A message from young me and the ghost of Uncle Benny

When I was a kid there were two channels that probably had more of impact on me than any of the others offered in the Orlando market combined: WOFL and WMFE
WMFE (now WUCF) was the local PBS station, and had probably the greater overt impact on me.  WOFL was a local independent station and became in 1986 one of the original FOX affiliates.  But before FOX reared its head WOFL was a fledgling local UHF station which aired whatever it thought would get a good rating.  I still have nightmares about seeingChildren Shouldn't Play With Dead Things one Saturday afternoon (but we’ll save that horror for other posts).  While PBS is known for its Brit Coms (a phrase I will henceforth never use again), and particularly Monty Python's Flying Circus, it was WOFL that introduced us to the “other” goon of late 20th Century British Comedy: Benny Hill (although technically Benny Hill was a late contemporary of the original Goons which I use to reference the next generation Pythons).  

I’m not sure when I discovered Benny Hill, but I’m sure it was around the same time that the boys dropped and The Change (can you call it that in men?) occurred.  That would put my Benny Awakening somewhere in the early-mid 1980’s, probably around the same time I discovered Monty Python over on WMFE, which happened to be on at roughly the same time of the late night.  The main downside to Benny was WOFL was a commercial station, so instead of a full 30 minutes of anarchy and tits you would get an edited down selection periodically interrupted by bad local commercials (the type that only can afford to run late at night, so really REALLY BAD).  Of course it seems the TPHH (Tits per Half Hour) ratio was greater with Uncle Benny than Python, but even then I realized that the Python guys were the better, um, bang for my comedic money (its not all about T&A right?).   In any case at some point I pretty much aligned myself with the OxBridge Boys as well as the usual lead-up Brit show to MPFC which came on at 11:00PM on WMFE, DaveAllen At Large.

But I still fondly remember those late nights illicitly watching Uncle Benny and both the joy and disappointment I felt when the inevitable Yakety Sax chase scene would arrive; while this meant the end of the show it was the best chance to see some boobage before the damn Thames TV logo made its unwelcomed entrance. 

 I say illicitly because I wasn't supposed to be up watching TV, and certainly not something like Benny Hill or the Pythons!  So it was a dark room and only the flicker of a very archaic, even then, yellow b&w tv (which I still have and it still works).  It wasn't until later in the 80’s that I had a color TV, and by then the Pythons evidently cost to much for WMFE to keep and Uncle Benny had been sacked from WOFL as well (according to this Orlando Sentinel article from 1985 Uncle Benny was given the heave-ho in the autumn of 1985 to be replaced by reruns of “Archie Bunker’s Place” of all things, which was the retooled version of "All in the Family" after Jean "Fucking" Stapleton left [it would be four more years, 1989, before Thames TV would really give Benny Hill the official and final heave-ho{and in a bit of just irony Thames TV itself would cease to exist at the end of 1992, just eight short months after Benny went gently into that good sketch}]). 
I really hadn't seen much of Uncle Benny since back in the 80's, sure, a few You Tube video here and there, the use of Yakety Sax in a few well places videos, nothing of any real substance.  Until a few months ago that is when I was able to procure a short Super8 compilation of The Best of Benny Hill  (a part 1 of three, although I've only seen the other two parts in b&w and silent, but I’m still looking). I wrote about this over at the ScrodFilm blog.
Since I've been home-bound for going on six weeks now I’m slowly going through my stream-of-consciousness backlog of things to explore (this helps keep the cabin fever down to a manageable level) and low and behold today I stumbled on the idea to see if there were any Benny Hill interviews or behind the scenes stuff on YouTube.  The short answer is: Not really.  Uncle Benny didn't really give many interviews over his very long career and there evidently wasn't a lot of desire to do behind the scenes stuff either (I’ll further check YouTube UK later, hopefully there’s more there…). 

However what I did run across was one video which purported to be Behind the Scenes, but it’s really only a compilation of vids that weren't used in his 1991 New York special he did for USA Network, which is reviewed over at Benny's Place, one of the better sources of Benny Hill info.  This material was put together in a cheaply made DVD called "The Benny Hill Collection".

But what struck me, and I mean with a physical jolt type of struck me, was that a little ways in (2:20 to be exact) we find Uncle Benny on stage at the Daytona Beach Bandshell!  Well, how could this be?  How could The Benny Hill have been in Daytona and at one of the most recognizable places on the beach, and me not know about it?  I mean this is 23.6 miles from the house I freakin grew up in!  Even if I wasn't in Daytona that day Benny Hill was less than 25 miles from me, and I missed it!

After some very fevered Googling the best I could put together was (again, thanks to Benny's Place) that Uncle Benny was asked to be a judge for the 1991 Miss Hawaiian Tropic Pageant which was held during Spring Break in Daytona.  Doing a quick bit of math and verifying the year with my High School Diploma I realized that 1991 was the Spring Break of my senior year in High School, and one which me and the boys spent a great deal of time in Daytona for (I mean we had to practice for college, right?).  So then the realization sank in: I was there and I missed seeing Benny Hill (I'm going out on a limb here but probably because Jeremy or Troy had some scheme for us to be somewhere "really cool" that typically turned out to not be in any way cool)

This only confirms the part of my philosophy which states that if someone famous, or once famous, that you grew up watching, or someone you really admire, or appreciate, or somehow find important in some way is still alive then you must at all costs find a way to, at the very least, see them, and at most meet them (maybe get to know them, have a page or two in their biography, get mentioned in their obituary as a bussom buddy of the deceased...).  I’m guessing from the videos that it would not have been a very hard task to actually meet and hang out with him (the reception he was getting was not all that great, so I’m thinking he wasn't getting the post-show attention that Pauly Shore did the same year [and what a freakin’ statement on early 90’s kids!]).   I found a full line up of 1991 Spring Break events from the Daytona Sun and there's not a single mention of Uncle Benny, so its no wonder I missed it!)  A side note, two years later in the late summer of 1993 I acted on this philosophy when I by chance noticed that Garrison Keillor was doing a show at Peabody Auditorium in Daytona (right across A1A from the Bandshell) (and here's the actual article I read!).  I figured I’d never get to see him again, so not only did I get a ticket I stayed after and actually got to meet him  and speak to him for a few minutes.  I also ran into (almost literally) Governor Lawton Chiles in the foyer of Peabody, but I wasn't to impressed by him; little did I know that in three years I would work for him at the FSBA. 

I admit I haven’t acted on this part of my philosophy very much recently (I have a wife and a family and a dog and a cat[2] ), but maybe this is the Shawn-circa-1991 and the ghost of Uncle Benny sending me a message that once I am back on both feet I should stop making excuses and get off my now middle aged arse and get to it (besides, now I can drag the kids against their will and maybe get to introduce them to some folks that the them of 50 years from now will thank the them of today for going along with).