Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Benny Hill

First memory
Benny Hill was banned in my house, because it was crude. However, one season, my mother’s former pupil became the choreographer of Hill’s Angels. The whole family was forced to watch it. Being a sensitive young man, I am not sure which sentence was worse.
First Revelation
Benny Hill discovered an absolute truth of comedy. Anything can be funny, if you speed it up and play the yakety-sax tune over the top. For confirmation of this theory, watch footage of me on a date at double speed. It is even used by NLP brainwashers as a way to distance the individual from bad memories.
First Critique
Grant Smeaton sees Benny Hill as a man always out of time. The start of his career saw him longing for end of the pier shows, where the comedian was king, courting countless dolly-birds. By the time ITV dropped his show, having released that he’d been doing the same gags since 1969 and they could save money by simply selling past series, he had almost turned full circle. The burlesque revival and post-feminism were being born, to salve his sexist sins.
Second Memory
The headmaster had a special assembly to tell us that slapping people on the head, contrary to last night’s television, was not funny. Especially when the class victim ended up in hospital after lunch-time’s antics. Kiss-chase, on the other hand, was okay, as long as nobody caught their clothes on a door knob or something, and ran around in their skidders.
Second Revelation
Smeaton looks surprisingly like Benny Hill, and can capture his mannerisms – the slightly bemused innocent on the brink of mischief, the lusting loser lover, the cunning idiot. This man is not to be trusted with bald headed men or French Maids.
Second Critique
The non-chronological episodes of this play mirror Hill’s own vaudeville background. If they are not all funny, or fail to be entirely tragic when Hill kicks the bucket, gets Oedipal or tries to keep up with Kenny Everett’s cruder reinvention of the smut’n’satire selection, they reflect the awkward, self-knowing humour of Hill himself, who often told shit gags knowing the humour was in getting away with it.
Third Revelation
Hill’s broadcast in 1969 was more popular than the live footage of the moon-landings. Television audiences were idiots before X-Factor.
Third Critique
A cast of three – Smeaton is always Hill – is enough to get the range of Hill’s comedy. The lack of deviation from the simple strategy – serious sidekick, dolly-bird and Hill – gives the play a consistency despite the jumping between eras while preventing the deeper analysis of Hill’s character.
Fourth Revelation
So popular was Hill in US prisons that they went on a riot when his show was moved to after their bedtime. This would have been funnier with yakety sax going on as old scores were settled and prisoners discovered the joys of contemporary art in using materials to hand as paint for new cell murals.
Fourth Critique
The attempt to rescue Hill from redundancy is undermined by the emphasis on his character as old-fashioned even for his time, a saucy seaside postcard that wasn’t funny after the reading on the rack.
Fifth Critique
Smeaton is being bold again. He is a restless theatre-maker, and brave enough to rescue the terminally unfashionable. This will be a hit at Fringe 2012.
Third Memory
The first time I ever saw a reconstruction of Weimar cabaret was on Benny Hill. At the time I was more interested in the bare leg of the Hill’s angel than the funny German accents. However, I still remember the line, sung by the angel. “I asked him about my marks. He said “I’ll give you seven out of ten.”
A prostitute joke before the watershed? And I don’t remember any puns from Jim Davidson, who was being a cheeky cockney chappy around the same time on ITV.  

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