5 June 2003 | de_niro_2001
Unfairly vilified comic genius
Benny Hill was fair game for people who wanted to take the moral high ground. These people brought the trumped up charge of being degrading to women against him but there were very few complaints about him being degrading to short bald-headed elderly men. British clean-up TV campaigner Mary Whitehouse was always going on at him and I once heard his best-known critic after Mary Whitehouse, Ben Elton, practically accuse him of inciting violence against women. The truth is, Benny only wanted to make people laugh and brighten their lives up and I think he was definitely hurt by the criticism. As I said, you could say he was degrading to short bald headed elderly men like in a very funny sketch where he and the entire cast of his show were performing a musical number. Jackie Wright and Bob Todd are sitting together singing and Benny goes over with two xylophone sticks and plays a wooden xylophone tune on top of their heads! Benny had a knack for making the obvious funny, like in a short sketch where he's looking after his neighbour's cat and his neighbour tells him "don't put yourself out" or when he plays a man going out the door with a four foot high package and his wife tells him "don't forget to post it". He had tremendous international appeal and many celebrities in the states including Burt Reynolds and Walter Cronkite and Greta Garbo was rumoured to be a fan. When Benny took ill and was in hospital Michael Jackson visited him (wonder if Wacko Jacko promised him a trip to Disneyland). One thing Benny did on his show was parodies of TV commercials. He did a parody of the Sunlight Washing Up liquid commercial where he was dressed up as the woman in the commercial and says in response to the rather obvious questions from the voice-over "of course it gets my dishes clean, are you damn stupid or something?". I can remember wishing that the woman in the real commercial would say that. In the early 1970s there was a commercial for Fry's Chocolate Cream which showed a girl reclining on a couch enjoying a bar of the chocolate. Her cat walks along the shelf next to her and knocks a porcelain figurine off the shelf and she catches it. Benny parodied this commercial. He was dressed up as the girl and when the cat knocked the figurine off the shelf he failed to catch it and the figurine shattered on the floor. A guy ran on to the set and shouted "clumsy fool" at Benny. It was predictable but still very funny. One thing his critics chose to overlook was that he nearly always played the character who came off worst in his sketches. The crux of his humour was that he played a lecherous man chasing after young girls who got his come-uppance. He was a guy very good at taking a joke on himself but definitely stung by critics.