about the man himself. The women were far from exploited. Many of them went on to have wonderful careers that simply would not have come their way if not for Benny Hill. While he was pretty much a loner, he was generous to his co-stars, almost to a fault. Sure, he could mug for the camera like no one else I’ve ever seen. Still, there was plenty there for those around him. Perhaps the show is most remembered for the closing scenes which involved folks chasing Benny all over the countryside. Anyone from cops to priests, and of course, buxom ladies, would chase the man in a silent-era style that often changed the camera speeds, reminding the audiences of the Charlie Chaplin and Keystone Cops antics. There’s no question that Hill was heavily influenced by the silent era of films.
A&E has put together quite an impressive package here. It’s the pot at the end of the rainbow for anyone who ever enjoyed a Benny Hill skit. An entire career, 20 years, on 18 discs. Follow the comedian’s path from the birth of some of his most memorable characters to the final years of The Benny Hill Show. From 1969 to 1989 he was on the top of his game, and A&E has collected every single uncensored moment. Who could resist a face like that?
The collection is housed in three 6-disc cases that represent three stages of Benny Hill’s career. Each disc is loaded to the gills with unstoppable laughter. To pick out even a few milestone sketches out of nearly 600 is an impossible task. You know what your favorites happen to be. The most important thing to remember is that they’re all here.
Each episode is presented in its original broadcast full frame aspect ratio. The early episodes are in black & white, and the later ones are in color. Of course the picture quality improves as the shows evolve. It’s not only the age but the production values that got better over the years. The show was never one of those wonderfully-shot pieces. It often looked crude, which was always part of the comedy style. The prints here look as good as you’ve seen them.
The Dolby Digital track is not really anything to write home about. You can hear everything, and the dialog works just fine.
Each mini-collection features trivia games that will test your knowledge of all things Benny Hill.
The World’s Favorite Clown: A bonus documentary on the humor of Benny Hill, likely made for BBC.
Benny Hill – Laughter And Controversy: A&E Biography episode on Benny Hill.
Three Hill’s Angels Featurettes: I Was A Hill’s Angel, Hill’s Angels – Off The Record and Hill’s Angels In Conversation. Meet some of the ladies that have been a part of the Benny Hill sensation.
When I was young, there wasn’t anything more decidedly British, in my mind, than Benny Hill. I’ll admit that I like Monty Python much more than Hill, but Hill was Britain for me then. I can’t completely explain it. I’m not sure I understand it myself. Now, after all of those years, it’s a different Benny Hill I see today. Perhaps the “adult” nature of the comedy just didn’t make as much sense then. Certainly it is quite dated. Still, it was more relevant in this collection. It doesn’t hurt that it’s all here and you can appreciate the evolution of the material over a twenty-year period. To the best of my knowledge, it’s all together for the first time. It’s an impressive as well as massive collection, to be sure. The controversy seems a bit old fashioned by now. I didn’t find the show at all offensive. Of course, “I’m not against half-naked girls…well, not as often as I’d like to be”.