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Classic TV revisited: The Benny Hill Show



ITV | 1969-1989

Starring Benny Hill, Louise English, Henry McGee and Bob Todd.

Benny Hill: saucy British comic who took America by storm with smutty routines which usually involved bumbling Benny lusting after scantily clad young women.

Benny made 58 shows for Thames TV between 1969 and 1989. He also made shows in the US.

Nicknamed King Leer, Benny was the son of a surgical appliance fitter. Lustful and bumbling are ideal descriptions of the japester.

Weren’t his shows corny old nonsense?
That’s a bit harsh. He was immensely popular. But yes, they were cancelled in the late ’80s. The PC tide turned against seaside postcard-style gags.

How did he get started?
Unlike comics such as Bob Monkhouse and Arthur Askey, he didn’t come from radio. Benny was a product of TV’s need for new talent in the mid-’50s.

Didn’t he buy loads of wigs?
Yes he bought up to 60 a year to impersonate contemporary stars such as Diana Dors and Isobel Barnett (What’s My Line)… and he had a fantastic memory for gags. Critics might say he succeeded by recycling old Chaplin material.

What was a typical show like?
They were unique. He only made three or so a year. His stock characters were Fred Scuttle, Prof Marvel and the Firemen’s Choir. whose catchphrase was “evein’ viewers”.

Who wrote the material?
Benny wrote most, using notes he took when travelling the world, and about his former life in Southampton.

Who else starred?
Hill’s Angels – foxy girls who chased Benny. Louise English, Henry McGee and Bob Todd became stars.

Didn’t Benny have a funny way of sending scripts to producers?
Yes. He never worked at the Thames offices, and instead would send in ideas written on the corners of newspapers, or on the cardboard found under the collar of laundered shirts.

Didn’t Benny make records, too?
Yes, Ernie (The Fastest Milkman In the West), Gather In The Mushrooms and Harvest Of Love.

His shows always seemed to end with him chasing a lot of girls in bikinis.
A myth, I’m afraid. The girls always chased him.

But he looked like a flasher?
Maybe, but he never overexposed himself on TV.

You’ve made Benny sound a bit of a joke.
He was certainly an unusual character. But few people could deny his power to amuse children and adults alike. He had universal appeal.

In 1979, at the age of 54, he conquered the US. A riot broke out in a California jail when inmates were prevented from seeing his show.

And a Mafia boss would only give a TV interview to Thames if Benny did a stint at his Las Vegas casino.

Benny must have been a rich man, given his huge popularity?
He was, and money is still generated for Pearson TV, which owns Thames, from his repeats, songs and videos sold across the world.

Did he flaunt his wealth?
He lived in a small rented flat in London and carried his work around in carrier bags.

Did his death signal the end of an era?
Yes. He died on the eve of a comeback show in 1992, the same night that comedian Frankie Howerd passed away.



Kick-Ass TV Heroines: Xena – Warrior Princess




Xena Warrior Princess

What was not to love about Xena? As Lucy Lawless says: “Xena is a bad-ass, kick-ass, pre-Mycenaean girl.” Evildoers, clearly, must stand down, but not only bad guys (and girls) have Xena-phobia. Even heroes quake when she swings her broadsword.

Originally created as a syndicated complement to Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena pretty much kicked Herc to the curb. It was like when the Bionic Woman made us lose interest in the Six Million Dollar Man–only more so.

Unlike Lindsay Wagner’s early half-woman, half-machine, Xena wasn’t prone to frailty. Nor did she need robot parts. In fact, the Warrior Princess never lost. If she’s down, it’s not for long.

Plus, she was in touch with the dark side: This big-boned bruiser had definite moments of blood lust, as well as lust of some other varieties. Garbed in a leather miniskirt and armed with her trademark razor-edged, boomerang-action chakram, we watched Xena single-leggedly kick down entire platoons of Roman soldiers.

Sure, there were murmurings about Xena and her softer female sidekick, Gabrielle (actress Renée O’Connor). So what if they liked to conserve bathwater by doubling up? And what’s wrong with close friends frenching once in a while?

Then again, maybe it was true–and there’s anything wrong with that.

Actress: Lucy Lawless
Show: Xena: Warrior Princess
Character: Xena

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Classic TV Revisited: McMillan And Wife




McMillan And Wife

Starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, McMillan and Wife was a super cute crime-solving saga from the 1970s made for the NBC’s Mystery Movie series.

Who were they?
Hubby was the debonair San Francisco police commissioner Stewart McMillan.

And wifey?
Sally was a foxy, rather scatterbrained dame with a knack for finding corpses.

Worked down the morgue did she?
Hardly. Sally’s finds were usually in some glitzy mansion which the couple were frequenting for a weekend cocktail party. She also had a habit of getting her life threatened or being kidnapped.

Who was in it?
Tragic Hollywood star Rock Hudson no less. He took on Stewart McMillan in his first TV role, after years as a matinee idol with movies such as Giant.

Fans of the lantern-jawed star were dismayed when he went public about having Aids. He had long kept his homosexuality secret. He carried on working in ’80s glam drama Dynasty, but make-up could not disguise the deterioration of this once-statuesque man. He died in 1985, aged 59.

What about Sally?
That role fell to raven-locked Susan Saint James. The Ali MacGraw lookalike was previously in shows such as Alias Smith And Jones and The Name of the Game.

Other characters
A vital ingredient to McMillan And Wife was sharp-tongued housekeeper Mildred, played by Nancy Walker. Somebody needed to keep the place tidy while they gallivanted about solving crime.

Famous guest stars?
Kim Basinger

The couple’s conception?
Like Hart To Hart, the idea was borrowed from Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man books of the ’30s.

Gritty crime drama?
Hardly. These were cosy whodunnit cases, where the brutality of murder was never portrayed. The show was more about the interplay between McMillan and Sally.

Had viewers arrested?
Certainly in the US. It was the fifth highest-rated show in 1972 and 1973.

Fate of the golden couple?
Susan Saint James quit in 1976 over a contractual dispute. Nancy Walker also packed away her duster as housekeeper Mildred.

The dame’s exit was a fatal blow?
Certainly for the character of Sally – she was killed off in a plane crash. But Rock soldiered on with new assistant Sgt Steve DiMaggio (Richard Gilliland). The show became McMillan.

A winner?
Audiences dwindled and the plug was pulled.

Distinguishing features?
Cosy pillow talk, cocktail parties, Rock Hudson, pyjamas and numerous corpses.

Do say
Let’s go to bed. Turn the light out, darling.

Don’t say
Must you eat toast in bed, darling. Apologies, but I’ve got terrible flatulence. Separate bedrooms.

Not to be confused with
My Wife Next Door, Harold Macmillan, The Merry Wives Of Windsor and Mr And Mrs.

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Classic TV Revisited: The Royal




The Royal

The Royal was an ITV drama commission and was inspired by its sister programme Heartbeat.

The lowdown: This nostalgic family drama is set in the swinging 1960s and centres on the staff of a cottage hospital in Yorkshire. Newly qualified doctor David Cheriton (Julian Ovenden) is determined to make a difference to the world and arrives at St Aidan’s Royal Free Hospital in Elinsby full of big ideas. But he clashes with the hospital’s secretary TJ Middleditch (Ian Carmichael) who is determined to run things his way. Then there is the Matron (Wendy Craig) who rules her nurses with a rod of iron and tries in vain to stop them being distracted by the handsome arrival.

Memorable moments: Watch out for former Heartbeat favourite Bill Maynard who crosses dramas and continents as Claude Jeremiah Greengrass. Greengrass has returned from a Caribbean holiday with a mystery illness but that doesn’t stop him trying to earn a fast buck. It doesn’t take long before Claude attracts Matron’s ire.

Trivia: The Royal is a family affair for real life husband and wife Robert Daws (Ormerod) and Amy Robbins (Weatherill). No fewer than seven members of their clan have appeared in the series including their daughters and stepson.

Michelle Hardwick, who played receptionist Lizzie, says her favourite moment in the whole series didn’t come on screen but in the actors’ green room. She says: “I was sitting in there with Wendy Craig and Honor Blackman and we were having a lovely conversation. I sat back and thought ‘Wow, this is great, I can’t wait to tell my gran’.”

A modern day set version called The Royal Today aired 7 January – 14 March 2008.

First broadcast: 2003

Starred: Wendy Craig, Ian Carmichael, Michael Starke, Robert Daws and Julian Ovenden

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