Benny Hill - The World's Favourite Clown

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Biography Documentary published by Thames Television in 1991 - English narration

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Alfred Hawthorne "Benny" Hill (21 January 1924 – 19 April 1992) was an English comedian, actor and singer, notable for his long-running television programme The Benny Hill Show.

Though Alf(red) "Benny" Hill (his stage name being derived from comedian Jack Benny) was one of Britain's most popular postwar comedians, he was all but unknown elsewhere, despite supporting appearances in a few big international movies like Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (1965), Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968), and The Italian Job (1969).

Possibly inspired by the success of Monty Python's Flying Circus and, to a lesser extent, other exported comedies like Fawlty Towers and Rising Damp, Thames Television, which had been airing 3-4 hour-long Benny Hill specials every year since 1969, made a deal in the late-1970s to rework these shows into a 30-minute syndicated series. Typically airing on UHF stations concurrent or immediately following the 11 o'clock news, The Benny Hill Show was an instant smash, partly for Hill's comedy, but also for its double-entendre humor, scantily clad women (and even fleeting nudity), which somehow made it past the censors in some markets.

What virtually no one in America realized was that Hill had been at it for decades. As his manager, Richard Stone, rightly points out Hill was the first British comedian "made" by television - contemporaries like Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan rose through the ranks of radio and, before that, music halls and the like. Stone also points out that Hill's unique blend of silent era-style slapstick and gleeful smuttiness was more like something out of the American tradition of burlesque than anything British.

In any case, the earliest Benny Hill Shows date all the way back to 1951. Some of these early shows survive, but what everyone remembers are those he made under the terms of his long association with Thames Television, which lasted from 1969 to 1989, at which point Hill was unceremoniously sacked without warning, from which he professionally but never personally quite recovered.

Like the silent era clowns who'd recycle sight gags in their two-reel comedies, Hill reworked a lot of the same material over-and-over again (a gymnasium sketch from an early-'60s show glimpsed on Biography is reworked in the mid-'70s virtually unchanged). The earliest Thames shows are little different from the last, but it hardly matters - most of it is surefire funny.

The format largely stayed the same: each hour special featured a pleasing mix of sketch comedy; short blackout gags; TV, movie, and song parodies; patter songs and recitations rife with hilarious double-entendres; and under-cranked silent movie-style pantomime, often (and famously) accompanied by Hill's theme song, Yakety Sax written in 1963 by James Q. "Spider" Rich.

Hill was, famously, a perfectionist workaholic who felt uncomfortable around strangers and stuck close to the tight-knit stock company of players and crew he trusted. Virtually all the shows prominently feature cultured, articulate Henry McGee as Hill's straight man, with Bob Todd, a tall older man, often playing blustery authority figures, while tiny (4'11"), elderly Irish comedian Jackie Wright was Hill's perennial patsy. Among the myriad sexpot types appearing in sketches and sometimes billed as "Hill's Angels" were Hill's close friends Louise English and Sue Upton, along with Jane Leeves, later one of the stars of Fraiser.

The program changed only slightly through the years. Early on, Hill's specials featured actual musical guests like Petula Clark and Cleo Laine, but this seems to have been dropped gradually. In later years the show got smuttier and more explicit, but Hill tried to counter criticism by incorporating children into his sketches, which doesn't work too well because the kids just don't have the timing Hill or his veteran supporting comics had. Feminists hated the show, but the argument could also be made (and indeed is made, on one of the documentaries) that in these sketches Hill, Todd, and Wright, are foolish, dirty old men. They always lose (i.e., never get the women into bed) and the women always come out on top. So to speak.

Benny Hill delighted audiences with his slapstick antics for years with his BBC sketch comedy program. This documentary on Benny Hill's life, produced by the BBC and Thames Television in 1991 goes behind the scenes to understand the British clown, his popularity, and where his ideas came from. The film shows Benny as he motions through his everyday life, and was shot around England and France. It is an honest and open look at Bennys' life, a with a retrospective focus on his years spent in comedy TV. Benny is filmed and interviewed in his everyday life. Interspersed with interviews from a wide collection of his cast, crew, friends and some of his many admirers; Michael Caine, Burt Reynolds, Bella Emberg and Walter Cronkite just to name a few. And as excpected, (wouldn't be Benny without) some of those infamous skits from the B&W 50s to the colourful 80s, he'll have you laughing all the way. Benny Hill we salute you.

Directed by David Spenser Produced by Victor Pemberton

A Saffron Production for BBC TV in association with Thames Television International and FR3

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Video Codec: XviD ISO MPEG-4
Video Bitrate: 1874 kbps
Video Resolution: 560x416
Video Aspect Ratio: 1.346:1
Frames Per Second: 29.970
Audio Codec: 0x0055 MPEG-1 Layer 3
Audio Bitrate: 128kb/s CBR 48000 Hz
Audio Streams: 2
Audio Languages: english
RunTime Per Part: 52:15.030
Number Of Parts: 1
Part Size: 790,127,480 Bytes
Ripped by: DocFreak08

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