The Benny Hill Show - Show format, Production notes, Cast, Guest stars, Musical guest stars, Design, International airings, Repeats, Cancellation
The Benny Hill Show is a British comedy television show starring Benny Hill that aired in various forms between 15 January 1955 and 16 May 1991 in over 140 countries. The show consisted mainly of sketches that were full of slapstick, mime, parody and double entendre. Thames Television cancelled production of the show in 1989 because of declining ratings and large production costs at £450,000 (equivalent to £1,099,700 in 2018) per show.
The Benny Hill Show features Benny Hill in various short comedy sketches and occasional, extravagant musical performances by artists of the time. Hill appears in many different costumes and portrays a vast array of characters. Slapstick, burlesque and double entendres are his hallmarks. A group of critics accused the show of sexism, and Hill responded by claiming that female characters kept their dignity while the men who chase them were portrayed as buffoons.
The show often uses undercranking and sight gags to create what Hill called "live animation", and he employs comedic techniques such as mime and parody. The show typically closes with a sped-up chase scene involving Hill and often a crew of scantily clad women (usually with Hill being the one chased, due to silly predicaments that he himself caused), a takeoff on the stereotypical Keystone Cops chase scenes. Hill also composed and sang patter songs and often entertained his audience with lengthy high-speed double-entendre rhymes and songs, which he recited or sang in a single take.
Hill also used the television camera to create comedic illusions. For example, in a murder mystery farce entitled "Murder on the Oregon Express" from 1976 (a parody of Murder on the Orient Express), Hill used editing, camera angles and impersonations to depict a Quinn Martin–like TV "mystery" featuring Hill in the roles of 1970s American television detectives Ironside, McCloud, Kojak and Cannon, plus Hercule Poirot.
During his television career, Hill performed impersonations or parodies of such American celebrities as W. C. Fields, Orson Welles (renamed "Orson Buggy"), Kenny Rogers, Marlon Brando, Raymond Burr, and fictional characters that range from The Six Million Dollar Man and Starsky and Hutch to The A-Team (parodied as "The B-Team", in which he played the roles of both 'Hannibal' and 'B.A.') and Cagney & Lacey. He also impersonated such international celebrities as Nana Mouskouri and Miriam Makeba as well as British stars such as Shirley Bassey, Michael Caine (in his Alfie role), newscasters Reginald Bosanquet, Alan Whicker and Cliff Michelmore, pop-music show hosts Jimmy Savile and Tony Blackburn, musician Roger Whittaker, his former 1960s record producer Tony Hatch, political figures Lord Boothby and Denis Healey and Irish comedian Dave Allen. On a few occasions, Hill even impersonated his former straight man, Nicholas Parsons. A spoof of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? saw him playing both Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.
The show's closing theme tune, "Yakety Sax", which has gained a following in its own right, was written by James Q. "Spider" Rich and Boots Randolph. As the closing credits rolled, the theme was usually accompanied by a sped-up chase-sequence, often featuring scantily clad young women. The show's musical director was pianist and easy listening conductor Ronnie Aldrich, and vocal backing was provided by session singers the Ladybirds (who also frequently appeared on camera from 1969 to 1974). The saxophone soloist on Aldrich's version of "Yakety Sax" was Peter Hughes. For three episodes of the 1973–1974 season, Albert Elms filled in for Aldrich as musical director. "Yakety Sax" first appeared in the 19 November 1969 episode, which was also the first show for Thames.
Another signature of the show was the enthusiastic announcer intro: "Yes! It's The Benny Hill Show!" (The announcer was often cast member Henry McGee.) From 1975 forward, Hill was also introduced at the start of each show as "The Lad Himself". The show closed with Hill's salute: "Thank you for being with us, and we look forward to seeing you all again—very, very soon. Until then, bye bye.".
he main supporting cast includes Henry McGee, Jon Jon Keefe, Nicholas Parsons, Bob Todd and Jackie Wright.
The regular sexpot-type females include Jenny Lee-Wright, Sue Bond, Bettina Le Beau, Lesley Goldie, Cherri Gilham and Diana Darvey. In later years, the show included a dance troupe, the Hill's Angels, which was briefly preceded by the Love Machine. Regular Angels were Sue Upton and Louise English, whilst Jane Leeves also appeared as a Hill's Angel in a few episodes in the early 1980s; among those who appeared only once were Susan Clark and Sue McIntosh.
The female singing group The Ladybirds, featuring the bespectacled Maggie Stredder, were regulars on the show as background singers to Hill, and occasionally singing numbers on their own.
Character actresses include Anna Dawson, Bella Emberg, Rita Webb and Patricia Hayes.
Musical guest stars
The show was awarded the 'Special Prize of the City of Montreux' at the Rose d'Or festival in 1984. Selected sketches from the first four years (1969–1972) of the Thames run were also edited into a feature film, The Best of Benny Hill (1974).
In 1977, Hill produced a special in Australia (see below) that provided material for some scattered episodes of the U.S. half-hour syndicated edits. The cast of that Australian show included Barry Otto and Ron Shand.
The programme also aired on GBC TV in the British Overseas territory of Gibraltar.
In Spain, the programme was made popular in the early/mid-1990s with the arrival of the commercial stations. Telecinco, in its first guise, depended heavily on old programming from across the globe, and The Benny Hill Show would usually air for 60–90 minutes every night before the 20:30 news programme.
As of July 2014, the show is being broadcast on Australia's 7Two. The show has also been aired in India on UTV, dubbed in various Indian languages.
Antenna TV, a network created for digital subchannels in the United States, started showing the show Friday and Saturday nights in three hour blocks on New Year's Day, 1 January 2011. This version, while generally following the half-hour syndicated format, included many of the musical numbers.
As of 2017, the show is currently being broadcast on Makedonia TV (M.tv) in Greece.
At its peak in 1977, 21.10 million viewers watched Hill's show. In 1989, the last Thames episode attracted 9.58 million viewers. However, this reason for the cancellation has been disputed[who?]. Despite declining ratings in the UK, the show was still one of Britain's most successful TV exports, airing in 97 other countries.