Laugh-In was the number one show in the United States for two years in the late ‘60s, the success of which may have inspired Thames Studios to lure Benny Hill away from BBC and reincarnate the original Benny Hill Show as a balls-out color variety spectacle. How to explain Benny Hill? It was as if the love child of W.C. Fields and Charlie Chaplin had invaded the Laugh-In wardrobe closet. When I used to watch reruns of the show as a kid, my mother would look at me with an expression of mixed delight and terror, as if I had just walked in on her having sex with my father. Until last week, my only memories of the show were the silent skits of Benny Hill chasing barely clothed women though parks. After watching the 11 episodes included on this three-disc Benny Hill: The Naughty Early Years DVD set, it’s amazing to think that Hill was on the air non-stop between 1955 and 1989 for essentially hawking the same perverse fantasies over and over again. Unapologetically misogynistic, Hill’s cheeky-monkey shtick (from his eagerness to get naked to his frequently funny drag acts) was more popular in Britain than it was in the States, and though the comedian’s creepy-old-man skits are more or less embarrassing, the length to which Hill tapped into his insatiable libido sometimes gave way to great comedy. From episode three, “Naked Audition” casts Hill as a man gunning for a spot in a sex film where his co-star will ostensibly play a woman fresh out of prison and who’s described by the director as “a nymphomaniac who drinks a bottle of aphrodisiac.” Better yet: The defense-of-family “Ye Olde Wishing Well” bit from the first episode and the rhythmic “Bill Stickers” skit from episode five are perhaps the best examples of a critical Hill’s propensity for self-reflexivity. Sprinkled throughout the episodes were the song-and-dance numbers by The Ladybirds. Though I think they were meant to be serious, some of the performances (especially “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” and “Say a Little Prayer”) are every bit as funny as Hill’s skits.
Blame the poor image and sound quality on these DVDs on the age and condition of the 35-year-old show's source tapes and not on A&E Home Video. The show sounds as if it's being played from inside a tin can, and though the image leaves plenty to be desired, the only audacious problem occurs during the funny "Sound Delay Interview" from episode one, when the interviewer's yellow shirt spills all over the screen.
On disc three is the fascinating documentary The World's Favourite Clown, which allows luminaries like Burt Reynolds, Mickey Rooney, and Eugene Chaplin (son of Charlie) to wax poetic on Benny Hill's comedic talents. Freud enthusiasts will no doubt have a field day with this feature, which also discusses the man's relationship with his parents and features interviews with many a woman who didn't buy the man's often misogynistic shtick. Rounding out the disc is The Benny Hill Cheeky Challenge Trivia Quiz.
Strictly for nymphomaniacs who like to drink aphrodisiac.