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BENNY HILL: THE NAUGHTY EARLY YEARS
Set Two

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: 500 Minutes, three discs individually packaged
Release date: January 25, 2005

“Drink and sex. That's what killed your uncle - drink and sex!”

“Yeah. He couldn't get either, so he shot himself.”

Film ***

While he was already a success in television, it was his collaboration with Thames in the late 1960’s that made Benny Hill famous all over the world.  He only made a few shows per year, and they were translated into 140 languages.  After being presented with the Chaplain award, he took a tour of his home and was euphoric to discover that Chaplain had shelves of videotapes of Benny’s shows.  He must be pretty good if his idol loved him so much, thought Benny.  In the end, he had surpassed his idol in commercial success, though he was unceremoniously fired just a few weeks after Thames said publicly that he was the jewel in their crown. 

The show became more risqué later in the 70’s, and his humor became cruder.  The public did not always understand how he ridiculed men and praised women in his bawdy humor, and assumed that he was fooling around with most if not all of the women.  In the age of the women’s movement, the public was often put off by the shows.  In reality he treated many of them like family, acting like a surrogate uncle.  He also brought untrained child actors into the show.  Finally in 1989 the show was abruptly cancelled, but talks of a revival---with the same Thames Company, which had dumped him---continued until his death in 1992.  As so often happens, talent is taken for granted, and then suddenly gone just when we wanted more. 

One of the funniest moments is when Hill plays an arrogant French film director Pierre, who dismisses all of the praise from a fawning critic, even calling him a genius for dramatically shifting from color to B&W, the host responds: "No, no. I ran out of color."  This is a sly swipe at the French, filmmaking in general, and entertainment egos in particular.  Brilliant!

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 failed the Benny Hill Cheeky Challenge Trivia Quiz #2 miserably, but it was fun to play. The other feature is the excellent special Benny Hill: Laughter and Controversy episode of A&E’s Award-Winning Series BIOGRAPHY.    It contains more information not included in the extra features of Season One.                                                           

Summary :

Benny Hill was always himself, always warm and lovable, and prodigious in his output.  Any viewer who longs for the days of less hateful comedy and cute showgirls won’t want to miss this season.

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