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The Benny Hill Show
September 27, 2011 7:24 PM   Subscribe

Thanks to his work in television, especially The Benny Hill Show, Benny Hill is the most universally recognised of British comedians.

The Thames series was quintessential Benny with the cherubic/budgy Hill dominating sketches, slapstick routines and silent film type pantomimes of comedy and sight gags. Hill was adept at buffoons who on a slightly closer inspection turned out to be both sly and lecherous.
posted by Trurl (68 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
His was a really good show. More intelligent than it gets credit for. The lechery in the skits was usually balanced with some kind of karmic payback.
posted by gjc at 7:34 PM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I first saw Benny Hill as the Toymaker in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang when I was 5 or so. Flash forward a decade. I couldn't believe it was the same person. I still admire his performance in Chitty. His own program ... not so much. But that's me.
posted by bryon at 7:37 PM on September 27, 2011


I love Benny Hill, but, come on. The most recognized British comedian? Mr. Bean.
posted by monospace at 7:39 PM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm guessing the qualifications for "British comedian" involve something more than "being born in Great Britain" and "being a comedian."

Otherwise, um, Charlie Chaplin?
posted by ShutterBun at 7:46 PM on September 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


The most recognized British comedian? Mr. Bean.

Tony Blair.
posted by three blind mice at 7:46 PM on September 27, 2011 [12 favorites]


Benny Hill changed the way we think about perceived time.
posted by ovvl at 7:47 PM on September 27, 2011 [9 favorites]


Monty Python beats Benny Hill and Charlie Chaplin (though of course, Monty Python isn't an individual comedian.)
posted by twoleftfeet at 7:48 PM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


John Lennon
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:49 PM on September 27, 2011


Looking over Wikipedia's list of British comedians, the sad fact is that I don't recognize most of them at all. But I'm not British.

Shakespeare isn't on that list, even though he wrote comedies. Another sad fact: Shakespeare barely beats Monty Python.
posted by twoleftfeet at 8:00 PM on September 27, 2011


As an Aussie - many of us grew up with some familiarity of some of the great British comedians (thanks to BBC and UK shows piped across to our own ABC).

Two Ronnies, Monty Python, and of course Benny Hill.

If there is a Benny Hill sketch I most remember it is this one the famous wishing well sketch.

So much of life, and Benny Hill's genius, summed up in about 45 seconds.
posted by chris88 at 8:01 PM on September 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


Surely it's Ricky Gervais, who is everywhere, all the time. Laughing.
posted by tumid dahlia at 8:21 PM on September 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Compare Benny Hill to the Carry On movies and you'll realize just how good he was at what he did.

Although they did inspire the very best Mitchell and Webb sketch.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:21 PM on September 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Benny Hill changed the way we think about perceived time.

Benny Hill taught my cat how to chase after a laser pointer.
posted by tumid dahlia at 8:22 PM on September 27, 2011


My Italian born Nonno had a tenuous grasp of English, but he loved watching Benny Hill. FWIW.
posted by jonmc at 8:23 PM on September 27, 2011


When I was a child, I thought as a child, and liked Benny Hill. Then my seventh birthday passed and I realised the ineffable superiority of The Goodies. They had Kitten Kong and Ecky Thump and so many other modern classics. Benny Hill had that same choon over and over and a chase that was not half as good as the Harold Lloyd repeats over on BBC2.
posted by meehawl at 8:31 PM on September 27, 2011 [7 favorites]


Benny Hill is the most universally recognised of British comedians. ---Wait, that doesn't describe that link at all. Who says he's the most universally recognized british comedian?
posted by crunchland at 8:37 PM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!
posted by I love you more when I eat paint chips at 8:39 PM on September 27, 2011


Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!

But we do expect nerds to run Monty Python into the ground.

Peep Show is the funniest thing on TV.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 8:44 PM on September 27, 2011


Lovecraft: Dude, you gotta check out a new show from the same creators (Bain and Armstrong) called Fresh Meat, first episode came out last week.
posted by tumid dahlia at 8:46 PM on September 27, 2011


Who says he's the most universally recognized british comedian?

That would be THE FIRST SENTENCE OF THE FIRST LINK.

Excuse me.

Specifically, the Museum of Broadcast Communications.
posted by Trurl at 8:47 PM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ah. Usually when there's a sentence like that, you'd expect the link to go to the source of the assertion. Carry on.
posted by crunchland at 8:52 PM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


[My mother worked on this show for over a decade as a backing vocalist. I met Benny Hill a bunch of times when I was a kid and they were doing rehearsals at Teddington Rugby Club, and when recording at Thames TV at Teddington Lock. The second link here airbrushes my ma out of existence and misidentifies a picture of someone else who was at my and darlingbri's wedding. Mailed them years ago about it, nothing happened, no response. Gr.]

Benny Hill was rather a clever person, dramatically more so than most of his colleagues, and all those documentaries saying he was a recluse because he didn't hang out with them much? Yeah. Pay no heed.
posted by genghis at 9:07 PM on September 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


Honestly, I don't think I'd be able to pick Benny Hill out of a lineup of fat old white men. The only thing I know about him is the thing with the sped-up scantily-clad ladies running around while Yakety Sax plays over the top.

Did he do anything else of note?
posted by Sys Rq at 9:14 PM on September 27, 2011


Did he do anything else of note?

He was in The Italian Job.
posted by pompomtom at 9:19 PM on September 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Having worked at the Museum of Broadcast Communications many years ago, I wouldn't put much stock in that little factoid.
posted by davejay at 9:24 PM on September 27, 2011


Benny Hill changed the way we think about perceived time.

All British people know a secret song that makes things go faster.
posted by homunculus at 9:29 PM on September 27, 2011


Tex Cymbal, Golden Boy.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:50 PM on September 27, 2011


Most recognized doesn't mean the best. Monty Python is the classic, but the best standup for me personally is probably someone like Jimmy Carr.
posted by Meathamper at 9:58 PM on September 27, 2011


Thanks to YACKETY SAX...

FTFY.
posted by Madamina at 10:02 PM on September 27, 2011


We also got these in Canada when I was growing up. Even as a wee lad it seemed infantile, and the titillating shots of women in their underwear seemed a pretty sad hook to hang comedy on.
posted by Meatbomb at 10:26 PM on September 27, 2011


Margaret Thatcher.
posted by not_on_display at 10:35 PM on September 27, 2011


It boggles my mind to think that Benny Hill used to air at 7:30pm each weeknight on the Vermont ABC affiliate in the 1980s. I can't imagine that happening today, and my eleven year old past self is sadder for it.
posted by furtive at 11:19 PM on September 27, 2011


GOODIES, FUCK YEAH!

But I wouldn't recognize a one of them on the street if they came throwing black puddings, couldn't name a one of them off the top of my head.

I'd probably recognize Benny Hill from across the street, even more so with the voice.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 11:26 PM on September 27, 2011


Dood... The Goodies killed a guy, for real.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 11:29 PM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I always thought Monty Python was celebrated for being weird, as if that was the main virtue. There was some funny stuff, yeah, but Benny Hill could be more concise, musical, and employ double entendre. If all you see is bouncing women, then it's not your show because you've missed the point; but please don't mistake Benny for high art, either.
posted by l2p at 11:32 PM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


In the UK he went through a long period of being being out of favour as sexist (he probably still is) - and yet people don't seem to remember that his sketches almost always portrayed libidinous and sexist men as idiots.

One sketch that always sticks in my mind as heartwarming truth is where Hill's character and another man agree to a wife-swapping arrangement; Hill is delighted, thinking he's swapping is rather plain wife for the attractive young woman doing the housework in the room. But it turns out that she is the other man's daughter; the swapped wife is an overweight and even plainer older woman (played by Bella Emberg). But on conversation, it turns out that she is an amiable woman who brews her own beer and enjoys watching cricket on television, and Hill finds himself content with the deal.
posted by raygirvan at 12:00 AM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


These days, the most recognised British comedian is probably Hugh Laurie. He's recast himself as actor, singer, moisturizer model. But he started out in comedy with a Perrier award at Edinburgh and I suspect will end up going back into comedy.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:12 AM on September 28, 2011


In the UK he went through a long period of being being out of favour as sexist (he probably still is) - and yet people don't seem to remember that his sketches almost always portrayed libidinous and sexist men as idiots.

Oh, FFS. In exactly the same way as the quality papers will quote the tabloids in order to print the sort of trivial gossip they'd be embarrassed to print on their own accord, so Benny Hill would pretend to be portraying sexist men as idiots in order to get as much tits and ass on the screen as he could possibly get away with.

While his nostalgia quotient may have rendered him innocuous today, back in the unthinking, uncritical era of the 70's, Benny was the king of the shit heap. Hill's Angels were a bunch of interchangable, plastic-wrapped women who seemed to belong to a different generation -- largely because they were designed to appeal to your dad's and your granddad's libido, rather than to that of anyone who happened to be sexually active at the time, and their only purpose on the show was to show some skin and serve as Benny's foils.

It wasn't funny then and it isn't any funnier now.

And while there was a whole lot of crap on the Carry On series, those films did have the advantage of showing off the work of people like the sublime Kenneth Williams -- a genuine popular comedy genius and real innovator.

Benny Hill's puerile, retarded nonsense doesn't come close to being in the same league.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:14 AM on September 28, 2011 [10 favorites]


I always meant to do a post about Benny and never quite got around to it.

People forget that he was on TV almost from the birth of the medium- from the '50s to the end of his life in the '80s. He couldn't cut it as an onstage Vaudeville comedian, but his face was made for television. The "Hill's Angels" over-the-top T&A really only took over at the very end- unfortunately coinciding with his rise to international fame, so that's mostly what he's remembered for.

In private he was quite shy and hardly ever went out. He also had a sketch, in the early '60s I think, that bears a strong resemblance to Python's dead parrot. The Pythons claim to have never seen it, but it's possible they absorbed it subconsciously. I mention it because Python is often held up as the absolute best of British comedy and Hill as the absolute worst. Python was undeniably great but the truth isn't quite that simple.
posted by drjimmy11 at 12:14 AM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


And what a sad comment that is on taste in comedy.

The Benny Hill show was the epitome of everything crass, sniggering, repressed and nasty about British post-war attitudes, especially to sex. Hill's leering buffoon antics were just embarrassing to anyone with an ounce of discernment. I don't know any British person of my generation who regards Hill and his kind as anything but a cringe-making anachronism. Most of us saw him that way even at the time his pathetic, puerile show was on the air.

I never cease to be astounded and disgusted by the number of people who mention Monty Python and Benny Hill in the same breath, and express admiration for both. That's like comparing Radiohead with George Formby. Hill's "comedy" was a revolting, shameful display of prejudice, sexism, fat-headed clowning and gurning oafishness. He should only be mentioned in the same breath as outdated and misguided shite like "Love Thy Neighbour" and Bernard Manning.
posted by Decani at 1:11 AM on September 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


Benny Hill is the most universally recognised of British comedians.

Except in Britain. I'm in my thirties and I've never seen him on telly or even discussed on telly.
posted by ninebelow at 1:38 AM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Benny Hill changed the way we think about Boots Randolph.

And since Hugh Laurie has dedicated himself to serious acting with an American accent, the most recognized British funnyman has to now be his former partner, Stephen Fry.

(40 comments in and I'm the first to mention Fry?!? Also he was great the years he did Inspector Timespace)

I will also accept Rowan Atkinson just for his ability to create two hilarious characters as DIFFERENT as Blackadder and Mr. Bean.

The Goodies were and always will be favorites of mine. They were to kid-friendly wackiness what Doctor Who was to kid-friendly sci-fi. Interestingly, if Benny Hill hadn't been a hit in U.S. syndication, nobody would ever have bothered to try to show The Goodies to American audiences. (Even so, they remained one of comedy's better-kept secrets.) Another import that followed in the wake of Benny was Australia's Paul Hogan. At one time, on L.A.'s non-network channels, you could see all of the above AND Thunderbirds Monday thru Friday. The queen mum would be proud.
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:55 AM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thames series

Oh my god. I was a kid in the early 80s, when TV networks like Nickelodeon would buy up blocks of British stuff like The Tomorrow People and Danger Mouse...and of course there was Benny Hill.

That little Thames logo with the London landmarks is positively goddamned Pavlovian to me.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 1:57 AM on September 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


When I was about twelve we went on holiday to Austria and the waiter in the hotel, who wore lederhosen, looked exactly, I mean exactly, like Benny Hill.

He turned out not to have much sense of humour, though.
posted by Segundus at 2:09 AM on September 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


That little Thames logo with the London landmarks is positively goddamned Pavlovian to me

I made the Thames TV sound my ringtone a few months back. You should've seen the office the first time it went off. Everyone had a different show they associated with (I got it off Danger Mouse, but could just have easily used Yes Minister or whatever).
posted by pompomtom at 2:24 AM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I once had occasion to chat with Graham Chapman and made the mistake of asking his opinion of Benny Hill. He was genuinely appalled and visibly upset that Hill was enjoying some measure of popularity in the US. I'm guessing there was some history between'em, cuz I swear ... this delightful and witty gentleman looked ready to push me out a window for uttering the mere name.

For my part, I love Benny Hill, Blackadder and most all the obvious ones mentioned above and -- additionally -- one comedy that seems to have disappeared from everyone's memory. It was an early British import that I thought was pretty hysterical. It was called "Father, Dear Father" and starred Patrick Cargill.
posted by RavinDave at 2:45 AM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I only ever watched Benny Hill for titillation. In the UK in the Seventies/early Eighties he was about your best shot at glory. Most of his stuff wasn't funny. I think he did maybe one good sketch in every 20.

I'm not saying you aren't allowed to like him, but I wonder why anyone insists that he is good when he was not good, but bad. " ...puerile, retarded nonsense.." sums him up nicely. Of course, there's plenty of puerile retarded nonsense that I like, but at least I keep it to myself and feel guilty about it.
posted by devious truculent and unreliable at 3:37 AM on September 28, 2011


The most recognized British comedian? Mr. Bean.

Tony Blair.


Did you get lost on your way to the BBC Have Your Say pages?
posted by biffa at 3:50 AM on September 28, 2011


"Charlie Chaplin was a fan of Hill's work: Hill had discovered that Chaplin, his childhood idol, was a fan when he was invited to Chaplin's home in Switzerland by Chaplin's family and discovered that Chaplin had a collection of Hill's work on video."
posted by RavinDave at 3:51 AM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


In the UK he went through a long period of being being out of favour as sexist (he probably still is) - and yet people don't seem to remember that his sketches almost always portrayed libidinous and sexist men as idiots.

Probably because nothing he's done has been on the TV for about thirty years. Though come to think of it, I'm 29 and I don't think Fawlty Towers has been repeated on terrestrial in my lifetime.

A lot of the stuff US folk think of when they think 'British comedy' - Mr Bean, Keeping Up Appearances, Are You Being Served, the Pythons - is stuff that's 20+ years old, so remember it might not actually be that well known or discussed in its country of origin now.
posted by mippy at 4:59 AM on September 28, 2011


Also: British TV, start showing Community and Parks and Rec already. You fucked up with Seinfeld, don't make the same mistake twice.
posted by mippy at 4:59 AM on September 28, 2011


I just want to say Jimmy Carr sucks
posted by dprs75 at 5:21 AM on September 28, 2011


And Richard Pryor is the best British Comedian - prove he isn't
posted by dprs75 at 5:22 AM on September 28, 2011


The lechery in the skits was usually balanced with some kind of karmic payback.

I think this is actually something very different than balance.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:51 AM on September 28, 2011


It most likely is Rowan Atkinson.

Bear in mind while the Benny Hill closing credits are largely physical, much of the rest depends on skits heavy with double entendre monologue and dialogue, most of it best understood by native English speakers. Good stuff, but will it play in Korea?

Mr Bean is virtually wordless and can and does get laughs in the middle of the Kalahari.

This universality has made Atkinson a very very wealthy man.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:20 AM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


The essence of Benny Hill, from the gardening sketch.

The little bald guy sings:

I put manure on me rhubarb,
Manure on me flow'rs.

Benny:

Manure on your rhubarb?
We put cream on ours.
posted by KRS at 6:28 AM on September 28, 2011


"GOODIES, FUCK YEAH!
But I wouldn't recognize a one of them on the street if they came throwing black puddings,"


I saw all of The Goodies coming out of an Indian restaurant in Soho a few years back and was suitably chuffed – I mean one (Oddie gets about), or even two, but all three at the same time.
posted by niceness at 6:51 AM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Benny Hill and I are birthday buddies, so I can't slam the fellow. He had good enough taste to be born on the same day as I, just many many years before.

I watched the show on PBS (right after Are You Being Served? which was appropriate enough) when I was six-or-seven. The only real sketch I remember was one where a cranky old man appeared on a quiz show, but answered every question with "Pass". For some reason I got it into my head that he was passing them on purpose, and decided the concept of this old guy who obviously had worked very hard to get on a game show just to angrily dismiss every question was hilarious.

Since then I've watched a lot of the undercranked chase sequences on their own, and I honestly think they're excellent silent comedy despite Hill's Angels, who are a product of his lowbrow music hall influences. That said, it's an explanation, not an excuse, and I wouldn't expect anyone offended by Hill to change their opinions on that fact anyway.

But those chase scenes are terrific, absurd slapstick. Some of the gags staged come right out of cartoons. Hill had an insane sixth sense for comic timing, and the chases are designed to build and cap off exactly when it's funny. Some of the gags are classic textbook maneuvers right out of the Olden Days: In one chase, Benny scales a mountain, but all we see is him climbing straight up a rope which appears to be hanging in mid-air. (No budget, no mountain.) WC Fields did something similar in Never Give a Sucker an Even Break.

All Hill wanted to do was make comedy. The cancellation of his show in 1989 sent him into a depression which pretty much killed him; he let his health decline, refused surgery after a heart attack, and then died the same day a new television contract arrived in the mail. Some of that comedy he made, I think, was quite good. Besides, he's my birthday buddy. If you step to him, you'll also be stepping to Geena Davis, Wolfman Jack, Placido Domingo and Billy "Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car" Ocean. Just saying.
posted by Spatch at 7:44 AM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


That wishing well sketch would be a lot funnier without the music.
posted by DU at 7:52 AM on September 28, 2011


King Curtis's indomitable, practically sui generis sax riff from Yakkity Yak gets filtered thru the pop instrumental sensibilities of Boots Randolph, then spread over the cheesy neo-burlesque of Benny Hill. And achieves ubiquity.


Immortality in the arts is a weird, weird thing.
posted by tspae at 9:16 AM on September 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


The sketch I remember the most was when he had a picture/map of the UK and then caused it to shed tears and bear a remarkable resemblance to Maggie Thatcher. The show was not all about bits and bobs. My mother thought the show was hilarious and it seemed to work for her and her limited English.
posted by jadepearl at 10:26 AM on September 28, 2011


On the topic of Benny, sexism, and scantily-clad women: "There were always rumors that Benny was gay, but he denied them, saying "I am very set in my ways. Anyway, I have a mental age of about 17, far too young for marriage." Benny was also a momma's boy, and when his mother did die, he inherited her home, and kept it as a shrine for her."
posted by binturong at 10:32 AM on September 28, 2011


It boggles my mind to think that Benny Hill used to air at 7:30pm each weeknight on the Vermont ABC affiliate in the 1980s.

I recall that it aired on WOR-TV (which is where I saw it) at about the same time, just before or after In Search Of ... Even at the time "Yakety Sax" seemed about the funniest part of the show. The little bald guy was chuckleworthy but Hill was never as funny (to this teen-aged anglophilic nerd) as the Pythons or Dudley Moore or (when I encountered him) Peter Cook. Not as funny as French and Saunders, either. And not nearly as funny as dozens of British comedians since. (Am I bothered?) Most recognized? I'm going to take that with a grain of salt.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:32 PM on September 28, 2011


Please don't blame our doggie
Its not his fault at all
Someone left a wet umbrella standing in the hall.
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:30 PM on September 28, 2011


That wishing well sketch would be a lot funnier without the music.

Or the sketch.

There's only one Hill on the block.
posted by Summer at 3:28 PM on September 28, 2011


For my money, the funniest guy on British telly at the moment is David Mitchell. Check out some of his Youtube stuff, his rants and appearances on QI (which is a fantastically fun and addictive show, even if some of the guests, like Clive Anderson, can be profoundly dreary - I'm pretty sure Stephen Fry hates Clive Anderson). Best ever.
posted by tumid dahlia at 3:45 PM on September 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


tumid dahlia: I hope you've seen his Soapbox web series.
posted by pompomtom at 4:01 PM on September 28, 2011


Yes! I think it's great, and his Guardian articles are fun reads as well a lot of the time.
posted by tumid dahlia at 4:59 PM on September 28, 2011


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