This page covers reviews of Albums recorded by Benny Hill and reviewed by William Brown and myself.
This page covers reviews of Albums recorded by Benny Hill and reviewed by William Brown and myself.
(a.k.a. This Is Benny Hill)
[originally 1971, revamped 1972]
This record was released when Benny Hill was at the absolute height of his career, with one of his shows (from March of 1971) having been seen by more than 21 million viewers. The LP has been characterized in certain corners as a comedy equivalent of The Beatles' Abbey Road album of two years before, with new recordings of his songs (recorded at Abbey Road Studios, incidentally) from over the first two years of his highly profitable run with Thames Television on Side 1 (the "Music"), and the audio of his verbal-based bits from his early TV shows on Side 2 (the "Words").
The album leads off with Ernie, which was the Number One hit on the British pop-music charts during Christmas 1971. This tale of a milkman, the widow he fancied, and his baker rival, has a fuller-court press in the musical arrangements department (with more prominent drums, strings and harpsichord) than the version he performed on his Dec. 23, 1970 "Opportunity's Knocking" sketch. There were also considerable changes in the lyrics: In the verse where Two-Ton Ted from Teddington was tempting the widow Sue with his wares, the TV version's reference to a Dundee cake was changed to a layer cake here, and its position in the lyrics was switched around with the macaroon reference; while a stale meat pie claimed Ernie's life in the climax on the TV version, on the record he met his maker through a stale pork pie; and most important, Ernie's age of death was reduced from 68 to 52. As on the TV version, The Ladybirds back him. Benny produced a music video for this recording which aired on the Christmas 1971 year-end edition of Top of the Pops on the BBC; while he played the title character, Henry McGee was his nemesis "Two-Ton Ted" and Jan Butlin (working with Mr. Hill for what turned out to be the last time) was the widow "Sue."
The next track is Anna Marie, the first song he sang on his very first Thames show of Nov. 19, 1969. On this recording, there is a very prominent organ heard throughout; while his penchant for puns and double-entendre shine through, his voice does threaten at certain points to be overshadowed by the instrumental backing. The lyrics are same as on the TV version. (Trivia: While Hill's words were original, the music had come from an old Russian/Jewish folk tune, "Tum Balalaika.")
This is followed by Broken-Hearted Lovers' Stew, the second of three tracks (after "Ernie") to have come from his Dec. 23, 1970 B&W special. This version has another verse - with puns based on radishes, turnips, melons and other vegetables - plus a recycling of the "beatroot" pun from "My Garden of Love." (I'm not really sure, but it looks like this verse may have been edited out of the TV version; if one pauses the DVD of this episode and advances frame-by-frame, there is a single frame of Benny in close-up with one expression, followed by an abrupt change in expression in the same shot.) Another difference is in the last verse, with "There is a Swede for the Scandinavian man you left for me . . . " as on the TV performance, changed for this version to "There is a Swede to remind you of the man you left for me . . . "
Next is Colleen. Only the last verse was retained from the version as he performed on TV on Feb. 4, 1970; the other three verses were completely different, with one verse (about the lass wearing a pair of pants that remind him of "ferrets a-tryin' to get out of a sack") variated in a portion of his opening "Fashion Rap" from the March 5, 1980 "Madame Louise Summer Collection" segment.
Rachel is the next track. The third of the songs performed on his Dec. 23, 1970 edition to be represented on this album, there is a considerable difference in the arrangement of this tale of a man's love for a gypsy girl, as is typical of many of the songs recorded here. As with "Broken-Hearted Lovers' Stew," there is another verse, one that was used as the last verse of his Feb. 24, 1971 TV rendition of "Pepys' Diary," ending with the punchline, "And it acts just like a buoy." There is another important difference between the TV and record versions, notably after his "bub-bub-boo" scat before the big finish. On the TV version, Maggie Stredder of The Ladybirds told him off: "There now, what bloody good's that done ya?"; here, he slyly notes, "I think I've done meself a mischief."
Coming up after this is The Beach at San Tropez - which, in the context of this album's original release, was the most recent composition in the set, having been performed as the opening song on Nov. 24, 1971. As on the TV version, the Elmer Fuddesque "white/absowutewy wavishing" play on words in the first verse is priceless.
Then comes Suzy, which was the title given on this album for what has since been called "Girls of the Sousa Bar." Suzy was the name of the girl who basically led Benny's country-boy character astray, in a place where he was warned never to frequent. By any name or title, he had sung this at the end of his Feb. 4, 1970 show.
The last track on Side 1 of the original album, and next-to-last on Side 1 of the revised version, is Ting-A-Ling-A-Loo, one of the songs Benny had performed in the Nov. 19, 1969 "European Song Contest" sketch. Again, the devil is in the details: One line in the TV version of his parody of the kind of inane songs that played in many actual Eurovision Song Contests of the period, "But we went and fought the Germans . . . and the Russians, and the Finns, and the Italians, and the Japanese, and all that lot / 'Cause we knew just what to do," was shortened and modified to "But we fought and beat the Germans / 'Cause we knew just what to do" for this recording.
The next two tracks - this, the final song on the revised Side 1, and the first track on a revamped Side 2 - comprised his final EMI single in 1972, and were first sung on his Oct. 25, 1972 show. The Dustbins of Your Mind, with the chorus bearing the same melody and chord structure as his "Primavera," is a slice-of-life piece - his character essentially ignoring the wisdom of "Auntie Lil" and going about his merry way with the inevitable consequences following down the road - that seemed to be his variation on the theme of such actual late 1960's tunes as "The Windmills of Your Mind," of the title of which this song's is a corruption.
As on the post-1972 configuration, the final "Music" heard on this album - which leads off Side 2 - is Fad Eyed Fal. Like his performance on TV, the basis of this song is the substitution of "F" for "S," with all the possibilities of plays on words for which Mr. Hill has been known, coming to play here. As with the TV version, your brain can turn to mush just trying to figure out what he's saying.
Next, we get to the "Words" section of the LP, starting off with Ted (originally from his Oct. 28, 1970 telecast), where he reminisces about his old "sophie's-ticketed and blaze" friend. Like the other off-of-TV recordings that comprise this side, and as brilliant as this is, the fact that you can't see his facial expressions, his gestures and the like causes this to lose something in the translation. On the original LP, this was the first track of Side 2.
This is followed by the only "quickie" in the whole package, Tour Guide (from Feb. 4, 1970), with Benny as the tour guide speaking in several languages - then asked a question by someone who speaks in the one language Benny doesn't speak. Again, you have to see this one to really appreciate it.
Then, the highlight of the Feb. 24, 1971 "Uplift with Humphrey Bumphrey" sketch, called here Interview (Featuring Lesley Goldie). For many years until either A&E's R.1 Complete & Unadulterated or Network Video's R.2 Benny Hill Annual DVD sets, this was the only verbal-based sketch from any of his three B&W shows of 1970-71 to be available in any form. This was the first of two times Benny played malaprop-prone East End poet St. John Bossom (examples of which include "deferably" for "definitely," "smoked haddock" for "smoke addict" and "anthropology" for "anthology"), and Ms. Goldie (as could not be seen on record) was playing "Joanna Bakewell-Tart," a pun on the name of British talk-show hostess Joan Bakewell. His breaking into barely stifled laughter at one point during the reading of his poem about a jailed soldier and a forbidden pudding (which he would later rehash in his March 16, 1983 "Sit Up & Listen" poetry reading) is yet another example of something that has to be seen to be fully appreciated.
We then go to his Feb. 4, 1970 monologue Making A Commercial, about the behind-the-scenes making of a soap commercial with a bubble-bath girl, and a confusion with a soup ad. This was his second version of this bit, as he did an earlier performance on the BBC on Nov. 6, 1964.
The album ends with perhaps the most famous of all his poems, due to exposure not only on record, but also on film (in his 1974 movie compilation The Best of Benny Hill) and in syndication, The Birds And The Bees. His tale of a boyhood relationship with a pigeon as a metaphor for the meaning of love transcends the lack of ability to see his performance thereof. It should be noted that on the label, pianist Syd Lucas' first name was misspelled "Sid."
This album is considered by many Hill fans to be the high point of his on-and-off recording career. One point that has bothered me about the album has been the musical arrangements, with an emphasis of strings, and at times bordering on the sappy. Unlike the relatively simple and to-the-point arrangements on his Thames TV shows, here they tend to smother the material, as some have noted about the arrangements on many of his 1960's BBC shows. And while there's the advantage of hearing the lyrics without the bursts of laughter as on his TV performances, on some songs there is a varying set of differences between each version. Ernie is a prime example of this, as is Colleen. Indeed the arrangements tend to be a bit more over-than-top than even his 1960's recordings for the Pye label under Tony Hatch's arrangements, by comparison.
One reason for the musical arrangements being as they are on this album, may have to do with the fact that the program's musical director, Ronnie Aldrich, was at the time under contract to London Records' Phase 4 label and therefore could not participate (Benny's label, EMI, at the time, owned 51 percent of his then-home, Thames Television). In his place Harry Robinson led the baton. Indeed, of his "regulars" only The Ladybirds accompanied him.
And while this may be considered an improvement over, say, Benny Hill . . . The Best Of from some 20 years later, on some tracks his vocals sound almost like an afterthought, compared with the full-court press he gave to his TV performances. Moreover, in a sense there is something lost not seeing his expressions and body language. This is most pronounced in the recordings of the "Words" from his TV shows. In short, it's a mixed blessing.
The front cover has a color photo close-up of Benny in his yokel's outfit next to a brick background, apparently from his performance of "Reverend Gray" from his Feb. 24, 1971 show. As originally released, the artist's name and album title were justified left on the top left side, with Benny's name set in Kabel Black (colored yellow), and the title Words and Music set in Busorama Bold (colored red). The version as in this writer's collection, called This Is Benny Hill and released on EMI THIS 27, had the title set solely in Kabel Black and the type color all yellow. (This LP also saw a budget release in the U.K. on the Music for Pleasure label, titled Benny Hill Sings "Ernie".) The back cover has the artist title on the top, below that drawings of Benny in three different personae (on the left, apparently from how he looked in the "Naked Audition" sketch of Feb. 4, 1970, and on the right, as he appeared singing "Ting-A-Ling-A-Loo" in the "European Song Contest" sketch; can't make out from which sketch his centre character emanated, however). Below that are the contents of the album, followed by record company, copyright notice and manufacturing information.
As far as Benny's recording career went, this set of recordings, plus those from the 1960's on the Pye label, were as good as he got. While you can't see him, these are valuable for what's in the lyrics of his various songs, without sound effects or laughter to obscure his words. Forgetting for a moment the at-times schmaltzy musical backing, this is a worthy collection in his recorded oeuvre, and one you would want to seek out.
Musical Backing: *** 1/2
Sound Quality: **** 1/2
Released: March 17, 1998
Running Time: 62:19
Label: St. Clair Entertainment Group, Inc.
This review also contains notes by William Brown to fill in some of the background of these recordings.
This collection was released on compact disc in 1998 by a Canadian company, St. Clair Entertainment Group, Inc. (All the tracks on this collection, plus two others, were previously released on CD in 1990 by the British label Castle Records under the title (with original cover design) of Benny Hill Sings? which had been his first LP in 1965. - WB.) I'm guessing that this is a compilation of several of Benny's recordings from the 1960's and contains songs that Benny would later remake for his shows at Thames Television. (Indeed, with the exception of the final track which was recorded for EMI in 1971, all the recordings on this collection were recorded and originally released between 1961 and 1965 for the Pye label under the direction of Tony Hatch, whom Benny would impersonate twice during his Thames run. Indeed, the first 22 tracks on this disc comprise his entire recorded output for Pye. - WB.) There are 23 songs in all and the arrangements of many of these songs differs strikingly from those for the TV versions. The disc contains no notes at all or even dates for the recordings. I would have also appreciated details about the musicians who perform on these songs. The only information is a basic track listing.
This disc opens with a rousing version of Gather in the Mushrooms and features Benny as Ted Crumble, being introduced by an unknown announcer. The tune is really fast and Benny is backed by some male singers, with the song changing keys several times. Benny does not use the washboard in this version like he did on the March 29, 1973 broadcast in The Dalton Abbott Railway Porter Choir segment. There is a kind of bluegrass feel to this tune. (Indeed, this was his first single for the Pye label in 1961 [single #7N.15327] and made the Top 15 of the British charts. - WB.)
Transistor Radio goes through some odd changes, including some vocals that sound like the Chipmunks and apparently, Benny doing an impression of Elvis Presley. (Indeed; also, Jimmy Jones [an American R&B singer who had two hits in 1959-60, "Handy Man" and "Good Timin'"] and famed British bandleader Victor Silvester were impersonated in the course of this number. This was from his second Pye single [#7N.15359, also 1961] - WB.) In the end, when Benny's wedding night comes, his girl has finally put her portable TV set away and Benny asks, "where's the radio", and says, "Music he wants!" There is no mention about who this is. It does sound a little like Jenny Lee-Wright.
Benny takes us to the farm in Harvest of Love with Benny singing about "sowing the seeds of deep devotion and fertilizing it with emotion". A most unusual love song. (And his fourth single for Pye [7N.15520], in 1963. - WB.)
Pepys' Diary: A tune Benny remade on more than one occasion over the years. Benny is once again introduced by an unknown announcer and sings this song of the famous Samuel Pepys. I particularly like this tune with it's strong victorian feel and the use of bassoons and oboes make this track stand out. One of the best and a definite highlight in this collection. (As recorded here, the flip of "Gather in the Mushrooms." - WB.)
With Gypsy Rock, Benny gives us a fast number with Benny falling in love with a Gyspsy girl. There is a very good violinist in this track and a clarinet also adds a nice gypsy feel. I think the tempo also test the abilities of the musicians who have a little trouble keeping together at the beginning. (The flip side of "Transistor Radio." - WB.)
The Piccolo Song is a song Benny did not remake for television and is a highlight in this collection about a girl who becomes a piccolo player in an all-girls' marching band. Its a cute song with a lively rhythm and tune that sticks in your head.
Lonely Boy has a kind of 1950's feel to it and Benny is an older man looking for the love of his life. Benny is backed by female singers with a basic backup band with horns and an organ. (Actually, neither song was remade for television; the "Lonely Boy" he sang as Tex Cymbal in 1975 was a completely different song. Both songs comprised his third Pye single in 1961 [7N.15405]. - WB.)
The uptempo Moving on Again is a country and western tune with Benny telling the story of meeting several women during his life but never staying in one place for very long. The tune stands out because of the use of a freight train whistle. (This was the lead-off track of his 1965 LP Benny Hill Sings? [Pye NPL 18133]; however, while he performed it on one of his 1965 BBC shows, he never sang it at Thames. - WB.)
The Andalucian Gypsies is a slower gypsy style tune which is slower than the Gyspy Rock tune. There is a nice musical accompaniment here with the guitar and percussion. You'll notice some jokes here that Benny would later use on his TV show. (Besides being on the aforementioned LP, it was one of two songs released as his final Pye single [7N.17026 in 1966]. He performed this song on his Dec. 26, 1967 ATV special, which is probably one of the only times he sang it on TV. The arrangement here sort of reminded me of that for Madonna's "La Isla Bonita." - WB.)
The Egg Marketing Board Tango was also recorded in his series and has a strong tango rhthym and is about doing the tango with a beautiful woman. The tune is punctuated by an appropriate accordian. (The title of this track - also on the original Benny Hill Sings? - was so named because of a sketch on Benny's May 8, 1965 BBC show where he led the "Market Gardeners" choir in this song. The chord structure as on this recording would be used for his 1971 Thames TV performance. - WB.)
Bamba 3688 is one of the funniest and best songs on this disc with Benny phoning up his girl Ethyl and her complaining about their date at the movies the night before. We can picture Benny easily in this tune with the sound effects of Benny dialing and telling us about their date. Definitely a strong track on this disc. The song features some nice percusion, female backing vocals and Benny's dialing. (This was the flip side of "The Harvest of Love" from 1963, and unlike "Transistor Radio" which was updated and reworked at Thames as "Portable TV Set," he did not perform this on TV that I know of. If he did, I could imagine the song's title being changed to "01-226 3688" - which would have reflected the shift in London telephone exchanges after 1967 from the word-based system as in the title of the song, to a two-digit area code [as in use up to the late 1980's] followed by three numbers which corresponded to the first three letters of the word. - WB.)
What a World is one of my favorite songs by Benny and Benny does his Bob Dylan impression, singing about "what a world" this is. The song refers to protest singers, rich musicians, suicide, the human race, prison and nuclear war. Benny seems to have written one of the best songs of his career in this folksy tune with some female background singers and seems influenced by the flower power movement of the late 1960's. This song has more depth in it than just about anything else Benny wrote. Funny and poignant at the same time. (Actually, it predated the emergence of the flower-power movement by two years, as it was first released in 1965 [both as the closing track of the Benny Hill Sings? LP and on single #7N.15974]; indeed this packed more punch, both lyrically and otherwise, than his refashioned 1985 TV performance which had only two verses left from this original. - WB.)
I'll Never Know is a song with Benny sharing his amazement at the world around us and how absurd it can be. A silly and whimsical look at life. An amusing tune with glockenspiel and male and female backup singers. (Both featured on the said LP and released on 45 as the B-side to "What a World." - WB.)
My Garden of Love features very strong word-play by Benny and as with so many songs on this disc, has a decidedly country flavour to it. There are no accompanying vocals and some soft guitars in the mix. Most Benny fans should easily recognise this tune. (This song and "The Andalucian Gypsies" comprised his last Pye single in 1966 [see above], and was also on Benny Hill Sings? - WB.)
In the Papers features Benny as a man who believes the most absurd things written in the newspaper... or perhaps the tune is actually being sarcastic? The song features a funky uptempo rhthym, horns, guitars and backup singers. (It's likely that in the lyrical respect, this other Benny Hill Sings? track predated and anticipated The Beatles' "A Day in the Life" [with its "I read the news today, oh boy" line and John Lennon's singing what he saw in the newspapers] from their landmark Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album by about two years. - WB.)
Golden Days is another country infuenced song with Benny and an unknown girl singing about days gone by. There is some nice piano accompanient in this tune.
Flying South is a song about Benny going south looking for a woman. He tells the tales of women he met around the world and his failures at finding the woman of his dreams. Some nice mandolin playing in this song and female backup punctuated with maracas.
Wild Women is another Benny favorite with Benny yet again singing about his failures at finding the woman he would marry. A strong country flavour with twangy guitars and foot stomping rhthym. Most will remember this from his TV series as well.
Jose's Cantina stands out with a stronger atmosphere than most songs have on this disc with guitar, trembling marimbas and a nice reverb on Benny's vocal. The backing vocals are more distant.
Rose could be the only rock song Benny actually wrote, with dissonant chords, tambourines and straight rock rhythm. The rocking rhthym is a nice contrast to the mostly country flavour to most of the tunes on this disc.
Those Days (Duet with Maggie Stredder) is another tune Benny did on his TV Show and features Ladybirds vocalist Maggie Stredder in a duet with Benny. Notice the tuba on the chorus. (Indeed, the 1965 recording of this preceded The Ladybirds' becoming a part of his show by some four years, and it was probably because of this recording that they later joined TBHS. This was a takeoff on the style of Sonny & Cher as in that time period, especially derivative of their big hit "I Got You Babe," with Benny in the role of the late Sonny Bono and Maggie doing Cher's part. - WB.)
The Old Fiddler features Benny telling the sad story of an old man at market day in the village and Benny buying him a beautiful old violin. The violinist here knows how to make us cringe with his bad violin playing. The organist sets the mood just right. Benny is our stroryteller. (This was the next-to-last track on Benny Hill Sings?; indeed, all 14 tracks as from 1965 originated from that LP (excepting the eight tracks originally released on 45 between 1961 and 1963). - WB.)
Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West) closes the album with this song that made Benny famous, complete with string arrangement. Not one of my favorites on this record, but its a fun song nevertheless. A send-up of western desperados and fastguns, complete with a usual showdown between Ernie and the driver of the Baker's van. I think the song goes on a little too long, but it was actually a minor hit for Benny. (In fact, it was his biggest British hit, making it all the way to #1 in late 1971, bigger than his "Gather In the Mushrooms" of a decade before. It was also the only track on this CD not to have originated from Pye, and the only one recorded after he joined Thames TV. - WB.)
This is probably just about the best collection of songs featuring Benny you're likely to find commercially available right now. The disc does contain just over an hour of music and many of these songs will probably be more recognizable to fans because he later recorded them for Thames Television, than hearing them on the radio or on LP. (Except for "The Piccolo Song," "Lonely Boy," "BAmba 3688," "Moving On Again" and "The Andalucian Gypsies," none of which he ever performed while at Thames, even if the lines from some of the songs turned up in other numbers. - WB.) Most of the songs have a country flavour to them and this already suggests that Benny had a fascination with American culture. Even in his shows for the BBC and at Thames Television, Benny liked to exploit different facets of American culture and in particular, the old west.
But something else is noticable in many of the songs on this disc. Most of them deal with lost loves and stories of looking for the girl of his dreams and losing out. Benny himself was always trying to find the one girl he could marry, but never did. I honestly believe that, although many of these songs contain little stories and jokes that you would never see in real life, the emotions behind these songs of unrequited lover were real and this really gives these tunes a kind of autobiographical quality. Benny actually wrote from his own experiences. After all, he did do a lot of travelling to exotic places and in those journeys I could easily imagine him trying to find the love of his life.
The Musical arrangements are not always the strongest, neither are the musicians who can be somewhat sloppy in their playing. (Which seemed to be the case for much of his recording career. - WB.) Benny would later rework many of these songs and indeed the jokes in them into the fabric of his shows for TV and especially so at Thames Television. As years went by, he would repeat these same ideas several times.
The recordings, which were all probably made before he began his career at Thames Televison show their age by the limited dynamic range and rather flat sound. (However, as mentioned before, "Ernie" was made after he went to Thames. And the earlier CD issue from 1990, besides the 23 tracks offered here, featured two other Thames-era tracks from 1971, "Broken-Hearted Lovers' Stew" and "The Beach at San Tropez." - WB.) Still, the remastering here is pretty good given their age and shouldn't pose a real problem when listening. I just wish there was some kind of documentation provided in the booklet, which only contains a catalogue of discs by St. Clair Entertainment.
This disc will probably only interest die-hard Benny fans and is an interesting selection from Benny's recorded output. We do not get to see Benny, however and a big part of Benny's humor was his depth of facial expression to lead our imaginations wayward. My personal favorites are Pepy's Diary, The Piccolo Song, Bamba 3688, What A World, (could be the best), In The Papers, Jose's Cantina, Rose and The Old Fiddler. Recommended.
Musical Backing: ** 1/2
Sound Quality: *** 1/2
Released: April 28, 1992
Running Time: 46:37
Label: Continuum Records (U.S.)
This, Benny Hill's last set of recordings, culled from within the last two decades of his TV shows (plus two oldies thrown in for good measure), was recorded at Abbey Road Studios in 1991 and released after his death by an American company, Continuum Records. He is backed this time around (for what turns out to be the last time) by the musical director for his Thames Television shows, Ronnie Aldrich, as well as the then-current lineup of The Ladybirds (credited as The Maggie Stredder Singers on the disc), and Benny's longtime producer and friend Dennis Kirkland co-produced this project. 14 of the tracks on this now out-of-print CD (excepting, of course, the first and last tracks) would be re-released as the Audio CD portion of the DVD/CD The Benny Hill Collection in 2005 (its misleading claim of "13 previously unreleased tracks" notwithstanding.
This disc opens with Yakety Sax (Intro). The arrangement is right along the lines of that heard in the ending runoff of the last few years' worth of Thames Television shows (thought not the same recording, of course). This is the version which played in the video scene of "we" attempting to enter Abbey Road in The Benny Hill Collection. It is not, however, on the Audio CD of that DVD/CD.
Next is a re-recording of Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West). Benny's performance here is more strained than on his 1971 recording, and compared with the arrangements of same, Ronnie Aldrich's arrangement is more along the lines of Hill's 1970 TV version (that is, no strings), though not exactly the same (with the drums still in "Yakety Sax" mode). It does seem a bit rushed, though, in its tempo; on top of which, there's a little lyrical rewrite, with "a shilling" changed to "10p." This new version was actually issued on a 45 (b/w "Yakety Sax," naturally) on Continuum single #12206 in 1992, in conjunction with the release of this album.
This is followed by Bianca, which lyrically is way different from his Jan. 26, 1977 TV performance - Bianca's surname is different (changed from Malone to McBrown, as she now weighs "300 pounds" as opposed to "38 stone"), instead of picking up half a crown in the first verse she "hitched up her gown," and Benny replaced '70's British boxer John Conteh's name from the original with that of American boxer Mike Tyson - and that's for starters. The arrangement differs considerably from the TV version as well. On The Benny Hill Collection, this song accompanied footage of him and an unknown lady replicating an eating-related gag which had been in one of his earlier Thames shows.
Gypsy Dance is the next number. In this form, this was based on what opened his Jan. 7, 1981 special. Because of the title attributed to this number in A&E's Complete & Unadulterated - Set 4 DVD (they called it "Maria"), some websites have referred to this as "Gypsy Dance (Maria)." By any name this is not as good as his earlier stabs at this kind of tune, especially as recorded here.
The track after this is his most recent (and in all likelihood his last) composition, New York Rap. He had performed this on his 1990 Benny Hill's World Tour: New York special, and did a video for this recording that was on The Benny Hill Collection. Here there was more an attempt to replicate the kind of arrangements on actual rap/hip hop numbers of the time, but alas Benny comes off more stiff (and barely audible at certain points) than even on his TV version. This is one of two songs on this set that he made music videos for as on The Benny Hill Collection.
The country-flavored Star Names (which he performed in costume as "Bronco Benny" on his April 27, 1988 show opening) comes off every bit as lackluster here as it did on his TV version, with celebrity-based puns which seemed a might strained at times. Suffice it to say he'd done better in that realm in the past.
Benny next serves us with Just Wanna Be in Your Band which, as impersonating Kenny Rogers, had been the highlight of the Jan. 6, 1982 "Monte Carbolic Show" parody. Here there are a few lyrical changes, and in terms of his performance on this recording, whereas he was convincing as Rogers on the TV version, here he just comes across as hoarse.
Down on the Farm (originally from his Feb. 11, 1981 opening) follows. Here he and The Ladybirds seem to go through the motions, and certainly this was a step (or two or more) below the rip-roaring TV version with his cast and key Hill's Angels in tow - which made all the difference.
The next offering is Unlucky Luke with which he had opened his Feb. 10, 1982 show. He made a music video for this at an outdoor beach side concert in Florida before an all-male audience as was in The Benny Hill Collection, wearing cowboy garb and his post-1986 "R. Dibble, Handyman" coke-bottle glasses. The 1982 TV version is an improvement over this in any case.
A redundant, "updated" version of Pepy's Diary follows. No two versions of this old standby had the same group of verses, and only one verse (about "a shy young maid" taking a room "at the Village Inn") was in all versions, both TV (the most recent being on his very last Thames Television show of May 1, 1989) and recordings. Earlier renditions, both on TV and on record, were an improvement over this one, needless to say.
The track after this is the oldest composition on this disc that isn't Ernie or Pepy's Diary, Older Woman, with which he opened his Dec. 27, 1973 show. This is the number which featured a variation of one of his most famous quotes, modified for this tune to describe the "older women": "They don't yell and they don't tell, and they're as grateful as hell." Regardless of that sentiment, fans will be more grateful of his 1973 TV version (which A&E's Complete & Unadulterated - Set 2 DVD mistitled "Dapper Dan, The Lady Killer Man") than of this rendition as offered here.
We then go to the next-to-last "original" song in this disc, Café Olé, which he performed as the opening number of his next-to-last Thames show on April 5, 1989. Here the arrangements seem to match the TV version - neither is all that good. Not to mention the chord structure and melody being an amalgam of two earlier Hill compositions, "Oh, Zandoona" and "José's Cantina." Both of which are an improvement over this, in either version. (This is the one that A&E's Complete & Unadulterated - Set 6 DVD inexplicably called "Anna Marie," although this is by no means the same as that other piece.)
Graffiti (which he'd performed as songwriter "Marvin Lebtisch" in his May 30, 1978 "South Blank Show" sketch) is the fourth of five tracks originating from the 1970's to be offered here (or third of four, if not counting Ernie). Aside from his lackluster performance here, the tempo is a bit slower than on the TV version.
Next is Lifeguards, which emanated from his Jan. 5, 1983 opening. Again, the level of performances are some notches below his TV version.
Then we go to the final Hill composition on this disc, Go 'Round Again. First performed on his Dec. 26, 1978 show as impersonating Bob Dylan, this tale of a man's life journey from birth to death, with a merry-go-round on a fair ground being used as a metaphor for same, ended up, in this version, being an unintended epitaph for "The Lad Himself," especially the final chorus (including the words "You give damn short rides on this fair ground of yours, Lord"), given this CD's release after his death, and its positioning on the disc. As Dennis Kirkland, in his biography of Hill, noted, Benny was "fighting fit" when he wrote and first performed it, and indeed the TV version was superior to this; as on here, it unwittingly illuminates and underscores a talent clearly on the decline, and having seen better days in years gone by.
The disc ends with an extended - no, make that über-extended - version of Yakety Sax which, at 4:33, is about as long, time-wise, as co-writer Boots Randolph's bluesy recording of "I Really Don't Want to Know" which was issued by Monument Records (on single #45-804, released in 1963) as the B-side of this ending-chase standard (which, as by Randolph, was only 2:00). As with the opening version, this was not on the Audio CD that was included in The Benny Hill Collection. It seemed there was no other reason for this to go on and on and on, other than to pad out the disc. And to play with the mix at different points, with some instruments disappearing and then reappearing, and certain portions looped and repeated ad nauseam.
While The Ultimate Collection and Words & Music highlight Benny at his recording peak, this collection, with a title that's more like a misnomer (that is, this is far from the best of Mr. Hill in any respect), documented him after his fall from grace, and the continuing efforts to keep his career going at all costs. Throughout, he sounds ragged and ravaged, with the effects of age and all taking the inevitable toll on his once-fine and versatile voice. At some points he could barely be heard above a croak, with the instrumentation obscuring some of the words. Even a reviewer who praised The Benny Hill Collection conceded that without the visual aspect (his facial expressions and gestures, among others), his performances here can get on one's nerves, and can make even the most ardent Hill fan skip to the next track after only listening to a few seconds of each song. His updated versions of Ernie and Pepy's Diary on this disc are especially redundant, given that he had recorded them earlier, and better. And many of the songs themselves are below par compared with his earlier compositions, so much so that prior to the recording of this disc, his old EMI producer, Wally Ridley, passed on producing any recordings of his newer material. Lyrically, there were changes between the TV versions of his songs and those offered here, ranging from minor (a few words here and there) to major (most notably in the case of Bianca, with a little sop to the American market on top of it). It is doubtful if there would have been any improvement if one or more of these numbers were replaced with, say, Costa Coco (from May 27, 1985), or Johnnie Boy (from March 5, 1980), or The Lovely Girls from Crete (from March 25, 1981), just as a few examples.
Then there are the musical arrangements. While his old Thames Television musical director Ronnie Aldrich is wielding the baton this time out, the old problem of sloppy musicianship that plagued much of his earlier recordings is here in spades, combined with the whole project having the feel of a rush job - and rivalled by Benny's sometimes equally sloppy vocal performances. Nor are the arrangements here as interesting as on Benny's "classic" shows - although they pretty much corresponded with the arrangements heard on the program in its last few years on the air. In certain spots, especially the more uptempo numbers, the pacing seems especially strained and forced, with the drums every bit as loud as what drove Stan Freberg crazy in his 1955 parody of Mitch Miller's chart-topper from that same year, "The Yellow Rose of Texas." And while Maggie Stredder, Penny Lister and Ann Simmons (the exact lineup of which did vocal backing duties for Mr. Hill's 1986 Thames Television series of specials) duly back him, it isn't as interesting as with the previous lineups of Ladybirds from the 1970's. The only good thing about these recordings is that they are crystal clear in audio quality - but that's about it. That and (lyrical changes notwithstanding) hearing his words without laughter or sound effects getting in the way, so one could in theory hear his witticisms, double-entendres and wordplay up-close.
It wasn't just in the overall quality and level of performances where there were problems, but legal as well. By re-recording Ernie and Pepy's Diary for this disc, Benny effectively violated the terms of his earlier contracts with EMI and Pye (one of whose successors, Castle, put out The Ultimate Collection), and EMI in particular, at the time, used the full force of their organization to prohibit this disc from being sold in Britain. In short, this had the makings of a disaster for everyone concerned. You're better off with the versions he performed on his Thames Television shows.
The front cover shows a particularly heavyset, whitish-haired Benny wearing a dark jacket, pink shirt, light pants and brown shoes, and sporting one of his most famous facial expressions, crossing the famed Abbey Road, in the exact same spot (and camera angle) where The Beatles crossed on the cover of their 1969 album of the same name; likely in the fall months, given the lack of foliage on the trees and the fact that you could see the buildings in the vicinity in full. (A video segment of the taking of the picture for this cover was included in The Benny Hill Collection.) Unlike either The Ultimate Collection or Words & Music, there are musical credits, with a few of the names having played in Aldrich's orchestra on the show over the years and some of them playing in the final years of Benny's Thames Television run.
This is most definitely for the most die-hard of Benny Hill fans. For everyone else, if one had to choose between this or The Benny Hill Collection, I'd go for this one. Otherwise, don't bother.
Performance: ** 1/2
Musical Backing: ** 1/2
Sound Quality: ****