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Serious tale of funny man,
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This review is from: Funny, Peculiar: The True Story of Benny Hill (Hardcover)
Benny Hill is television's most successful comedian but unlike Morecambe and Wise and The Two Ronnies, his shows are no longer shown on British television. This book attempts to explain why.
The most interesting aspect of the book is how Benny Hill produced his comedy and his tendency to pinch other people's material. Mr Chow-Mein was a straight steal from American comedian Buddy Hackett and the funny William Shakespeare on the phone sketch was taken from Bob Hewhart. This made Benny unpopular with often comedy performers. However, the process was not one-way. The Monty Python Dead Parrot sketch had similarities to a comedy written by David Freeman for Benny called The Taxidermist and the famnous Two Ronnies Mastermind sketch was based on a Benny routine with a time delay.
Benny though a solitary person, had friends, though few close ones, and maintained relations with Dave Freeman despite an outrageous piece of business in which bought the copyright of their jointly written comedy for £1,000. He reused the material many times but did not give his former co-writer any further money.
I would preferred not to have read some of the more personal details of Benny's private life, but unfortunately prurience is a common feature in modern biographies.
Another criticism of the book is that it exaggerates his decline as a performer and his slide in popularity. A near 10 million audience on a Bank Holiday Monday for his last Thames show was still a high figure and over 11 million watched his repeat shows in 1992. Physically, he did not age well, there was a decline in his creativity, but if his shows had become as bad as Mark Lewisohn suggests then neither Central nor Thames would have seeking to make new programmes.
A interesting but flawed book about a comedy great. better than the Dennis Kirkland biography, whose close friendship to Benny undermined his objectivity. We are unlikely to see a television comedian of Benny's quality again - he was one of the true greats.