Much has been written about this man, including (obliquely) a piece in these very chronicles – so I do not propose to bore you with a warm-over of Mr Hill’s career. Rather, to add some reflections of my own, which others appear to have ignored.
After holding the position of Britain’s number one comedy performer for some thirty years, Benny managed almost overnight to become its most reviled. And this without ANY wrong-doing on his part.
It was like he’d been discovered eating cats or beating children. But he’d done nothing. Benny Hill had simply become the first victim of “Political Correctness”. And the phenomenon that started this Benny-bashing frenzy was the sudden emergence of what was then called “alternative” comedy.
You see, in Britain alone (which is why ONLY Britain suddenly demonised him) TV comedy STALLED during the Seventies. This was the fault of its executives, who just got fat and lazy after the heyday of the Sixties. And it lead to contemporary comedy being driven “underground” to early comedy clubs, like The Comic Strip and The Comedy Store. But then along came Channel Four.
This new British network was looking for material that would entertain a segment of the market that had been overlooked during the Seventies – the 18-30 brigade. These people had been heavily influenced by P.C. and the values of the Punk Generation. And its comedians had developed a style of comedy that was aggressive and foul-mouthed – but rigidly NON-sexist and racist.
Then one night, a Channel Four producer wandered into one of these clubs and was immediately struck by the level of talent on display. Certainly, it would need the rough edges smoothed – and the strong language pruned – but here was the FUTURE of comedy.
Of course, these days, most of those pioneers are household names. But then, they were the New Generation and they LEAPT upon Benny Hill as the man whose old-style “saucy” comedy embodied everything they stood against. A commentator described what followed as “a bunch of thugs beating up an old man.”
Even Benny was at a loss to understand why he was suddenly DESPISED. And despite this loathing being limited to Britain, since it was his HOME, he felt deeply wounded. Even I found myself swept up in the anti-Benny syndrome.
This was in part because Benny had always been too low-brow for my tastes. And whilst I’d never found reason to HATE him, I’d always been suspicious of him. Having IMMERSED myself in British and American comedy TV, radio and records, I noted with unease that Benny PLAGIARISED a LOT of his material.
This was strange, since a lot MORE of it seemed ORIGINAL. Then I learned Benny traveled a lot. All around the World. And he confessed to watching a lot of TV. This made me even MORE suspicious, given that much of Benny’s humour was VISUAL. Did Benny REALLY sit – as he claimed – at pavement cafes, people-watching, to gain inspiration for his British shows?
Or did he just lie on beds in hotel rooms, watching foreign comedy TV programmes, in order to pinch even MORE material?
Plus, given later revelations about Benny’s own sexual repression, was he also a sex-tourist? Of course, provided his partners were of reasonable age, it’s none of my – or your – damn business.
But whatever his transgressions, one still feels SORRY for old Benny. For ANY man to be lauded, then utterly REJECTED by his peers – without any change in his own behaviour – MUST be hard to take. And ironically, a contract for a new series – unsigned – was on a table, by the very place Benny left this mortal coil. He had expired in his flat, while sitting – and watching TV.
Had he been doing more “research”?
[UPDATE! For another take on Benny, check out my smarter brother’s evil twin at – http://damienatloppers.wordpress.com/2013/05/03/damien-on-the-real-benny-hill/]