Monday, December 22, 2014

Jack Benny at 40...Situations and Conversations... you hear anything? Silence...that's one of the more unusual punchlines in all of comedy. Jack Benny used silence to great advantage...and he also used characterization to great advantage too.

Do you remember the first time you heard of Jack Benny? Are you among those that discovered him in the decades after his death? Did you witness his career first hand and do you remember the time he had a weekly television series? Are you among the age group that remembers hearing Jack Benny on radio each Sunday night at 7? Going further back, do you know of anybody that remembers Jack Benny as a performer in Vaudeville? This week marks something sad in American comedy...something that happened 40 years ago this week on December 26, 1974. That is the day the physical world lost Jack Benny at the age of 80. His television and radio programs, movies, magazine articles and books about him, and a host of documentaries about his life and career have kept him 'alive' in the time since. I became aware of Jack Benny through my grandfather. I used to spend the weekends with my grandparent's and every Sunday morning on the local PBS station my grandfather would be up watching reruns of Jack's program. I'd watch out of curiosity, at first, but even at that young of an age I had some sort of an attachment to classic TV and I still can't easily explain the reason for it.

Do you have a favorite cast member? Excluding it's star, Jack Benny, which other cast member ranks high on your list? Jack had a small regular cast and a large recurring/ensemble cast made up of character actors and actresses. The main cast during much of it's radio run during it's golden period happened to be: Jack Benny, Mary Livingstone, Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson, Don Wilson, Dennis Day, and Phil Harris. Some of the ensemble cast included the likes of: Mel Blanc, Frank Nelson, Artie Auerbach, Sam Hearn, Benny Rubin, Verna Felton, Bea Benaderet, Sara Berner, Joseph Kearns, Sheldon Leonard, Barbara Pepper, among others. Phil Harris left the radio cast in 1952 (after 16 seasons) and his spot was taken over by Bob Crosby for the remaining 3 seasons of the radio program. Bob later appeared, infrequently, on Jack's television program. One of his most notable episodes being the one guest starring Humphrey Bogart.

Do you have a favorite comic device? Jack's on-air cheapskate character became so believable that some felt he truly did have a moat, alligators, falling knives, a vault, and a security guard in his basement protecting the fortune. It also helped that Jack embellished and played up this character trait in numerous personal appearances on talk shows and on other comedian's programs (such as Burns and Allen, The Fred Allen Show, and The Red Skelton Show).

In one radio episode it's revealed that Jack loves money so much he kept a stack of Confederate money in his vault just in case there's another Civil War. Jack remarks to himself, as he's eying his millions, that if the South would've won he'd have been a billionaire.

Are you familiar with the running gag of his age being 39? It stopped at 39...and a lot of blogs and other fan-created offerings include "39" somewhere in their tributes and salutes as an in-joke. In my blog title I chose to use "40" because this marks the 40th anniversary of his 1974 death.

Did you know that he really didn't live right next door to Ronald and Benita Colman? On radio the couple made several visits and portrayed themselves as living right next door to Jack...he was always inviting himself to their upper-class dinners or their other high society gatherings. Even on episodes that didn't feature Ronald and Benita, in person, Jack often referred to them as his next door neighbors and counted them among his most loyal friends (comments like that brought in huge laughs due to Jack's obliviousness to the Colman's real feelings.)

As you can tell these are comical situations...requiring the zero use of one-liners or actual joke telling to induce laughter. It's been said that Jack's radio format featured the first known use of the elements that make up a conventional sitcom (an abbreviation for situation comedy).

I have several books about Jack's life and career. The oldest one is the book that his manger, Irving Fein, wrote entitled, Jack Benny: An Intimate Biography, published in 1976...

One of the ironies of life are critics. One of the funniest things, to me, are the consistent criticisms by those that read whatever it happens to be pertaining to Jack Benny and then proceed to criticize some publication for either being overly critical and negative or being glossed over and positive. Such polarizing feelings are largely because of how passionate one happens to be about Jack's career. Having said that it must be brought up that the authors of the books are not exactly movie or television critics. In the case of Irving Fein, he happened to be Jack's manager and therefore his style of storytelling and his recollections are largely going to center around his personal, first-hand experiences dealing with Jack and the Hollywood establishment and his recollections are going to be business-oriented but at the same time relay information about Jack's career, too. The book has a photograph section...and yes, some of the photo's I've not seen become available on-line and so this book continues to be the only place to find some of these images. I wrote a book review in January 2004 on Amazon and if you're interested in reading it here's the LINK. That must have been several weeks or months after I had purchased the book.

After the 1975 book, the second oldest is the book that Joan Benny authored titled Sunday Nights at Seven: The Jack Benny Story. This particular book came along in 1990. I got my hands on a copy much later than that. I got onto the internet for the first time in 2002 and so I arrived to the on-line world nearly 10 years after it's explosion in popularity in the mid-late '90s. One of the first places I became a member of happened to be an on-line auction site. One of the first items I purchased was this 1990 half biography/half memoir. Joan Benny (daughter of Jack and Mary) wrote a majority of this book but it includes pages of memories and recollections from her father...meant for an autobiography that never materialized during Jack's lifetime. The book is entertaining, revealing, and in some places very opinionated. Some of the more intimate among Jack's circle of celebrity friends had some disagreements with some of the depictions of Mary, as seen through Joan's remembrances, and some felt the story didn't do much to bolster Jack's legacy but those familiar with the book all seemed to agree that the greatest parts of the book are the passages from Jack Benny circa the early 1960s. The title comes from Jack's long-running time slot on radio. 

This rare, one of a kind book is something I often mention during moments like this when I salute Jack Benny but I don't believe I've ever posted an image of it on-line before!?! It's been in my possession for probably as long as the other books...since the mid 2000s. This one is a great reference book. It's called Jack Benny: The Radio and Television Work. It's publication year is 1991 and it's by The Museum of Television and Radio. This may not be a book that's entirely appreciated by the masses but it's great for those like myself who like to read about Jack's radio and television appearances and learn about specific air-dates, network affiliation, sponsors, cast line-ups, and guest stars. I snapped a picture of the back of the book, too. On page 128 the famed mock feud with Fred Allen is dissected, nearly episode by episode, starting in the mid '30s and going forward. The book is broken into various sections and segments...presumably each section being written by a member of the Museum at the time of the book's publication. There are fabulous pictures of Jack and the rest of the gang from the radio and television years. The book has a passage from William S. Paley (former CBS President), Robert Batscha (Museum President), and a Foreword by Larry Gelbart (comedy writer primarily known for M*A*S*H).

As a kid the thing that stood out the most for me is that among the Jack Benny cast was Mel Blanc (voice of many cartoon characters...Bugs Bunny being the most popular).

Mel Blanc, in character as Professor LeBlanc, is filled with annoyance and extreme hostility and contempt for Jack's expertise (?) at the violin. Professor LeBlanc and Jack had a signature comic routine built around a violin lesson. In the routine Jack would play a series of notes, half good, and the Professor would sing comical insults about Jack's playing. Here's one I made up...if you are familiar with the melody sing-a-long with LeBlanc: "Tune the strings a little higher -- You're no Heifetz I'm no Liar". Professor LeBlanc is just one of the many characters that Mel Blanc portrayed on Jack's radio and television programs. Aside from the Professor, one of Mel's most famous characters is Sy, a Mexican from Tijuana. In the comic routine Jack and Sy exchanged greetings...actually, Jack did most of the talking while Mel's character delivered one word responses. As usual, Jack played the straight man to Mel's antics. In fact, while known for being a comedic icon, Jack often played the straight man during many of the sketches and monologues. He didn't deliver rapid fire jokes or tell one-liners or delve into topical humor. Jack's humor is rooted in situations and conversations...hmmm, let's see...doesn't the phrase 'Situations and Conversations' sound like a great title for a seminar on Jack Benny??. No? Okay'll remain part of the blog entry's title.

On radio and later, on TV, Mel Blanc made annual appearances during the Christmas episodes. Often cast as a sales clerk, Mel's character at the start of the episode is happy, calm, pleasant, and eager to help any customer. Jack purchases a gift...simple enough...but here's where the comedy comes in: Jack constantly changes his mind over what to buy a cast member for Christmas (usually announcer Don Wilson). Each time he visits Mel he either exchanges a gift for something else or he's forgotten to sign the gift card or he's written something on a gift card that he has since changed his mind about. Each and every time Mel has to catch the delivery man and retrieve the gift, Jack makes his changes, and off it goes to the delivery room once more...ready to be mailed out. Moments later, Jack would make another visit to Mel's counter. Visibly angered and near tears, Mel already prepares himself for Jack's inevitable wish to change something about the gift...and off he goes to the delivery room to try and catch the delivery driver before the truck takes off.

This remains one of several must-see memorials that aired following Jack's death 40 years ago. This one is hosted by Charles Kuralt and it features many appearances of Jack's radio and TV co-stars and peers.

Kelsey Grammer hosted a nice tribute to Jack in 1995...

Jack Benny and Frank Nelson bicker and converse about an upcoming airplane flight. Given that the routine takes place later in the episode, for those that hadn't seen the beginning, you aren't going to get the joke that Frank delivers near the end of his scene...

In the collage below there's Jack and character actor Charlie Cantor. He played various dimwit characters on Jack's radio and television programs; earlier he portrayed Socrates Mulligan in the original version of Allen's Alley on Fred Allen's radio program; most famously portrayed Clifton Finnegan on Duffy's Tavern. In the photo in the top right is Dennis Day (the program's tenor singer). Then it's the program's long-time announcer, Don Wilson, and next to Don is the orchestra leader, Phil Harris. Phil has a second appearance in the bottom row featuring his wife, Alice Faye. Lastly there's Jack and the Colman's reading over a script.

Amidst those highly entertaining figures that became associated with Jack Benny there is one cast member that you couldn't do a salute to Jack Benny without having this person mentioned somewhere...and that person is Eddie "Rochester" Anderson. For pretty much the length of the Jack Benny run on American entertainment, both on radio and on TV from the early 1930s through the early 1970s, Rochester typically had his share of on-air time and later, screen time...often poking fun at his boss' reputation for being cheap and refusing to purchase a modern-day car. Rochester acted as Jack's butler, chauffeur, cook, and tended to the outside chores (gardening, mowing the yard, etc. etc.). I believe Rochester also as in charge of keeping Jack's various pets fed: Carmichael the Polar Bear and Polly the Parrot (both voiced by Mel Blanc) and the alligators in the basement. Rochester always had a comical zinger to deliver and his scenes often ended with those. His exposure increased more and more in the television years as the setting became much more of a traditional, domesticated sitcom. On radio, since the Rochester character worked at Jack's house, he wasn't written to be a part a part of Jack's celebrity world and the only times Rochester would be heard interacting with Dennis Day or Phil Harris, for example, is if they visited Jack's house. The program had a show-within-a-show format. Scenes involving Rochester took place at Jack's house.

"Okay Boss...Pay Up..."
This by no means is meant to be a career retrospective or a life story of Jack Benny. If you are interested in his career, check out the various books that I made mention of and above all else check out the actual radio and television programs that Jack Benny starred in. His radio programs ran on radio for 23 years, 1932-1955. His television programs ran on TV for 15 years, 1950-1965. After this, Jack made several special one hour programs throughout the rest of the decade and into the early part of the 1970s before he became too ill to perform. Notable products attached to his program through the decades: Chevrolet, General Tire, Jell-O, Grape Nuts/Grape Nuts Flakes, Lucky Strike.

Jack Benny died on December 26, 1974 at the age of 80 due to complications from Pancreatic Cancer. He was buried on December 29, 1974...ironically on a Sunday...
Jack Benny: 1894-1974

Monday, December 15, 2014

Benny Hill...a 90 year anniversary...

I couldn't let 2014 go by without making mention of the 90th anniversary year of Benny Hill's birth. Born in January 1924 and passing away in April 1992, Benny Hill became one of the biggest comedy icon's of all-time (in my opinion). Originally rooted in verbal comedy and parody, seek out the black and white episodes Benny did for the BBC in the early part of his television career. Those episodes appear in a series called Benny Hill: The Lost Years. I have the VHS release...I don't have the DVD counterpart.

Benny's humor after leaving the BBC eventually became much more slapstick and pantomime, a move that guaranteed his programs to be universal given the elimination of a language barrier. Those programs became a hallmark of the Thames Television-era. Those programs (several specials broadcast throughout the year) were packed with bizarre poems, elaborate song and dance segments, all styles of comedy (both spoken and visual), and a fondness for theatrical staging created a Vaudeville-era showcase and a throwback to traditional comedy during a time when younger English comedians were embracing a so-called modern style of humor. Benny's age at the time of his first Thames production in 1969 was 45 and as the following decade opens we reach the mid 1970s and Benny's television specials are remaining enormously popular. After 10 years at Thames (1979) and numerous one-hour comedy specials, a decision is made to syndicate Benny's programs for American audiences.

In America the Benny Hill programs aired as half hour clip-filled presentations of sketches that originated during the first 10 years of the Thames TV association. The series ran in late night time-slots (or early morning time-slots, just before sunrise) on hundreds of local television stations in America. The hodgepodge look of the clip-filled series and the fact that Benny's age changes dramatically from sketch to sketch added to the uniqueness and appeal. Those at Thames TV and even Benny himself are quoted as being in disbelief that the programs attracted such a strong audience and fan base in America...but once the series became a smash hit in syndication in America it was like the floodgates opened up and from 1979 onward Benny Hill seemed to rule international humor...even though he'd been a big hit on British television since the 1960s. Yes, if you're keeping track, the year that Benny's sketches came to America in 1979 he was 55 years old. As I mentioned earlier, due to the American aired episodes being a compilation package, his age fluctuated 5-10 years within a single half-hour episode.

All the while Benny's sketches were entertaining millions of Americans and millions in Europe and millions of television viewers all over the world, he continued doing his usual sporadic television specials for Thames TV each year. Every year the half hour syndicated programs in America often gained new material annually as current sketches from then-recent Benny Hill specials continued to be woven into episodes that featured older sketches. By the mid 1980's the syndicated episodes looked even more distinct and by then Benny had turned 60 (in 1984). It is during the 1980's that the famous, or infamous, Hill's Angels made their debut. The Hill's Angels are the name of the group of women that appeared in many song-and-dance routines (often with Benny playing the part of the bum, the loser, or the easily excited spectator...typically all three rolled into one!). The name, Hill's Angels, has sort of retroactively come to identify all the beautiful women/models that appeared on his programs over the decades even though the name itself never came into being until the 1980's.

The Angels also played heavily in the sped-up silent sketches...a filmed segment that appeared on all the Thames TV episodes...and often it consisted of Benny and his familiar co-stars (Henry McGee, Jackie Wright, Bob Todd). A typical presentation starts out calmly and eventually works itself into a frenzied display of sight gags. It's in these sped-up presentations that one of the most memorable sight gags became immensely popular and referred to by many viewers as "the slapping of the head of the little bald guy".

The sped-up presentations make generous use of camera tricks (called under-cranking) and those appear at various moments in any number of episodes. In the closing segments of his programs, often a sped-up gag reel, the action is played under the saxophone solo of Boots Randolph's "Yakety Sax" as Benny eventually is chased by everybody he meets as the credits roll.

As the 1980's progressed, more and more younger comics were starting to come out of the woodwork and many of them had a much different style of comedy. In the mid-late '80s several British comedians seemingly took it upon themselves to launch into anti-Benny Hill tirades. Feminists received a much louder voice and the language-stifling unofficial censorship policy, popularly known as political correctness, played a part in Benny's eventual cancellation at Thames TV in 1989.

By that time Benny had started to incorporate a lot of cute humor into the sketches...lots of children become part of the sped-up sketches...and in typical fashion Benny allowed the other people in the comedy sketches to come out as the winner. As mentioned earlier, Benny usually always played the bum, the loser, the fall guy, the bad luck charm. In any comical sketch in which Benny seemed to be coming out on top of a situation, something always happened to change his fate. If he happened to be a pirate and stumbled upon a chest...he'd visually relish the idea of being rich...only to open the chest and find a sign that read "It's Lonely In Here!" and he'd make one of his famous comical expressions at the camera, start crying, and the scene would cut to something else. Another sight gag one might see is of Benny spraying deodorant under his arms and then suddenly noticing huge paint spots in his arm pits...often leading to this classic facial expression...

Silent movies were a huge inspiration to him and that's evident right from the start of his television career. He was the recipient of a prestigious Charlie Chaplin award in 1991. In the BBC era Benny often presented films from a fictional character named J. Arthur Clinker, billed as "the fastest film maker". Benny's straight-man in the BBC telecasts was Jeremy Hawk (a role later taken up by Henry McGee during the Thames TV era).

I research a lot and a couple of years ago I came across several articles originally printed in British newspapers that featured younger comedians making disparaging remarks about Benny's style of comedy and it's "old-fashioned" look. The thing that baffled me is the idea of a comic viciously attacking another comic. Isn't it kind of an unwritten rule that comics are all in it together...creating laughter? Unless there are 2 comedians engaging in a mock-feud (like Fred Allen and Jack Benny), it seems kind of crude for one comedian to bash another on the merits of what's funny. Humor is subjective...thankfully.

After the cancellation of the Thames TV contract in 1989, Benny's syndicated television programs in America eventually came to an end even though a couple of local stations in my area continued to air repeats of the clip-fests into the early 1990s. A local ABC station in Columbus aired the program in the overnight hours (late Saturday, early Sunday) opposite the last half hour of Saturday Night Live on NBC. Another station aired the program at an even later time-slot on Sunday mornings. Benny's fame in America led to a 1991 television special taped in New York. It's official name is Benny Hill's World Tour: New York. It was filmed/taped on-location in the spring of 1990 but it aired early in 1991 on the USA cable channel. It became the first and only hour long Benny Hill television special to originate outside of England.

It was going to be part of a "World Tour" series but only the New York special became a reality...his health played a deciding factor in the non-materialization of the other proposed specials (I touch on that later in the blog).

The television special proves that he was in top comic form...and there are several video clips of sketches from the 1991 television special on YouTube. One of the funniest is the Rap Song...

In the meantime, one of the hallmarks of burlesque and early stage comedy in general is the female impersonation by men. Modern audiences think "female impersonations" and perhaps instantly think of people described as Drag Queens. Centuries ago men dressed up as women for laughs and females often played the part of young boys (even today, a lot of young boys on cartoons are often voiced by females). It's almost impossible for people today to rationalize this kind of humor. Those that have no knowledge of burlesque humor (particularly Victorian burlesque of the 19th century) and therefore have a lack of understanding of it's comical value are typically confused or at a loss for words. Some people ignorantly proclaim that comics that dressed up as women must be closet homosexuals or something. I hardly suspect Milton Berle, for example, to have been a closet homosexual. He dressed up in female attire plenty of times for comic effect. The cartoon character, Bugs Bunny, famously put on dresses, lipstick, and heavy mascara in many attempts to ridicule Elmer Fudd's befuddled dopiness and apparent shyness around females.

Look up Victorian burlesque or read up on English music hall comedy and you'll immediately notice Benny Hill's biggest inspiration. He not only played the roles of Princesses and Queens but also of Kings, Dukes, Princes, and court jesters.

In February 1992 Benny Hill had a mild heart attack. Reports state he refused to change his eating habits or his lifestyle...and eventually this led to his death at the age of 68 in April 1992. It's been reported that on the very day he died a contract arrived in the mail for even more television specials. One can assume that these specials would've aired throughout 1992 and into 1993 and possibly beyond that point in time but as it turned out only the New York program surfaced in early 1991. After his death millions of people obviously mourned, friends, and extended family members alike. It's not a secret that Benny passed away in the midst of social controversies surrounding his brand of humor and many believe the cancellation of his Thames TV contract played a factor in his death considering that the television specials were "his life" and once he had "nothing to live for" he started to lose the desire to carry on. The New York television special doesn't play into that narrative, though. I've seen bits of the 1991 special and I didn't see a man torn apart or in my eyes it was the usual Benny Hill up on the screen...making faces, rolling his eyes, dancing and prancing around, and delivering one joke after another. In the 20+ years after his death the home video and later, the DVD market, became commercial avenues for Benny's legacy. The VHS home videos featured comedy sketches, at random, from the Thames TV specials that Benny did during the latter half of the '70s and into the '80s. The DVD series, titled Complete and Unadulterated, contained actual full length programs from Benny's earliest years on Thames TV. The actual programs themselves featured a mix of previously filmed sketches, live sketch performances, singing, and dancing...including Benny coming onto the stage at the beginning and talking to the audience. As mentioned, the half hour edited programs that aired in America starting in 1979 contained none of the monologues, singers, or other trappings of a variety program. The syndicated programs that aired in America contained one sketch after the other after the other...maybe featuring a comical patter song from Benny, too, to break up the sketch formula...but that's it. The full length episodes are a revelation to those only familiar with the edited half hour clip-fests that aired on American television stations for more than 10 years.

Enjoy the pictorial salute...I start things off displaying one of those A&E DVD releases of the Benny Hill the image at the bottom right I display the VHS tapes of his BBC programs. Those episodes are all in black and white. Located on one of those tapes is a hilarious parody of "Bonanza" titled Bo-Peep. Benny, thanks to camera tricks, plays the parts of Ben Cartwright, Little Joe, and Hoss. Patricia Hayes, one of Benny's earliest supporting players, plays the part of Bo-Peep. She accuses the sons of stealing her sheep. In yet another sketch during the BBC era Benny does an exaggerated spoof of Mick Jagger and the rest of the Rolling Stones. 

In another sketch found on one of the VHS tapes Benny parodies television commercials (one of his favorite routines) and in a sped-up film by fictional J. Arthur Clinker we're all treated to a surreal and bizarre film spoofing melodrama's and action-adventure films. The film is made so fast that there's misplaced edits, strange camera angles, problems with the film's speed (jumping from slow motion to uptempo, back and fourth). During a crucial moment in the story, Benny's character attempts to pour out his feelings but his dialogue skips due to the unnecessary editing. As stated, J. Arthur Clinker truly is the fastest film maker in the world. In the first picture in the bottom row, that VHS tape consists of another J. Arthur Clinker 'masterpiece'. This time around it's from one of the Thames TV episodes and it features Benny as a love-struck passenger on a ship. Nicholas Parsons appears as Benny's rival. In this sketch there's a hysterical scene where the line "why didn't you tell me you were a second class passenger?" is shot and re-shot multiple times...each successive take is performed in a much slower tempo than before. If you look close enough, during one of the last slow takes of the phrase, you'll see Benny struggling not to break out laughing.

In some of the collages, as you can see, I posted images of myself next to Benny. On my Facebook page I have an image of myself saluting, as Benny Hill, and I recently took the image and placed it side by side with an image of Benny saluting in the same manner. Some of the collage site's special features enabled me to be somewhat creative but I didn't explore each and every special effect available. Up next is a series of collage's that I put together recently. There's one that I deliberately put together to spotlight the burlesque side of his comedy and the female impressions. I didn't come across any suitable pictures of any of his supporting players in drag although I've got video of sketches that have Jackie Wright all dressed up in high heels and a long wig and one unforgettable sketch featuring Henry McGee in a blue dress, pearl ear rings and matching necklace, and donning a tight curly wig.

This is by no means a complete representation of Benny Hill's female impersonations. At various moments in his programs, both on the BBC and for Thames TV, he often impersonated movie actresses and political figures. Some of the usual targets happened to be Elizabeth Taylor, Margaret Thatcher, and Mae West. In the four pictures to the left, Benny is dressed up as non-celebrities. Often the females happened to be nags or holier-than-thou...or scheming gold-diggers. In his series of commercial parodies he often played the part of the housewife demonstrating numerous items found in the kitchen, laundry, or the bathroom. One of the BBC sketches featured Benny as both Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor and later as Mae West and W.C. Fields. Much later, during the Thames TV era, Benny brought back his impression of Mae West and W.C. Fields many more times in comical encounters. As far as the female vocals it typically depended on the kind of female. Most of the nagging wives had a high pitched, irritated voice. The snooty females all had a similar vocalization that played into that type...complete with haughty laughter and an arrogant demeanor about themselves and others. The larger picture seems to come from a soap opera spoof...and in those sketches Benny played the females as overly dramatic and prone to breaking into tears very easily. In that larger image the character looks as if she's thinking of some sort of scheme to either break up a relationship or enter into one. The image at the top left appears as if Benny applied the snooty/aristocratic vocalization to that character.

I don't have any information as to the year this picture happened to originate but based on the light colored shirt and his hair I'd say this is from an interview session he did at some point in 1990 or 1991. There's a VHS tape titled Benny Hill: The World's Favorite Clown, which surfaced in 1991. I have the VHS tape and I also have it on DVD. It's a special bonus feature on one of the A&E releases. There's another documentary on Benny that also makes an appearance as a bonus feature on another A&E disc. That particular documentary originally aired as part of A&E's Biography series, hosted by Peter Graves. The official title of that episode is called Benny Hill: Laughter and Controversy. In each documentary surviving supporting players and behind the scenes people give their thoughts on Benny and near the end of each documentary the supporting players offer their feelings on the shabby treatment his career received at the end of his life by television critics (ironically those that lived in England) and the accusations his humor obtained by a host of younger comics in England at the time. Benny, himself, takes part in the 1991 documentary and offers his thoughts of Thames TV ending his contract. He doesn't say anything too harsh but others do. In addition to those documentaries (both of them I strongly recommend) and in addition to the DVDs, there's also several books on the market about Benny. I personally do not have any of those books...I've not come across any review that has convinced me that any of the available books are accurate and lovingly written. I refuse to purchase anything that puts Benny in a negative light.

Let's all mug for the camera, shall we?? I don't necessarily like the idea of being approached by somebody (Benny) whose carrying a syringe. He didn't numb my mouth...the syringe is just for looks I found out. It appears as if the same thing happened to that poor woman (Benny)...she couldn't even tolerate the canned pasta on her table. You can click the smaller collage's for a bigger view. Did Benny Hill have any recurring characters? For those that might be wondering...the answer is yes! In addition to the previously mentioned fastest film-maker, J. Arthur Clinker. Benny also had a long-running character by the name of Fred Scuttle. This character is typically the one that did the backhanded salute across the forehead but the gesture soon started to make it's way onto any sketch regardless of character but it's Scuttle that I happened to see do the gesture the most often during his introductions. Scuttle is often in the sped-up silent sketches, too. Another character is Chow Mein. This character, a parody of the Chinese, often mangled the English language and exchanged in confrontational conversations (most often with Henry McGee). Typically Chow Mein grows frustrated by McGee's inquisitive nature and his habit of repeating everything back to the viewers. This causes Chow to growl in irritated cadence: "why must you repeat e'erything..." followed by the most popular catchphrase, "you stoopid iriot" (English translation: "you stupid idiot!"). Sometimes another supporting player, Bob Todd, appears along side Benny as a character named Cookie Boy (a cook at one of Chow Mein's fictional restaurants). Another long running character, Ted Tingle, often appeared as a storyteller and a poet...delivering poems and patter song with a thick Cockney accent.

I hope more and more people discover Benny Hill as time goes by. Thanks to the internet it's easy to search for his comedy and seek out others that enjoyed his humor for the sheer happiness it brought. To over-think and over-analyze Benny's style of humor is doing a disservice to it's intention. It's not hard hitting, satiric humor in the same category of those that are in the David Frost tradition. Benny's humor allows one to embrace their inner silliness and laugh at life's experiences and see the absurdity in a lot of everyday situations. In his own kind of way he was a trailblazer...he's one of the first British comics to explore television's capabilities. Benny may have been the only British comic of his generation to embrace television and not look at it in a scornful manner (as film and stage comics tended to do).

Simply put, Benny's humor will last as long as people enjoy laughing.

Benny Hill: 1924-1992