A&E // 1969 // 2900 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Maurice Cobbs (Retired) // March 30th, 2011
"Girls are like pianos. When they're not upright, they're grand." -- Benny Hill
There has been a sort of a movement, from well-meaning but wrong-headed people, to 'rehabilitate' Benny Hill as something of a pioneer and comic genius. This is a mistake. No doubt it has resulted from a kind of a backlash against the ultra-P.C. Nazis that have been sweeping over the earth, tearing down all that once stood for awesomeness, ruining everything that once was guy cool -- in this case, ripping apart Benny Hill as a misogynist and a chauvinist, completely ignoring the actual content of the man's work, which ranged from bawdy humor to delightful musical vaudeville to deft political commentary and yes, even into the realm of adolescent jiggling T&A. In point of fact, it was this gang of puritanical fascists that drove Benny off the air, eventually overwhelming Thames with a flood of complaints about the show's perceived sexism and smuttiness.
So it's understandable that some clearer-thinking individuals might want to rescue Benny Hill from being cast aside and ignored by touting the intellectual case for his body of work. Understandable, but misguided -- we just shouldn't intellectualize Benny Hill. I'm not saying that the Saucy Boy isn't overdue some well-deserved respect (he most certainly is), but intellectualizing Benny Hill would kind of be missing the point. Making more of it than what it was intended to be would be ruining the magic. And besides, there's no need. It must be a source of continuing frustration to the P.C. crowd that Benny Hill remains enormously popular, not only in the UK but around the world, holding his own against the more 'acceptable' Monty Python or Spike Mulligan and, in his day, earning the admiration of comedy luminaries such as Charlie Chaplin. Benny Hill, like England herself, endures. So don't pick at it -- just laugh. This is comedy in its purest form -- dense with layers upon layers of wit and bawdy charm; great care went into crafting it so that appreciating it would be effortless. Don't insult Benny Hill's memory by taking him seriously.
Now you can not take the Saucy Boy seriously while watching Benny Hill: The Complete Megaset, The Thames Years 1969-1989. You read that right -- twenty years' worth of The Benny Hill Show. Note that this isn't exactly the complete collected Benny Hill Show, which ran originally on BBC1 for 32 episodes (many of these unfortunately seem to be lost forever) and then on ATV for another nine before settling in at Thames for 58 episodes over two decades (that's what's collected here). Still, we're talking about 48 and a half hours worth of sketch comedy, off the wall songs, and vaudevillian shenanigans. (If you're wondering how 20 years of TV comedy adds up to less than 50 hours of material, keep in mind that Benny wrote every single bit of his own material.) And the girls are here too. Hill's Angels are probably the most iconic part of the show. Even if you've never actually seen an episode of The Benny Hill Show, you're probably at least familiar with the show's trademark segment, a homage to the golden era of silent comedy -- a wild, sped-up, absurdly comic chase scene set to "Yakety Sax," that would see the Benny on the run from a parade of people he's offended, from policemen to priests and, of course, the ladies. Busty, leggy, scantily-clad ladies. Homina, homina!
These full screen transfers look pretty good, considering the source material, though if you're expecting crystal clear picture and sound you'll likely be disappointed. The set is definitely watchable, though, and the audio is probably about as good as Dolby stereo mixed from a mono track is likely to be. Plus, A&E has assembled a darned nice collection of special features. "Benny Hill: The World's Favourite Clown" is rather special, as it's a behind-the-scenes look at Benny discussing his life and his work as he prepares to go in front of the cameras for what would turn out to be his last comedy spectacular. The "Benny Hill: Laughter and Controversy" episode of A&E's popular TV series Biography is an excellent complement to the set, detailing Benny's early struggles as he built his career until he was finally rewarded for his hard work with tremendous television success. "I Was A Hill's Angel" is a marvelous three-part featurette in which a number of the lovely ladies showcased on The Benny Hill Show share their memories of the man and of working with him on the show. And the absolute best included feature must be the inclusion of Benny's 1970 half-hour silent comedy masterpiece, "Eddie In August," a tour de force of slapstick that rivals anything ever created by Harold Lloyd or Buster Keaton. Plus, you'd better pay attention, because there actually will be a quiz afterwards -- "The Benny Hill Cheeky Challenge Trivia Quiz," to be exact.
Not guilty -- but extremely cheeky.
Review content copyright © 2011 Maurice Cobbs; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 2900 Minutes
Release Year: 1969
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Bonus Episode
* Short Film
* Trivia Quiz
* Benny's Place
* Eddie In August