Saturday, October 10, 2009

Ben Miller's Radio 2 thing about Benny Hill is in my current queue of things to be listened to, and it will be interesting to see how it views Hill's demise. The more I think about it, especially since a particularly thought provoking email on the subject from Matt Rudd, his worst crime was sticking with producer Dennis Kirkland for so long. Dennis was the perfect producer for him at one time, but not by 1989. I met Dennis once, and liked him enormously, but by the end of their association, his idea of what Hill should be doing had become outmoded. His continued belief in its validity can be seen in the shows he made at Central in the mid-1990s with Freddie Starr, which are latter-day Benny Hill shows in all but name.

I don't think it's madness to suggest that someone like Geoff Posner or Alan Nixon could have taken over and reinvented him. He was still a very capable comic performer, let down simply by material and format. The main sticking point would have been Hill's neediness. Throughout his career, he needed reassurance and molly-coddling from his producers. According to Brian Tesler, studio tapes of Hill's early shows are notable for the number of times when Hill stops and calls out for Philip Jones. The likes of Posner and Nixon would have understood and been able to supply that level of care, undoubtedly, but whether Hill would have trusted them is another matter. It's an imponderable that nonetheless remains worth pondering.

Of course, had he lived even five years longer he'd have had the full wanky student ironic veneration treatment, for what that's worth. Let's not forget, though, his best stuff - the BBC shows and the earlier Thames shows - is top-notch TV comedy.


Matthew Rudd said...

I'd never really thought much about it until Ken Bruce played the whole theme tune on his show and claimed Benny Hill deserved reinvention. And he's right, hence my correspondence your way. I felt you'd have the authority in words to back up this view, and I was right!

That Benny Elton thing was quite funny but it's a shame that ultimately the chasing scantily-clad dollies will be all he's recalled for. There is so much more.

LF Barfe said...

There is so much more indeed, but isn't him chasing women a false memory anyway? Wasn't he being chased?

There's an early 1960s BBC show where he plays all the guests at a wedding. It is stunning. Not sure if it's available on DVD, but I saw it at the NFT years ago and it made me think "Is this the same Benny Hill?".

He did have some awful flaws, not least of which was his belief that all jokes were public domain once told. He was the original Thief of Bad Gags.

Robert said...

I think Thames' management should also shoulder the blame for allowing the Benny Hill shows to stagnate. As long as they sold well abroad the bosses saw no need to interfere. Of course, with a franchise auction on the way Thames realised its survival depended on passing a "quality threshold" and belatedly decided to clean up its act.

Thames also indulged Roger Price for too long as well...