The Benny Hill Show, which had been running off and on periodically on Thames Television since 1969 after moving from the BBC, finally came to an end when it was cancelled in 1989. Times were changing, political correctness was slowly but surely moving in, and Hill's comedy had to change with the times. As such, he did lose a bit of his edge as he didn't get quite as dirty or play with as many innuendos as he used to. Regardless, even if these eight later episodes don't represent Hill at the top of his game they're still a lot of brainless fun.
The trademark Benny Quickies bits are present throughout, short little gags that go straight for the laugh, and his penchant for poking fun at pop culture is still her and still quite sharp as shown in his take off on Cagney And Lacey. Of course, the Hill's Angels (an ongoing Charlie's Angels parody) show up here but without as much sex appeal as they'd had in the past. Hill tried to reach out to a different audience with the almost family friendly Hill's Little Angels skits a few times, but these just aren't as funny as they should have been and they come across as a weak attempt to pull in some ratings. The show was labeled as sexist (though Hill's defense was that it was the men who were portrayed as stupid and even if his female characters were scantily clad at least they were intelligent) and as racially insensitive (and there was some legitimacy to these claims as the show did often deal in stereotypes – the Chow Mein: Home Catering skit is a prime example of this) and the humor started to seem rather dated. Thames said that Hill was dropped due to a decline in ratings, and that may have been part of it, but the content of the show also probably played a part in their decision to let him go as. Oddly enough, the final episode supposedly brought twelve million viewers in – nothing to scoff at, ratings wise.
Whatever the reason for the shows ultimate cancellation, there's no disputing that this later material just isn't on par with some of the earlier stuff. A lot of the jocks are old hat by this point and while there is still plenty of charm to be found here, it isn't as funny when it doesn't feel fresh. A few attempts to spruce things up a bit feel forced and the writing had gotten more than a little predictable by this point. Many of the regular supporting cast members are still here and are, as always, fun to watch but things seem a little tired by this point in the series' run.
Hill fans will still want to check this material out, if only to complete their collections of complete, uncut episodes but those new to Hill's comedy are better served by starting with some of the earlier collections that A&E has made available. The comedy there is a little stronger, a little more creative and a fair bit funnier. There is something to be said for these later episodes, even if they're not fantastic, in that the familiarity that they provide does count for something and Hill's quirky little grin and mischievous eyes are always impishly funny, but it just feels like something is missing, like his heart isn't completely in it at this point in the game.
The eight fifty-minute episodes in this three disc set are spread out as follows (in their original broadcast order, no less) and contain the following skits:
Episode One (March 12, 1986): The Love Ship/Bennie Quickie: Fortune-Teller/The Bucket/Testament Television/Hill's Angels: Chez When/Benny Hill: Sexist?/R. Dibble: Handyman
Episode Two (March 31, 1986): Benny's Greatest Hits/Living The Dream/The Herd/Come To The Cabaret/Discrimination In The Work Place/Benny Hill: Behind The Scenes!/European Television/A Day In The Life Of Rembrandt
Episode Three (April 16, 1986): Bijou Burlesque/Benny Quickies: Honesty!/Funny Old World/Benny Quickies: Honest! II/Proverbs/Benny Quickies: Doctor On The Go/The New York Slob/The Edited Sketch/Benny Quickies: Directions And Obsessions/Cagney And Lacey/Hospital Hi-Jinx
Episode Four (January 13, 1988): Benny Quickies: Married Life/Brooklyn Benny/The Halitosis Kid/Celebrity Menu/Hill's Angels: A Night On The Tiles/Hill's Little Angels: Outdoor Games/Benny Quickies: State The Obvious!/National Smile Week
Episode Five (April 27, 1988): Benny Quickies: Don't Speak!/Bronco Benny/Benny Quickies: Misheard And Mistaken/Joggers/Pigeon English/Have A Butchers/Club Chicago-Go/Benny Quickies: Misheard And Mistaken II/Down With President Fartas
Episode Six (February 8, 1989): Benny Quickies: Indiscretions/Benny's Ballad: Cockney Girls And Rustic Lasses/Hill's Little Angels: The Birthday Party/Fred Scuttle: The Daily Scuttle/Benny Quickies: Bad Memory!/Hill's Angels: Sport/The After Dinner Speech Dinner/Benny Quickies: Sick As A Dog/The Crook Report
Episode Seven (April 5, 1989): Benny Quickies: Frank Talking!/Scuttle's Circus/Benny's Ballad: Anna Marie/Benny Quickies: Frank Talking! II/Heroes Through The Ages/Misunderstandings/Chow Mein: Home Catering/Hill's Angels: Photocall/Misunderstandings II/Jungle Antics
Episode Eight (May 1, 1989): Pepy's Diary/Benny Quickies: Getting Away With It/The Good Guys/Marriage Guidance/Benny Hill: A Single Life/Hill's Angels: TV Show Titles/Benny Quickies: You're Next!/School Master/Hill's Little Angels: Gone Fishing
All in all, while this is definitely a softer, cleaner side of Benny Hill, there are still some very funny bits of sketch comedy in here – you just have to search a little harder for them. Those looking for his trademark sexist humor might be put off by the more politically correct material here, some of which is definitely a bit too cute for its own good, but there's enough 'distinctly Hill' material here that seasoned fans of his show will enjoy it even if it isn't on the same level as his earlier, raunchier material.
Each of the eight episodes 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 across 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 the last few years of The Benny Hill Show which touch on the last years of the comedians life and some of the projects that he'd been in the planning stages on before he passed. Written by author Robert Ross (who penned the tome Benny Hill – Master Of Mirth), these are pretty interesting and worth a read.
The first two discs are barebones but on the third disc A&E presents a featurette entitled The Hills Angels: In Conversation. This runs for just under ten-minutes and it's three of the ladies laying on a bed together talking about their time spent on the show. It doesn't go too in-depth but they do cover what it was like working on the show, what they thought of Benny, and what they did after the series ended. The Benny Hill Cheeky Challenge Trivia Quiz #6 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.
While this is very definitely second tier Hill, it's certainly better than no Hill at all and the fact that it's the last of the show gives it some historical significance for fans of the series. Not the best place to start, nor a great way to send off one of England's finest comics, but there's enough here that works to make this set worth a look. A&E's presentation is decent, the episodes look and sound quite nice, though a little more effort in the extra features department would have gone a long way towards making this a better collection. Consider The Benny Hill Show – Complete And Unadulterated: The Hill's Angels Years Set Six recommended for die hard fans and a solid rental for everyone else.
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.