If you’re looking to reflect back on the old English television comedies, Amazon.com is having a sale that ends April 22nd. The Amazon British comedy sale includes various DVDs (although not this specific set) of “The Benny Hill Show” and other classic comedies like “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” and “Mr. Bean”. From my recent experience, I must admit there are worse ways to spend a few hours.
"The Benny Hill Show", wildly popular in the United Kingdom, found its way to American syndication in the late seventies and became an immediate hit. The show's theme song, "Yakety Sax", thanks to the many sketches with people chasing each other around, is forever synonymous with hijinks and general craziness. You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone under the age of 40 who didn't watch Benny Hill at some point in their life. So it was with much excitement that I poured over the DVD set "Benny Hill: The Complete Megaset - The Thames Years 1969-1989".
Along with 58 complete episodes from 1969-1989, the megaset includes two documentaries on Hill himself, including the wonderful and quite heartbreaking 2001 episode of A&E's Biography, "Benny Hill: Laughter and Controversy" as well as a Benny Hill trivia game, two featurettes on "Hill's Angels" and liner notes about the DVDs.
My memories of "The Benny Hill Show" are those of a 12 year-old girl who thought his show was racy, sexist and really silly. I remember being surprised that my parents would let me watch it because I thought I was watching something completely adult-oriented. I memorized his songs and loved his jokes (using our book covers at school, my friends and I used to re-create his graffiti sketches with one liners like "God is dead - Fred. Fred is dead - God."). But I was 12. Everything is funny when you're 12. So I took on the assignment of watching these shows 30 years later to see if they held up to my sense of humor now.
I was delighted to find out that they did.
Not twenty seconds into the first episode I found myself laughing out loud and I didn't stop laughing until I shut off the DVD. Hill's comedy wasn't groundbreaking or even particularly edgy (a lot of his punch lines reminded me of jokes my father and uncles would tell around the holiday table while the kids laughed hysterically and the wives rolled their eyes) but his humor is ageless. None of the jokes seemed dated, even though a lot of these jokes are very old and reinvented from someone else's original joke, they were just funny.
Hill mixed his comedy and song writing talents often on the show. Original songs that sound like contemporary loves songs usually turned into twisted comedy bits. Unlike a lot of comedy shows where the musical numbers drag down the rest of the show, Hill’s comedy numbers enhance each episode, giving you something to not only laugh at but to tap your toe to as well.
Hill surrounded himself with funny people who only enhanced the show. There wasn’t a moment I watched where I wondered how someone got a job because they all seemed to fit in well together. But, truly, the reason to watch “The Benny Hill Show” was always Benny Hill himself and this DVD set is a brilliant reminder of how enjoyable he is to watch.
As an adult, I’ll admit to some of the sketches bringing me to a different place than they intended. When he sang a song about lost love, regardless of the fact that it turns humorous, I reflected back on the already-mentioned A&E documentary that painted Hill as a wonderful but very lonely man. (The story has been often told that Hill, never married, proposed to three different women in his lifetime only to be turned down by them all.) It’s still unbelievable to me that someone who brought so many people such joy, by many accounts, didn’t have a lot of it in his own life.
But that shouldn’t be a deterrent to watching this megaset. Benny Hill wanted to make people laugh and he did and now, thanks to A&E Home Entertainment giving us these 585 sketches, he’ll continue to do so for decades to come.