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

One Response

  1. When I was 11 or 12, Ernie was in the Pop charts, and my mum bought me the LP, with several of Benny Hill’s monologues on it – thinking it would be suitable for a young girl.
    Some of it was very rude. I remember one sketch where Benny was trying to persuade a young film actress to do a nude scene, and was assuring her that only essential personnel would be in the film studio “like – er – the car park attendant….”

    On his TV show, I remember one sketch in particular where he was supposed to be a Spanish bell boy in a hotel (in the days when everyone was going off for Spanish holidays at Costa del Hotel-not-ready-yet). An irate husband was accusing him of hanky panky with his wife. Unfortunately, Benny’s character spoke no English beyond a few rote phrases, and every time he said something he thought was perfectly innocent, he got yelled at more and more. One of the phrases was “I have a red pencil box.” It was very cleverly done.

    I believe that, after Benny Hill’s popularity waned in England, he still remained a big star in France.

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