Review for The Best of Benny Hill
‘The Best of Benny Hill’ is actually a theatrical release from 1974, not quite the de rigueur film spinoff that the great British public had become used to (like the ‘On the Buses’ films or ‘Bless This House’) but actually clips from TV shows, transferred from both 16mm prints and video-tape to 35mm, all suitably graded, and released as if it were a movie in its own right.
What’s incredible is that it works. It actually looks pretty decent (it was a relief to see that they sensibly retained the original TV aspect ratio) and, despite being a relentless stream of un-related clips, it’s actually very entertaining.
All the clips here are from the halcyon Thames Television years from 1969 through to 1973 – arguably when Hill was in top form. Maybe for rights reasons, all the clips included are from episodes produced and directed from John Robins. Despite being frighteningly un-PC, the sketches are often laugh-aloud funny.
Who can resist those delicious word-plays for example which see a camp Director dance on to the set to correct actors misunderstanding the meaning of their lines.
Actor: ‘What’s this thing called, love?’
Hill: (Dancing on to set as a camp Director) ‘No No No – What’s this called LOVE?’
Actor: (pointing) ‘What’s that in the road? A head?’
Hill: No No No - what’s that in the road AHEAD!’
Some of the slapstick stuff is among the more offensive, with Doctors insisting on female patients undressing completely before they’re prepared to look at a sore finger, or lots of laughs at gay people’s expense. Or racial stereotyping with Hill’s regular glasses wearing Chinese man (Chow Mein) insisting that you ‘rissen carefurry you sirry irriot' – and on it goes. But in Hill’s defence, these were different times and you can sense that the humour is never malicious in intent or dark in any way; just bawdy and reflective of some of the worst and unenlightened social norms of the day.
Some of the more hilarious sketches include his brilliant send ups of TV shows and adverts, particularly the more pretentious arts programmes. One sketch sees a kaftan wearing Henry McGee getting terribly serious about a French new wave filmmakers’ work (Pierre De Tierre) bit being constantly undermined by the honest inanity of the great man’s replies. So McGee waxes lyrical about the filmmakers’ use of occasional black and white and what that brilliantly represents, whilst Pierre replies that they simply ran out of colour film and couldn’t afford any more. (Funnier watching this stuff than me recounting it – I promise). It put me in mind of a similar situation when Melvyn Bragg interviewed a grumpy Francis Bacon who contradicted each and every interpretation of his work by Bragg by saying things like 'No - I simply copied it from a book.' Hilarious!
Then there are Hills’ brilliant rhyming set pieces; a real music-hall gift where much of what is being said has double-meanings, signalled by a cheeky look to camera and a widening of the eyes.
His songs, whilst never particularly tuneful, are always well done with some quite brilliant word-play.
The overall effect is the sheer relentlessness and sheer volume of gags. Hill was a master at delivering the goods which is undoubtedly the secret of his immense popularity during the 70’s and early-80’s.
One of the highlights for a creaking old timer like me who loves retro TV was seeing his ‘All Star Finale’ from February 1972 where he impersonates Nana Mouskouri, Moira Anderson and Gilbert O'Sullivan. Magic – but only if you know who they are!
Extra features include an image gallery, a trailer and a PDF of a publicity pamphlet from the time of release, full of cinema campaign ads artwork.
If you’re a fan of Benny Hill and want to see some of his finest sketches all in one place, this is well worth picking up. Although it may be construed as something of a guilty pleasure these days, there are plenty of laughs to be had.