Nightlife

Benny Hill Complete and Unadulterated - The Hill’s Angels Years, Set Five (1982-1985)

by Phil Hall
Contributor
Tuesday Sep 26, 2006
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Benny Hill achieved a level of global superstardom during the period when the quality of his TV comedy was beginning to deteriorate. In the early 1980s, Hill’s programs from British television were enjoying international syndication. But audiences were laughing at programs produced in the 1970s, when the rotund funnyman was at a personal best.

By the 1980s, however, Hill’s comic well was running dry. This new collection of programs, dating from 1982 to 1985, show Hill in a declining period of originality and energy. Despite the shrieking laugh track that insists everything is hilarious, it is not difficult to sit through these programs without breaking a smile.

What went wrong? Clearly age was playing against Hill at this period. He was already in his late fifties, and the once-cherubic features had become lined and gross - the bad boy of comedy became a dirty old man. His advancing age clearly dulled his talent for physical humor; many of the elaborate pantomime skits that were Hill staples a decade earlier were absent from these later episodes.

Then there was the problem with Hill’s Angels, a squad of T&A specimens who offered antiseptic music and dance support. They weren’t particularly talented, and it would not be catty to say they weren’t sexy. In fact, their presence was often intrusive and only further slowed the lethargic pacing of the shows.

And, most cruelly, there was the obvious problem of Hill repeating himself. Whether dressing up in drag as the naughty Scottish schoolgirl Ambrosia, or doing the bumbling anti-hero Mr. Scuttle, or doing the non-PC Chinese character Chow Mein, Hill had already milked the humor of his trademark sketches years earlier. It is a sad case of been-there/done-that and what may have been fun once (or twice, or even three times earlier) is not fun when it is done to death.

I am not one of those people who actively loathe Benny Hill. I have the earlier sets in this on-going series and I’ve sat through them repeatedly without getting bored at their speed and cheery smut. But this go-round, the mirth was absent and all that remained was the tinny echo of a genuine comic legend in a bare creative period.

Featurette, trivia challenge.

Phil Hall is the author of "The Greatest Bad Movies of All Time

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