Benny Hill

Benny Hill in characterBenny Hill was hilarious when I was a child. Most of the comedy was visual slapstick, as can be seen in the opening sequence of this hospital sketch. There was also a fair amount of innuendo, and of course a lot of chasing after scantily clad young women, and all sorts of material was used that wouldn’t be used today, including racist, sexist, heterosexist and humour at the expense of just about anyone. In the Seventies all of this was quite acceptable, and as a young lesbian I didn’t see anything wrong in chasing women as I identified with the Benny character (who usually gets a slap anyway).

It was only later that I saw how stereotypical it all was and as a woman you were either going to be ogled as one of the pretty nurses in short skirts or feared as the old hag battleaxe. There didn’t seem much of an option for me, perhaps why I identified with the men.

Benny Hill in a wigThere is much about the comedy that is offensive, and sometimes quite worrying like the way that he gets little girls to kiss him – only worrying in retrospect though, at the time that was just aah, isn’t it sweet. It always seems that Benny is cast as the unlucky chap, a bit dim and all he wants is a bit of nooky, kind of cheeky and behind the bikesheds mentality. It just wouldn’t be at all appropriate now and is not considered innocent fun anymore.

In a similar vein to the Carry On lot, Benny was slated for his sexism and other isms, however if you watch the shows then some of the comedy isn’t sexist, only portions of it. Much is made, for instance, of the ending credits of the show, which would always be a chase scene to the theme music (Yakety Sax according to Wikipedia). In my memory, this tends to be Benny and a group of other men chasing a group of half-naked women around a field. This probably did happen, but I think my memory is obscured by all the spoofs there are around. There were many other reasons for the chasing, and it was often Benny himself that was being chased – for instance in this scene.

Before Benny was slated by Ben Elton and the like in the Eighties (according to Wikipedia), he was extremely popular, having his own series and a number of Christmas specials. Recently a study found that his humour is still seen as funny, so presumably if the particularly offensive bits were taken out then it would still get aired today.

One of my fondest memories of Benny is his entry into the pop charts with Ernie  (The Fastest Milkman in the West). We loved this song! Very British.

The fact that Benny Hill has been cited in scholarly psychology articles, such as this one, demonstrates that he was one of the foremost comedians of our generation, and will remain in the annals forevermore. Unfortunately for Benny fans he does not reflect contemporary Britain anymore, and is an image of a bygone age. Perhaps the ‘innocent’ in sexism went out with the horse and cart milk deliveries.


Josie Henley-Einion, author, blogger, Legend in my own Living Room

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Johnny Morris and Animal Magic

Johnny Morris with a chimpAnimal Magic was one of the few children’s TV programs that adults liked to watch as well. Johnny Morris was the presenter and he used to climb into the cages with the animals and play with them. They would include him in whatever it was that they were doing, often it was monkeys and apes in my memory, or that might just be due to the repetition of one famous clip.

Anyway, there would also be footage of other animals like lions that Jonny couldn’t play with. So it was basically an animal clip show. Seeing the intro on YouTube takes me right back, especially the music.

What made it special was the voiceover that Johnny would provide, where he did a voice for the animal, usually a funny one, and he would speak for it. This method was used for great comedy, because as well as the antics of the animals you got Jonny’s interpretation of their thoughts. You still get the silly voiceover in clip shows today, like Oops TV and Harry Hill’s TV Burp, but Johnny Morris was there first.

I loved Terry Nutkins as well, I always thought his name was made up because it sounded like a squirrel. He used to be on the program sometimes, especially with a seal who did tricks. This documentary has Terry talking about good old Johnny.


Josie Henley-Einion, author, blogger, Legend in my own Living Room

Catweazle

Geoffrey Bayldon as CatweazleI loved Catweazle! I love cats and always have, and I wanted to be Catweazle because he lived wild, was a magician and completely barmy. Oh and he went around in raggedy old clothes and didn’t care how dirty he got. That would have been me at age around six. Catweazle has nothing to do with cats, by the way, but with the name and his whiskers there’s a link.

Catweazle had a frog called Touchwood (sounds a lot like Torchwood doesn’t it??) and he had funny names for things like he called the telephone the ‘telling bone’. There was a lot of real magic in the program, scrying and runes and things that are authentic for his period (1066, Catweazle was a Saxon). There aren’t a great many special effects in the program, as it was a budget British 1970 TV show, but some great acting. I always got the feeling that it was ‘proper’ magic rather than flash-bangs, and now I’ve found a photo of him I know for sure. Whoever designed the costume either was pagan themselves or knew someone who was.

In the beginning, Catweazle is escaping the Norman soldiers and accidentally escapes into a 1970 farm. There he meets the farmer’s son, Edward, and the first thing he says is ‘art thou Norman?’ to which Ed replies, ‘no my name’s Edward.’ Classic. I remembered this scene from the book, which I read when I was about nine.

In some ways, Catweazle is similar to Wurzel Gummidge who was a scarecrow that came to life. I loved Wurzel Gummidge but I loved Catweazle more because of the magic. According to Wikipedia, the programme was also popular in New Zealand, The Netherlands, Germany, Australia, Sweden and Norway. There is a fan club and you can order the DVDs on Amazon.


Josie Henley-Einion, author, blogger, Legend in my own Living Room

Citizen Smith

Robert Lindsay as Wolfie Smith“Power to the People!” was the cry that Wolfie Smith would shout with his fist up in the air at the beginning of this sit-com. Inevitably he would be received with disdain, each episode slightly different, such as the one where a taxi pulled up, the driver thinking he’d signalled it.

I loved Citizen Smith and especially loved his girlfriend’s mum who called him Foxy and polished apples with spray polish. I once got into trouble in school for shouting ‘power to the people’ with my fist up. The dinner lady thought I’d tried to do a Hitler salute which was banned in our school, and she wouldn’t listen when I told her it wasn’t stupid Hitler salute at all but a power to the people like off the telly. I got into more trouble then for answering back.

The thing about Citizen Smith which I’ve only realised in retrospect, was that it was taking the pee out of socialists and earnest young men with high ideals, in particular those that instigated strikes for better pay. I hadn’t realised that at the time as I was far too young to see it as political and took all the humour at face value like the way that Wolfie was a hapless clown always getting into trouble. Ideal Seventies comedy really, I don’t think it would fit in another era at all.

It was such an integral part of my Seventies TV watching that I’m amazed it only ran for three years (according to Wikipedia, the fount of all knowledge). The opening tune was a rallying song for Marxists ‘we’ll keep the red flag flying in’, which was one of the first tunes I whistled when I learned how to whistle.


Josie Henley-Einion, author, blogger, Legend in my own Living Room