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BENNY HILL: THE NAUGHTY EARLY YEARS
Set One

Review by Mark Wiechman

Stars: Benny Hill, Henry McGee, Rita Webb, Jack Wright, Jenny Lee-Wright
Audio: Dolby 2.0
Video: Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio: A & E
Features: See Review
Length: 550 Minutes, three discs individually packaged
Release Date: August 24, 2004

“I say, is this Platt's Bottom?”

“No, it's not, it's mine!”

“Well, where do I find Platt's Bottom?”

“Well, you don't start from there!”

“Well, which direction is it?”

“I don't know.”

“Me neither.”

“You're not very bright, are you?”

“No, but we ain't lost!”

Film ***

Burlesque and vaudeville may have vanished long ago, but Benny Hill managed to keep the style going well into the digital age.  His shows were his life.  This three-disc set of eleven episodes, originally shown in Britain beginning in November of 1969 (though Hill had been on television since the 1950’s) are the first time these episodes have been seen in their entirety in the USA.  This set also features three “lost” episodes, which had to be shot in B&W due to a technician’s strike.  They have not been shown since their original broadcast all those years ago. 

Benny was the first real TV comedy star in Britain, being Red Skelton and Milton Berle in one.  He had a four-way split screen for his send-up of Juke Box Jury.  His contemporaries found him to be more bold like American comics, and his subtleties and attention to detail as well as his suggestive looks came across so well on TV, whereas he was a failure as a solo performer in theatre.  Like the Beatles, he worked in Germany after WWII and was actually discovered there. 

Hill in some ways is an enigma because he wrote constantly and of course was surrounded by beautiful women, but in real life he was very sensitive and not a playboy at all.  Fluent in four languages, he traveled alone throughout Europe, looking for new ideas and material.  He was very generous with his money to friends but he rarely spent much on himself.  He refused to work with one large financial firm just because they frequently went to the races on Saturday afternoon, which may have made them seem untrustworthy. 

The funniest sequence in the first season is probably the newlywed couple in their honeymoon suite in Germany who suddenly find themselves on opposite sides of the US-Soviet border.  A guard is actually posted in their room who refuses to let them cross the line even though it goes right down the middle of their room, and they cannot consummate their marriage.  The guard spews typical Soviet propaganda, and then when he finally leaves, the bride refuses to sleep with her “imperialist pig” husband.  Suddenly an attractive Russian female guard comes in and switches the flags due to a compass mistake, and Benny again finds himself with a pretty girl who accepts him.  His new wife can’t switch sides again. 

Video **1/2

Remarkably clear for its age, few artifacts but some poor lighting and of course the limitations of British TV production and the tape production are mostly to blame. I can’t tell if anything was cleaned up or remastered, since it is not bad looking, but just not as sharp as most American programs made in the same era.

Audio **

Only Dolby Stereo, and sometimes poorly recorded by modern standards. There is no close-caption as the Amazon page says there is. This is a shame since the myriad of British accents used is difficult for a “colonist” like me to understand. I can’t tell if it was cleaned up at all for DVD release. More than likely this was merely a reflection of normal TV audio at the time and can’t be corrected.

Features **

I have yet to come close to passing the Benny Hill Cheeky Challenge Trivia Quiz (#1 is featured on this disc), but it was fun to play. The other feature is the excellent The World’s Favorite Clown, which is probably the first thing any viewer should watch.  

Summary:

Few television shows were such smashes fresh out of the gate, but Benny Hill certainly was, and has aged gracefully.  Enjoy!

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