The late, great Benny Hill (born Alfred Hawthorn Hill – he used Benny as a stageman as a tribute to his hero, Jack Benny) was and still is an institution of British Comedy. The very definition of the 'cheeky' funnyman, Hill's campy, goofy, good natured and often time quite raunchy humor held a place in British broadcast television with The Benny Hill Show which ran (in various incarnations) from 1955 until 1989. His background in variety show style entertainment was evident in his own series, which often featured musical guests and all manner of different sketches.
Though he'd had television appearances before and after the show and popped up in small roles in films like The Italian Job (not the Marky Mark version) and Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines, it's The Benny Hill Show that he's best known for and rightly so – it's his best work. The quality of the show shouldn't come as a surprise considering that he was given a lot more creative control over his own output than most television stars are afforded by the networks, and Hill was able to assemble a great cast of people to surround himself with.
While most people associate Hill's humor with scantily clad ladies and promiscuous situations (and make no mistake, there was plenty of that material there) the man also had a fantastic eye for satire and a lot of his comedy, when you look just a little bit behind the surface, was very clever and even, at times, quite topical. Benny Hill Complete and Unadulterated - The Naughty Early Years, Set Three, the latest boxed set from A&E to compile Hill's work, contains more than a few shining examples of classic Benny Hill moments within its ten episode selection Each episode is the full hour length as originally broadcast in the UK, and they're all being presented uncut in the United States for the first time ever on home video. Here's what you get on each of the three discs contained herein, as well as the original release dates of each episode:
Episode One (Janury 8, 1975): Benny Quickie: The Escaped Irish Convict/All Time Favorites/Benny's Ballad: Beach Of Waikiki/Gaving Blod – The Man And His Music/Benny Quickie: The Irish Unemployed/Lee Gibson – The Moment Of Truth/'Long Dry Summer' By Tennessee Robins/Newer Faces
Episode Two (March 12, 1975): Benny Quickie: Mighty Deoderant For Men/Some More All Time Favorites/The Art Of Rolf Harris/Fred Scuttle: Thames Television Producer/Benny Quickie: A Racing Cert?/Diana Darvey – It's Nice To Go Trav' Lin/Great Mysteries With Orson Buggy: The Catch/Film Talk With King Of The Kung Fu Kult, J. Arthur Mein/Midnight In Soho/Closing: Dimpton Health & Sun Club
Episode Three (September 24, 1975): A Host Of Your Favorite Stars/Benny Quickie: Irish Milkman/The Dream Makers: Clyde Jarrow/Eddie Buchanon: Going Nowhere/There's Something 'Bout You Baby I Like!/Benny Quickies: Professional Men/The Stamp Collector/The Golden Shot/Benny Quickies: Professional Men, Too!/Tex Cymbal: Golden Boy
Episode Four (December 17, 1975): Benny Quicke: Don't Jump!/Another Host Of Your Favorite Stars!/Pearl & Plain Shopping Center/Is There Anything In It? Fred Scuttle – The Mind Reader/Some Quickies On The Dance Floor/Jack And Jill: Variations On A Theme/Benny's Mexican Cabaraet/Benny Quickie: Dribble's Sights Of London Tour/The New Vicar: A Monologue/Benny Quickies: Too Late!/Dilys Watling: That Ain't No Way To Treat A Lady/El Paso/Closing: Sports Day
Episode (February 18, 1976): Benny Quickie: Your Own Food!/Guest Stars/Benny And Jackie As Luke And Tinker/Benny Quickie: Fly Spray?/Fatricia and Feter: The Pinal Foem Of Faul Pinch/Benny Quickie: A Limerick/Some More Quickies On The Dance Floor/Strangers In The Night/Benny Quickie: Bus Stop/Benny Introduces Love Machine/Benny Quickies: Misunderstandings!/Transistor Radio/Closing: Bill Poster
Episode (March 24, 1976): More Guest Stars/Domestic Bliss/Captain Fred Scuttle: Space Ace/Henry McGee Cooks Chinese With Fanee And Jonee Claddock/Brenda Arnau: Tell It Like It Is/Murder On The Oregon Express/The Lower Tidmarsh Fire Brigade Glee Singers/The Misadventures Of Robin Hood
Episode (April 21, 1976):Benny's Balld: So Many Girls/Humphrey Bumphrey: Continuity Announcer/Getting To Know You/Eddie Buchanon And Love Machine: Dancing In The Nude/Paul Eddington Asks "Is There Anything In It?"/Biology With Bellamy/Closing: German Department Store
Episode (January 26, 1977): Benny's Ballad: Bianca Malone/The Sum Awards/Benny's Commercial Bloopers/Continental Cabaret With Diana Darvey/Pets: A Poem By Pam Ayres/Nor Irons Bars A Cage…!/Peter Seymour: New Political Correspondent/Reflections: Your Love Lifts Me Higher/Bionic Baby
Episode (February 23, 1977): Eskimo Nell: A Monologue/Villain Of The Year/Zipper Martin: Quick Change Artist/The Reluctant Bridegroom/Love Machine: Think Of The Boys/Victorian Scandals/Love Machine And The Flash!/Double Date/Scouts And Guides Annual Fete
Episode (March 23, 1977): A Packged Program!/Husky And Starch/Casanova/Benny Accompanies Dilys Watling: Fever/Show-Jumping/A Feast On The Beach/Deep In My Heart On Television In Wide-Screen/Girls, Girls, Girls…/Benny's Commercial Blooper/Westminster Follies/Chinese Package Tours/The Milk Marketing Board
There are some great stand out moments in the episodes listed above. Plenty of Benny's musical numbers are sure to hit a funny bone or two and the Starsky And Hutch parody is solid comedy gold. The earlier episodes still contain the fantastic Benny Quickie moments as intros, the later ones in the set do not, which is a shame as those always started the episodes off with a quick and cheap laugh. Plenty of pretty English gals show up throughout the duration of each and every one of the hour long shows, adding to the eye candy factor and providing plenty of opportunity for Benny Hill to make all manner of candid facial expression relating to their obvious endowments - and why not? It is, after all, what he does best. The writing is clever -the lampoons of pop culture (at least popular at the time) are clever and witty and the jabs, while never too cruel or mean spirited, are pointed in all the right directions.
Each of the ten episides in the set is presented in its original 1.33.1 fullframe aspect ratio, just like they should be. While there is some softness to the picture and some mild print damage noticeable in a few sequences, the vast majority of the material spread acress the three disc set looks quite good. There are a couple of skits where the black levels look to be just a hair on the weak side but other than that the colors remain pretty strong throughout each of the skits and the flesh tones always look pretty natural and lifelike. There aren't any serious issues with edge enhancement and I didn't notice any mpeg compression artifacts during playback either.
The English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mixes are nice and clear in this set. Dialogue is clean, crisp and perfectly audible and the musical numbers and sound effects and the various ambient and audience noises used throughout the skits sound just as good. Levels are nicely balanced and you won't have any problems hearing Benny and company do their thing. There's not much action in terms of the lower end and the set is lacking a bit in the bass department but at the same time, there probably wasn't a really heavy low end in the first place when these were originally recorded. For what are literally thirty plus year old television shows, these episodes sound just fine.
Here's where, sadly, this disc comes up a bit short…>
The set includes an insert inside the box that lists a trio of Benny Fun Facts (basic trivia information) as well as some write ups on a few of the supporting characters who worked on the Benny Hill show by author Robet Ross (who penned the tome Benny Hill – Master Of Mirth.
The first two discs are barebones but on the third disc A&E presents the Eddie In August featurette which is a thirty minute made for TV silent short film that Hill made in agreement from Thames when they succesfully got him to move over from the BBC. Aside from The Benny Hill Show, this would be the only thing that Hill would ever direct (he shared the chore with regular Benny Hill Show collaborator, John Robins). While it's a fun little piece and it's great to see it on here, it's a shame that A&E didn't supply more information on the historical significance of the piece or how it affected Hill's subsequent creative output. The Benny Hill Cheeky Trivia Challenge #3 can also be found on this disc, and it's essentially a moderately amusing interactive trivia game like those found on the first two sets from A&E. Chapter selection is available for each of the ten episodes in the set and the simple menus are nicely designed and perfectly functional.
The inclusion of Eddie In August is a nice treat for fans and the liners are keen, but other than that, there's not much else here in terms of supplements.
While the set is light on extra features, the material on these three discs is great and fans of Benny Hill should be happy with the nice quality that A&E has presented these episodes in on DVD. Benny Hill Complete and Unadulterated - The Naughty Early Years, Set Three
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.