"Priceless gems from Benny Hill's first television series!" reads the caption on the back of this DVD which is typical British understatement. Benny Hill is a comic who has grown in stature since his untimely demise in 1992. This DVD collection of previously released material (VHS set Benny Hill: The Lost Years, Bennies from Heaven, Benny and the Jests and The Good, The Bawd and The Benny) along with a solid half hour of previously unreleased material can only help further solidify the legend.
Benny Hill was essentially a sketch comic but that description falls far short of covering Hill's range of talent. Benny Hill wrote most of his own material, had a wonderful singing voice, an uncanny knack for impersonation, unparalleled timing as an actor and while performing his frequently unscripted monologues. All of these talents are showcased in about three and a half hours of material.
With the exception of the menus and trailers the entire DVD is black and white which should be expected as the shows originally aired in the mid to late 50's. There are some video quality issues and the occasional (but rare) sound issue which have no real effect on the enjoyment of this collection. Hills formula for successful sketch comedy was tied closely to spoofing films, commercial, songs, plays and other television shows. Hill's comedy is frequently bawdy and lascivious which makes one wonder how he got away with so much on television in the 50's. On the other hand political correctness was not a force to be reckoned with in the 50's as well as the fact that so much of what is sexually charged is double entendre that it is equally easy to see how he did get away with it.
All of this is early Benny Hill which means that you have to listen closely. The dialogue in these sketches is quick and witty and delivered in a complete throw away fashion. Hill's expressive face frequently reveals when a gem of a line is coming up or just gone but the supporting players never telegraph a thing. This is smooth almost seamless sketch comedy with everyone playing it as straight as can be. This is almost 4 hours of solid entertainment that will completely satisfy Hill fans and win over new fans in the process.
As with any collection of gems from the past there are parts of the collection which are stronger than others.
Best Bits from Benny and The Jests:
Household Cha-Cha - immaculately timed musical skit without any talking.
The Stamp Collector - Based on The Rubaiyat
Hollywood Partners - Simply brilliant parodies and spoofs of some huge Hollywood classics. Benny Hill could be Richard Burton, Rod Steiger or Elizabeth Taylor. His gift for mimicry is nothing short of astounding.
Best Bits from The Good, The Bawd And The Benny
Opportunity Calls - musical comedy parody of folk singer
Divorce European Style - Benny's take on French divorce.
Phantom Phone Call - A man is being sexually harassed by an anonymous phone caller.
Laddyboys - Interviews with the loving family of a contemporary pop star.
Garden Of Love - Musical comedy with impeccable timing and incredible harmonies. You really have to wonder why Hill didn't have a separate recording career.
Best Bits from Bennies From Heaven
This group contained a bit which should go into the comedy hall of fame for balls and brilliance called Bo-Peep Variations. That anyone could take a children's nursery rhyme and create such side splitting takes on them is simply astounding. Keep an eye out for the Shakespearean "National Theatre" interpretation which shows Hill at his writing and acting best.
TV Commercials - You don't have to be British or have lived in the 50's to appreciate these spoofs. It is amazing how little commercials have changed.
Market Gardeners - A musical spoof which shows of Hill's comic timing and writing skills.