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  Best of Benny Hill, The As Seen On TV
Year: 1974
Director: John Robins
Stars: Benny Hill, Patricia Hayes, Eira Heath, Henry McGee, Nicholas Parsons, Bob Todd, Andree Melly, Rita Webb, Lesley Goldie, Jackie Wright, Connie Georges, Nicole Shelby, Penny Meredith, Michael Sharvell-Martin, David Hamilton, David Prowse
Genre: ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: And now, a tribute to the hardworking staff of Lower Tidmarsh Volunteer Hospital, where we follow one elderly gentleman (Jackie Wright) as he is admitted to have an operation. Of course, the ambulance drivers could be more considerate, careering down the road and throwing him about in the back, and stopping for a drink along the way, but the gentleman gets there in once piece, and so what if the matron boots him up the arse as he is led inside? Fair enough, the staff take a casual attitude to their patients, and some even prefer to chase each other around the wards, but they get the job done with professionalism. OK, there is that instance of the chief surgeon (Benny Hill) losing his watch inside the patient, but still…

Whether this film was indeed the best of Benny Hill is debatable, some would tell you he was at his freshest and most inventive in his television shows of the late nineteen-fifties and sixties, but it was what producer and director John Robins, a veteran of TV comedy by this stage, thought represented the comedian’s finest sketches. You could observe that no wonder he thought these were the best when he was the one who brought them to the screen over the course of 1969-73, but oddly this compilation endured on British television further than the actual Benny Hill Show, regularly repeated there albeit in a poorly preserved print that looked far worse than it ever did when it was originally in cinemas.

Not that cinemas were these skits' natural home, as aside from an animated sequence to kick things off this was all basically what the small screen had been accused of broadcasting for years before and for years to come: repeats. Audiences of the day, the fans of Hill’s show, would have seen this all before, and arguably those who came to his twenty years in the running series on Thames would be pretty familiar with it as well for Hill had an increasing habit of reprocessing his old gags, and this law of diminishing returns was one reason for his show’s eventual cancellation in 1989 where making more or less the same programme over and over was looking past it. Another reason was changing tastes in comedy, where he had in his home nation become regarded as outdated with his dirty old man persona wearing thin.

Although not with many markets abroad, for he remained one of the most famous British funnymen in the world, and to an extent still is if the number of online videos using his signature theme Yakkety Sax (also heard extensively in this film) were anything to go by, sped up footage and all. Sadly for Hill, he was attempting to re-establish himself at the time of his death, and his personal life became subject of much scrutiny, not because of any scandal, but because people were curious about this reclusive, shy man whose keen mind for humour had made him a global celebrity. It is perhaps that he should be remembered for rather than being an ageing lecher, and there was much evidence of his love of wordplay and punning, as well as the potential for various tricks and innovations in the television arena.

Not that the smut couldn’t be funny, it’s not to everyone’s taste but Hill could drop innuendo with the best of them, often with a cheeky smirk not far from his face as if to indicate he knew what he was saying, but he didn’t mean anything by it, really. Many of the sketches here contained very funny lines and situations, his oft-used mock interviews offering scathing parodies of Simon Dee’s chat show or arts discussion programmes that read too much into the films of the French New Wave, and a superb example of his mastery of the possibilities of the medium when he not only spoofed old Hollywood movies but also the terrible condition many of them had been left in by the ravages of time, messing up the source hilariously. Yet as ever with Hill, there were caveats: more than once the punchline to a sketch is simply that one participant is a gay man, and er, that’s it, or the sequence near the end where Hill did his comedy Chinese act, mangling the English language, where regular stooge Bob Todd pretended to be Indian and did the same. If you took the development of the medium into account, you could be entertained, Hill was a very savvy performer and writer, and the seaside postcard humour that was his stock in trade had its bright spots, as shown here.

[The British Film DVD from Network has a restored print meaning this actually looks spick and span for a change, plus a trailer and gallery as extras.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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