The Benny Hill Show (ITV, 1969-1989)
Let’s go back again to the tape that my parents made for me when I was much younger now. Not only did it feature lots of children’s shows, but also this one, which is why I have a soft spot for it, and it’s a comedy show with a rather interesting history. Benny Hill (or “the lad himself” as he was always introduced) is someone who had a rather memorable career in TV comedy that lasted for about 40 years.
Benny made his TV debut in 1949, and he got a comedy show of his own on the BBC in 1955, where he really established himself as a big name. In 1969, Benny went over to Thames, and the first edition of his new show coincided with the week that ITV went colour. By this point he had become rather popular with viewers, to the point that in 1971 he had a chart-topping single with his tale of Ernie, the fastest milkman in the west, and in 1974 highlights of his show were released as a successful film.
The show would stick to a rather regular format throughout its long run. This included a sketch where Benny would be in bed with a rather glamorous woman, which would lead to a rather naff joke and Benny made a daft face into the camera. There would also be inventive costume and make-up design, and plenty of song and dance routines, usually performed by a group of young women who probably couldn’t get into Hot Gossip. And well, this isn’t the type of show where you’d expect any strange blue haired women to appear… wait, what?!
Benny was rather fond of his parodies, including game shows such as Name That Tune, along with various soaps and films, and he’d also do impressions of celebrities. There would be a few regular characters, including the hapless Fred Scuttle, along with plenty of dialogue-free sketches that gave Benny the opportunity to show off his miming skills, and terrible jokes written as graffiti on walls. Benny would be helped by a reliable support cast, including Henry McGee and Bob Todd (but not in a dress). And of course, the show would often end with an extended sketch where various people would run around sped-up accompanied by the famous closing theme “Yakety Sax”.
In 1979, The Benny Hill Show was shown for the first time in America, and it really caused something of a stir, as that country doesn’t have that much of a history of “saucy”-style humour compared to Britain, so it came across as much more risque than most American comedy from the time. This meant that Benny was suddenly a rather big TV star stateside, taking him to the next level of fame and fortune.
Although Benny was famous around the world, he was rather shy and shunned the world of celebrity. He did little TV work beyond this show, he never seemed that interested in analysing his comedy style or personality, and while some people would use their influence to be able to attend film premieres or buy expensive items and the like, Benny would sooner be tucked in bed at home on his own with a cup of cocoa.
However, in the 80s, Benny started to fall out of favour as comedy styles changed, and the format was becoming rather tired. By this point, Benny was almost 65 and some viewers felt that he was beginning to come across as past it and even a creepy old man. This meant that his show came to an end in 1989. The Benny Hill Show was never shown on ITV as a series, but as one-off hour-long specials, usually on Bank Holidays.
There were usually only two or three new episodes a year, and 58 episodes were made altogether, but it seemed like a lot more, as it was constantly repackaged into compilations. Benny died in 1992, and since then there have been several documentaries that have tried to discover more about his unusual life and what motivated his comedy work, along with a repeat run on Granada Plus. All the episodes of the show have been released on DVD by Network, year-by-year and as boxsets covering both decades. I only have the 80s one as that’s the era that I remember, and it contains nine discs, but there are no extras.