First episode date
15 January 1955
Country of origin
Final episode date
1 May 1989
Theme music composer
Boots RandolphJames Q. Rich
British Academy Television Award for Best Entertainment Performance
At Last the 1948 Show, The Two Ronnies, Monty Python's Flying Cir, Not the Nine O'Clock N, Harry Enfield's Televisio
Then and now the cast of the benny hill show
The Benny Hill Show is a British comedy television show that starred Benny Hill and aired in various forms between 15 January 1955 and 30 May 1991 in over 140 countries. The show focused on sketches that were full of slapstick, mime, parody, and double-entendre. Thames Television cancelled production of the show in 1989 due to declining ratings and large production costs at £450,000 per show.
The Benny Hill Show features Benny Hill in various short comedy sketches and occasional, extravagant musical performances by artists of the time. Hill appears in many different costumes and portrays a vast array of characters. Slapstick, burlesque and double entendres are his hallmarks. A group of critics accused the show of sexism, and Hill responded by claiming that female characters kept their dignity while the men who chase them were portrayed as buffoons.
The show often uses undercranking and sight gags to create what he called "live animation", and he employs techniques like mime and parody. The show typically closes with a sped-up chase scene involving him and often a crew of scantily-clad women (usually with Hill being the one chased, due to silly predicaments that he himself caused), a takeoff on the stereotypical Keystone Kops chase scenes. Hill also composed and sang patter songs and often entertained his audience with lengthy high-speed double-entendre rhymes and songs, which he recited or sang in a single take.
Hill also used the television camera to create comedic illusions. For example, in a murder mystery farce entitled "Murder on the Oregon Express" from 1976 (a parody of Murder on the Orient Express) Hill used editing, camera angles, and impersonations to depict a Quinn Martin–like TV "mystery" featuring Hill in the roles of 1970s American television detectives Ironside, McCloud, Kojak, Cannon and Hercule Poirot.
During his television career, Hill performed impersonations or parodies of such American celebrities as W. C. Fields, Orson Welles (renamed "Orson Buggy"), Kenny Rogers, Marlon Brando, Raymond Burr, and fictional characters that range from The Six Million Dollar Man and Starsky and Hutch to The A-Team and Cagney & Lacey. He also impersonated such international celebrities as Nana Mouskouri and Miriam Makeba. He also impersonated celebrities from his own country: Hill delivered impersonations of British stars such as Shirley Bassey, Michael Caine (in his Alfie role), newscasters Reginald Bosanquet, Alan Whicker and Cliff Michelmore, pop-music show hosts Jimmy Savile and Tony Blackburn, musician Roger Whittaker, his former 1960s record producer Tony Hatch, political figures Lord Boothby and Denis Healey, and Irish comedian Dave Allen. On a few occasions, he even impersonated his former straight man, Nicholas Parsons. A spoof of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? saw him playing both Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.
The regular sexpot type females include Jenny Lee-Wright, Sue Bond, Bettina Le Beau, Lesley Goldie, Cherri Gilham and Diana Darvey. In later years, the show included a dance troupe, the Hill's Angels, which was briefly preceded by the Love Machine. Regular Angels were Sue Upton and Louise English, whilst Jane Leeves also appeared as a Hill's Angel in a few episodes in the early 1980s; among those who appeared only once were Susan Clark and Sue McIntosh.
The female singing group the Ladybirds, featuring bespectacled Maggie Stredder, were regulars on the show as background singers to Hill, and occasionally singing numbers on their own.
Occasionally, Hill would briefly chat with his guests on stage. In the 1980s, as the climate of political correctness continued to grow, Eddington and Wilcox refused to allow the respective editions in which they appeared to ever be shown on British television again.
Musical guest stars
Hill also gave the first major exposure to some non-UK-based musical groups, including Luis Alberto del Paraná and Los Paraguayos, on his show. With few exceptions, most of the musical numbers did not make it to the U.S. syndicated series.
In the late 1970s, Thames Television purchased a week's transmission time on two stations owned by RKO General which were offering a "Thames Week" schedule and were in the two largest American television markets; New York City's WOR-TV and KHJ-TV in Los Angeles. This introduced the show to American audiences and was immediately popular; subsequent screenings involved a series of re-edited half-hour programmes culled from the ITV specials. Due to heavy editing and fear of FCC licence revocation, the U.S. versions of his show have far less risqué material than those aired in the UK.
The show was awarded the 'Special Prize of the City of Montreux' at the Rose d'Or festival in 1984. Selected sketches from the first four years (1969–1972) of the Thames run were also edited into a feature film, The Best of Benny Hill (1974).
In 1977, Hill produced a special in Australia (see below) whose contents found their way into scattered episodes of the U.S. half-hour syndicated edits. The cast of that Australian show included Barry Otto and Ron Shand.
The programme also aired on GBC TV in the British Overseas territory of Gibraltar.
In Spain, the programme was made popular in the early/mid-1990s with the arrival of the commercial stations. Telecinco in its first guise, depended heavily on old programming from across the globe, and The Benny Hill Show would usually air for 60–90 minutes every night before the 20:30 news programme.
The Benny Hill Show aired in one-hour portions (not corresponding to the original hour-long format), twice nightly on BBC America from October 2004 to April 2007, restoring much of the mature content not seen in previous American airings (as such, most airings had a rating of TV-MA) but also excising most of the musical segments. Half-hour edits also appeared on ITV.
Antenna TV, a network created for digital subchannels in the United States, started showing the show Friday and Saturday nights in three hour blocks on New Year's Day, 1 January 2011. This version, while generally following the half-hour syndicated format, included many of the musical numbers.
In June 1989, Thames Television's Head of Light Entertainment since March 1988, John Howard Davies, invited Hill in for a meeting. Having just returned from a triumphant Cannes TV festival, Hill assumed that they were to discuss details of a new series. Instead, Davies informed Hill that his programme would discontinue production, and that he was dismissing Hill himself. In an episode about Hill transmitted as part of the documentary series Living Famously, Davies stated there were three reasons why he did so: "the audiences were going down, the programme was costing a vast amount of money, and he (Hill) was looking a little tired."
At its peak in 1977, 21.10 million viewers watched Hill's show. In 1989, the last Thames episode attracted 9.58 million viewers. However, this reason for the cancellation has been disputed. The show, while ratings had declined in the UK, was still one of Britain's most successful TV exports, airing in 97 other countries .
Other programmes featuring Benny Hill
In 2004, the Thames specials were released uncut (except for ad-break bumpers) on Region 1 DVD sets for the U.S., by A&E Home Video, entitled Benny Hill: Complete And Unadulterated. Each set represents multiple years of the show in order of original airings, with Benny Hill Trivia Challenges, a booklet and extras. 58 episodes of the Thames years were showcased in the collection, but, oddly, Benny's 1977 Australian TV special ("Down Under") was not, and remains unavailable on DVD.
In 2005, the Thames specials began to appear uncut (including the original ad-break bumpers) on Region 2 DVD sets, each representing one year and entitled The Benny Hill Annual. To date, the Benny Hill Annuals, 1970–1989 have been released on DVD by Network. Two box sets were released of the 1970–1979 Annuals and 1980–1989 Annuals, with a set containing all the Annuals "double bundled up together" scheduled for 2011. Also in 2005, Warner Home Video released a collection of the surviving episodes Hill did for the BBC (roughly half of them exist) on Region 1 DVD as Benny Hill: The Lost Years.