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Tuesday, December 7, 2021

The Benny Hill Show is back – so what do three generations make of it?

An under-appreciated benefit of being a feature writer in a newspaper office is that you can have practically anything on your computer screen, at any time, and no questions will be asked.

Spent six hours stuck down a Wikipedia rabbit hole that started with “Robert Buckland MP”, went via “Dabiq, the now defunct online magazine used by Isil”, and somehow ended at “List of animals with fraudulent diplomas”? All just research.

Watching Match of the Day? No problem, the sports desk probably asked for some help.

All hypotheticals – I work very hard. But yesterday, as I opened YouTube and shakily typed in the words, “The Benny Hill Show”, I found myself gulping, shrinking the window, and preparing to blurt the words, “They asked me to watch it!” at any and every bypasser.

I was born in 1991 – a year before Benny Hill died. I know who he was, know he is regarded as one of the giants of light entertainment’s golden age, but I also know he’s regarded as sexist, racist, all the other ists, and about as fashionable as feudalism.

Besides, to my generation he is simply “That man who resembled Adam Boulton and scampered about, honking the breasts of aghast, scantily-clad young women to a jaunty saxophone tune.”

Truly, I was under the impression that was his act: always scampering, always honking, as if staying still and going without regular sexual assaults would mean he’d die – like some sort of pervy shark.

Still, I holstered my standard-issue millennial cancellation gun and gave him the benefit of the doubt, before starting a playlist of clips.

The first hinged on the punchline that women start putting on weight as soon as they get married. The second, a Roy Orbison parody, featured a giddy impression of Jimmy Savile. In the third, Hill blacked up.

I pictured the e-mail from HR I’d be receiving any moment, but pressed on. Next up was a gentle one about a fishmonger lobbing a salmon at a customer who wanted to say he’d caught it himself. Then a good silent gag about a bank robbery.

And then one set in a library. “Have you got a book called ‘Men: The Superior Sex’?” the customer asks. “You’ll find it over there,” the female librarian replies, “under ‘Fiction.’”

I think we’d generously call that “hit and miss”. If they insist on resurrecting it, let’s hope they’ve hired an editor.

Alice Hall, 25 “This has not aged well”

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