What have you been up to this week? What sounds have you been listening to? And how are you?
I am in jubilant spirits, having as usual taken a cantankerous yet delightful elderly relative to the hotel bar, where mayhem as usual has been created. After little more than 1 strong lager, the observation was made that, "they're not very good looking, are they ********* men." Mother for goodness sake keep your voice down.
I feel fantastic anyway. I did pass out a couple of nights back, you know she saw my records and because I used to drink a lot she spoke to me like a was something she's just stepped in. Well bollocks, and rock on Ronnie and Steve, and, PP Arnold, who are the inspirations behind the latest Village Green Machine record I have made, which is called Borderline. It is lyrically about my challenges as a musician, incorporating a lot of images of life around me as I wrote - the car alarm sounding, the dog barking, voices downstairs. Don't worry it IS retro:), it has a big wash of sound, swathes of reverb everywhere, maracas always marking time, I played the kit with them, and as I like to remember no one can accuse me therefore of playing them out of time with the drums. 12 string Rickenbacker through the AC30, Vox continental organ, and the acoustic guitar I used on the Jacobites albums- come on guys, its good music to have in your lives, If you haven't bought it yet I hope you will. England's Dreaming Spires is available from the Village Green Machine website, or go there to find the download places. and the unreleased backlog continues to mount, it is a lifetimes work for me and a lifetimes music, for someone. I try hard, I intend it to be great. You have to mean this music thing, or it would show. It is a blueprint of people's souls, music that they make. Which is incredible to think of, but maybe you will agree also disturbing when I think of some of the sounds that are out there. What about this airbrushed corporate r&b stuff? That's not r&b, we all know that. And then some of the weirder metal stuff - I mean its up to them. Maybe the music is like a mirror of their souls which reflects back to them, music simply is, about the joy of it. Ray says, so it must be so. And then get some decent lyrics in there, this is what I try to do. My doctor has no idea she a) is going to lose my wage paying services as a patient, and b) is now the character in a new song of mine. PS She misdiagnosed. It transpires she was trying to put the frighteners on me. There is no bleeding evidence several days after I collapsed. I have left the practice.
So what about Benny Hill then? I think it is pure sexist exploitation, that's what. A load of scantily clad women taking advantage of poor Benny's sexual urges, controlling him (and their expanding bank balances) with sheer titillation. In all seriousness though, who was he, and was he any good? I will go and investigate for you. OK one thing about him before I start this, is, I have realised that Benny Hill was a talented comic songwriter. He had a certain comic turn of lyrical phrase and grasp of poetic metre, rather like George Formby had. This adds up to a major contribution to British cultural life, as Hill's songs were broadcast, backed by his fun performances, to millions of people every week. In an interview, he said it would have been nice if he had been thanked for his contribution, when he was sacked. You know this in itself is enough to make me want to stand up for him. He was described once in the NME as a "wanker". But then, was there not a documentary in which he was called a "comic genius"? As a performer and writer myself, I am taking a serious look at BH, well aware that his politically incorrect sensibilities would make him an outstanding target today. I don't mind admitting I bought the boxed set a while ago. The groups he had on (and groups, not bands, is the word) put it this way, if you see me wearing strides like that,....petition my doctor and tell her to stop the chill pills.....he had on these kind of ultra kitsch like Flamenco guitar player groups, the sort who would terrify anyone at a restaurant with their clicking castanets, and mustard coloured nylon flares. It is kitsch curiosity period stuff, though. Then there was a British c&w band on another show, well rehearsed and professional of course, with this kind of story telling section in the song- these had on these huge bloody burgundy coloured flares, almost even bigger than my massive Levis cord purple flares! I am off now to watch another instalment. You know I was in a pub one night (surprise surprise) when the video for the Fastest Milkcart In The West came on. I was kind of going through an arty phase, it makes me cringe now to think about it. but anyway the video came on, and I found myself doubling up. It is just SO daft. But I think this is where I began to stop thinking, BH was a w******, . I like idiotic comedians. They amuse me. I'm laughing now and I'll see you later.
Hi, its two days later. Watching more of the BH episodes I now realise Reeves and Mortimer definitely took a lot of inspiration, shall we say, from it. There are just loads of bits. Whereas everyone who watched their show would never have admitted to liking Benny Hill, but to be honest there we were laughing and marvelling unbeknown at some very similar material. Like when the teeth get spat out, and Dracula teeth bits, with just the 2 teeth in the mouth. Other things too like the mask coming off a face to reveal these weird, painted in black and white eyes. So who was the original TV surrealist? Apparently Benny's stuff was shown recently to an audience into Catherine Tate and Little Britain, who found nothing offensive there. Ben Elton is an admirer, maybe surprisingly again. But here's where it hots up. Charlie Chaplin was a huge fan, and BH was awarded a special Charlie Chaplin comedy award. So, if a genius thought he was that good, I won't argue. I didn't realise Hill did shows as early as 1955 under various incarnations- half, predictably, are wiped. A complete national scandal that so much important stuff was thrown in a skip or recorded over back then I'm sure you'll agree. When you think of the TOTPs, Morecombe and Wise, and many more. Dick Emery. Oh don't.
Anyway Hill used techniques of slapstick,"burlesque" (Wiki), (no I don't know either) and double entendre, mime and parody, and it has been claimed used pioneering camera work to create comic illusions. This particular info is from the excellent Wikipedia entry on the BH show, which is a fullsome and fascinating further introduction to the man and his work. It is claimed he was a model of kindness and courtesy to the women he worked with, and Hill claimed himself the women he chased maintained their dignity while the men were portrayed as buffoons. This didn't stop Paul Eddington and Paula Wilcox, in a climate of (already by the 80s) expanding political correctness, from banning repeats of the shows they guested on earlier. Anyone who can't see PC is the new conservatism must be blind - and people follow like sheep. Its as hidebound as the old morality, as oppressive, and as uptight and I for one am beginning to wonder what the hell is going on in our society. It is about extreme reaction to old ideas. Anyway back to BH. His show contained many impersonations among the other comic chaos, including those of Alfie era Michael Caine, Alan Whicker and Dave Allen. What really wins me over though is that he impersonated Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in his spoof of "Whatever Happened to Virginia Woolf". It just strikes me it is more fun to be immersed in this world of silliness and fun than to be wrapped up in the real world and real life, which is. Yeah.
Ratings for the BH show peaked at an incredible 21 million- he was sacked from Thames when they shrank to 9 million. Sacked for engaging 9 million viewers. Obviously over the years an enormous amount of fun and entertainment was had, it was a long term injection of silliness, tomfoolery, fun and general craziness, which diverted many millions of people from the rigours and trials of their lives over several decades. Then this-
"The cancellation totally devastated Hill (or, as one former supporting player put it, "He started to die from there") which was followed by a self-inflicted decline in Hill's health and after doing a special in 1990, On April 1992 Hill died in the same day that a new contract arrived in the post from Central Independent Television whom he was going to start making a series of specials for."
A quote from the Wiki article. I am pleased to say I for one am enjoying and taking pleasure in his work.
He passed away within a day or two of his friend Frankie Howard, another classic veteran whose time was also perhaps up as a contemporary comic star. Age and shifting fashion seems to spare no one, Kenneth Williams being another good example. As they say, though, "the good will out". The passage of time has been kind to these talented comics, who all seemed so calmly confident, self assured, and clearly defined. They may have been discarded back along, but their legacy, perhaps you will agree, looks rosier by the day in comparison with today's pretenders.