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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The name Benny Hill has for too long been a byword for the so-called
'old school of British comedy'. the very thing alternative comedy set
out to ( and did ) destroy. About the only time we see his work now is
in tacky retro programmes of the '100 Most Embarrassing Things About
The '70's' variety. A clip of Benny being chased through a park by
scantily-clad lovelies followed by some smug media whore slapping his
forehead, before exclaiming: "What was that all about?". So it was with
some misgivings that I sat down to watch this over the festive period.
It began by telling us nothing new; that Hill was one of the most popular comedians in Britain for forty years, before falling foul of the alternative comedy brigade, in particular Ben Elton. I like and admire Elton, mainly for his work on 'The Young Ones' and 'Blackadder', but his attacks on Hill were ludricrously over the top.
'Funny' retold the story of Hill's life and career and included little-seen ( by me anyway ) clips from his B.B.C. series, widely regarded as the apex of his career. His take off of Mick Jagger was hysterical! There was more to Benny than leering milkmen and busty blondes, as several contributors pointed out. Like Ronnie Barker, he could create memorable comedy simply by playing around with words. Many of his funniest sketches did not rely on visual humour.
It came as a shock to see Ben Elton finally giving way and describing Hill as a 'great comedian', something many of us have known for years. Perhaps Elton's change of heart is attributable to his now knowing what its like to go out of style himself, as the hostile reaction to his disastrous B.B.C. sitcom 'Blessed' well and truly proved.
Finally, a randomly chosen audience of young people were invited to watch several Benny Hill sketches. The looks of pleasure on their faces was the most wondrous sight on British television in years. They voted Hill a hit.
Whether 'Is Benny Hill Still Funny?' leads to a resurgence of interest in his humour remains to be seen. But the signs are that young people have had a belly full of being ordered not to laugh at certain things, and want the chance to make up their own minds. Somewhere in that great television studio in the sky, one Alfred Hawthorne Hill must be looking down - and smiling.
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