I've never seen an episode of "The Benny Hill Show" before, but somehow I've formed an opinion of what it's all about: low-brow, barely-literate, sped-up routines about sex and bums. Now that I've watched the first four episodes of the Thames Television run of the show, I can confirm that it was those things...but a little bit more. And Benny Hill really took sex and bum jokes to a new level.
Hill's routine always involves his eyes. First he looks earnestly directly at you, when he's setting up the joke. Then he looks down thoughtfully as the joke takes form. When he looks up and to the right and begins to smirk boyishly, you know that a sexual double-meaning is being introduced. When the full-on sex joke is revealed, he'll either look down sadly (if he's been made a fool of) or otherwise leer directly at you, grinning, virtually masturbating with the audience.
The jokes are usually about sex, physical clumsiness, or awkward situations. Old people and ugly women are funny and are mistreated. Glamour girls are pursued, but when Benny finally catches one he always ends up holding somebody ugly, or a man.
If that was all there was to "The Benny Hill Show" I'd have turned it off after the second hour-long episode. But there's more. First, there's the joy of watching women being allowed to be genuinely funny, and not just in a "dumb blonde" sort of way...they actually have substantial parts, at least some of the time.
Then there are the "patter songs," which are actually quite clever and at least relieve the monotony. And don't forget "The Ladybirds," who sing one song an episode and who are always placed in the most awkward positions, in the ugliest clothes:
Dig the glasses.
The one thing I was REALLY wrong about was my assumption that Hill's humour was "barely literate." Far from it. When he's engaged in satire (particularly of television) he can actually be -- believe it or not -- SUBTLE. He can also calmly ad-lib with the other entertainers, and he has an excellent singing voice, and even when he's easing in another word to describe breasts ("dumplings," "parakeets," or simply saying "she's a big girl!"), he does it in such a broad, exaggerated way that it's hard to see him as a disgusting lech. Which apparently he wasn't.
So I'm going to give the next four episodes a try, and even though I know I'll grow sick of the over-cranked "Yackety-Sax" chase scenes, and the bum jokes, and the old guys getting slapped...well, I actually think Benny Hill is pretty funny. In small doses. Some of the time.