benny hill

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BENNY HILL: A man out of time

BENNY HILL: A man out of time

When writer Tom Hibbert sought out Benny Hill in the early 90s for a “who the hell does Benny Hill think he is?” magazine article, he found the shy, defensive star tucking into cod and chips in a pub surrounded by old friends. That was the odd thing about Benny Hill who died in 1992: he was desperately ordinary to the point of...

THE GENIUS OF JERRY LEWIS: All fall down

THE GENIUS OF JERRY LEWIS: All fall down

Jerry Lewis is in his early 80s so it’s hardly surprising people don’t talk about him much anymore. His last decent movie appearance was in The King of Comedy in 83 as the arrogant television talkshow host Jerry Langford stalked by Robert DeNiro’s deluded Rupert Pupkin. Lewis was terrific, oozing oily indifference. The last...

STEVE COOGAN INTERVIEWED (2004): Ah-haa!

STEVE COOGAN INTERVIEWED (2004): Ah-haa!

We cringed when British actor Steve Coogan was appalling television, then radio, host Alan Partridge in the British television series Knowing Me, Knowing You and I'm Alan Partridge. There were few more uncomfortable television characters than this gauche, insecure and obnoxious British television talk show host whose Abba-themed show...

KENNETH WILLIAMS: An Audience with Kenneth Williams (DVD, Madman)

KENNETH WILLIAMS: An Audience with Kenneth Williams (DVD, Madman)

Even if you'd only ever seen one film in Carry On series and hated it, you'd still remember Kenneth Williams and his nasal delivery, high camp mannerisms, effeminate manner and innuendo-laden quips delivered with a knowing look. It was in Carrry On Cleo that Williams had the funniest and most memorable line of his career when, as Caesar in...

MONTY PYTHON'S LIFE OF BRIAN, 30 YEARS ON (2009): Still a bit of a naughty boy

MONTY PYTHON'S LIFE OF BRIAN, 30 YEARS ON (2009): Still a bit of a naughty boy

It seems only yesterday that Mel Gibson’s The Passion of The Christ was being debated for its uncompromising brutality. I wonder if those who bought it on DVD watch it often? And will they watch it 30 years time? Gibson has a sense of humour -- he made Braveheart after all -- so maybe he would get a laugh out of the irreverently...

LAM CHING-YING (1952-97): The fearless vampire killer

LAM CHING-YING (1952-97): The fearless vampire killer

Those who knew Hong Kong actor Lam Ching-ying describe him as disciplined and often severe, generous to his colleagues, but so private that when diagnosed with liver cancer in mid-1997 he didn't even tell his closest friends.  He died that November, aged 45, and his pallbearers included actor/director Sammo Hung and Jackie Chan. At his...

MONTY PYTHON: ALMOST THE TRUTH, THE LAWYER'S CUT (Eagle Rock DVD): This is all getting far too silly

MONTY PYTHON: ALMOST THE TRUTH, THE LAWYER'S CUT (Eagle Rock DVD): This is all getting far too silly

If you thought the last word on the Pythons had been the DVD box sets, the CD reissue of their albums and their Autobiography modelled on the Beatles' Anthology book, then . . . Yes, here at seven and a half hours with all the living Pythons interviewed and reflective -- plus relevant clips, period footage (the Goons) and commentary from...

THE HAUNTING PAST OF CINEMA: Classics illustrated

THE HAUNTING PAST OF CINEMA: Classics illustrated

For those of us who are pay-per-view civilians, television is a kaleidoscope portal from the present (the Oscars, downtown Baghdad on a bad day) to the past (the History Channel), and sometimes into an imagined future (although heaven forbid it should be as po-faced as Stargate SG-1). The time-shift possibilities can be fun, but they are a...

THE ESSENTIAL SPIKE MILLIGAN complied by ALEXANDER GAMES

THE ESSENTIAL SPIKE MILLIGAN complied by ALEXANDER GAMES

On New Zealand's national Poetry Day in 2004 a television news team buttonholed people on the street and asked them to recite a piece of poetry. One guy did an impromptu local variant of Spike Milligan's Silly Old Baboon. By coincidence, that very day a letter writer to the New Zealand Herald expressed outrage about the artist et.al...

Peter Sellers; The Trumpet Volunteer (1958)

Peter Sellers; The Trumpet Volunteer (1958)

There has been a long tradition of mocking the pretentions of rock and pop singers, which isn't that hard. Many of them take themselves very seriously. When National Lampoon for example got stuck into a Pink Floyd-like musician who wanted to create a massive rock opera (on their '75 album Goodbye Pop, helmed by Christopher Guest of Spinal...

Dean Martin: My Rifle, My Pony and Me (1959)

Dean Martin: My Rifle, My Pony and Me (1959)

As Nick Tosche revealed in his remarkable biography Dino: Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams, Dean Martin didn't have to try hard at anything: he was good looking, could sing whatever was put in front of him, was a natural straight man and comedian, and he'd just turn up on a movie set and do his lines with charm, ease and utter...

Ian Dury: Razzle in My Pocket (1977)

Ian Dury: Razzle in My Pocket (1977)

With Will Birch's biography and the film of his life Sex and Drugs and Rock'n'Roll (Andy Serkis as Ian), there was something of a revival and re-appreciation of Ian Dury recently, a bit more than a decade after his death at age 57. Dury came to the punk era as someone more than a decade older than most performers, and he had considerable...

Stan Freberg: The Old Payola Roll Blues (1960)

Stan Freberg: The Old Payola Roll Blues (1960)

While British commentators congratulate their culture on its history of comedy and satire (Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan, David Frost, Peter Cook, Monty Python et al) they conspiciously fail to note that America had a similar, but often darker and more biting, tradition. Stan Freberg was -- although at the time of this writing he is still...

Hayseed Dixie: Killer Grass (Cooking Vinyl)

Hayseed Dixie: Killer Grass (Cooking Vinyl)

You might have thought the Hayseed Dixie joke -- a band from the fanciful Deer Lick Holler playing bluegrass treatments of (mostly) rock songs, interviewed here -- would have run its course by now. But eight albums in they are still going. And of course it is still kinda fun: here they knock off Queen (Bohemian Rhapsody), Black Sabbath,...

Frank Zappa: I'm the Slime (1973)

Frank Zappa: I'm the Slime (1973)

The life, times, opinions and music of Frank Zappa are too huge and diverse to come to terms with easily. What is beyond question (and some of his music and opinions were questionable) is that the man had a rare and impressive musical reach -- from doo-wop to orchestral music and all points between and beyond -- and when he was in satirical mode...

The J Geils Band: No Anchovies, Please (1980)

The J Geils Band: No Anchovies, Please (1980)

The J Geils Band out of Massachusetts is best known for their terrific single Angel in a Centrefold (aw, c'mon, it's great, in a rock'n'roll Benny Hill way . . . see clip below) and Freeze Frame -- and in this country probably not a lot else. No one I know has ever had a J Geils Band album -- or has admitted to as much. I do. Just the...

Henry Phillips: The Bitch Song (1995)

Henry Phillips: The Bitch Song (1995)

Not everything in life is serious and Henry Phillips takes a skewed view of the world. The title track of his album On the Shoulders of Freaks notes that all those great Greek philosophers "had a thing for little boys", that Katherine the Great enjoyed large animals, Hemingway put a bullet through his head, Salvador Dali's paintings...

Alfred E Neuman: It's a Gas (1963)

Alfred E Neuman: It's a Gas (1963)

There's the widely held if rather snooty view that fart noises and belching are only amusing to adolescent boys. This rather ignores the obvious: that there will always be adolescent boys, and even more people who have been adolescent boys. Which perhaps explains the enduring if low appeal of this outing by Mad magazine's Alfred E Neuman....

Noel McKay: Sweater Girl (1963?)

Noel McKay: Sweater Girl (1963?)

Noel McKay had a drag act in New Zealand in the early Sixties (and lesserly so into the Seventies) but always walked both sides of the line. He released albums in covers with him in drag but also had a series of EPs on the Viking label entitled Party Songs; For Adults Only which were directed at the straight audience. These included...

George Formby: When I'm Cleaning Windows (1936)

George Formby: When I'm Cleaning Windows (1936)

In his later years George Harrison developed an affection for the ukulele, and one of its greatest practitioners, English music hall comedian, singer and actor George Formby. Right at the end of the Free As A Bird single Harrison threw in a nod to Formby, and specifically to this mildly naughty song which had them rolling in the aisles in...

CLEOPATRA; HISTORIES, DREAMS AND DISTORTIONS by LUCY HALLETT-HUGHES

CLEOPATRA; HISTORIES, DREAMS AND DISTORTIONS by LUCY HALLETT-HUGHES

It seems curious that Madonna, who has had the unerring instinct to reinvent herself in the image and iconography of others (yesterday Marlene, today Marilyn) has never – at least not yet – alighted on Cleopatra for inspiration and a new dress code. Here, at least in myth, is a wannabe seductress and style-setter for...

Victor Borge: Phonetic Punctuation (1955)

Victor Borge: Phonetic Punctuation (1955)

Denmark-born pianist Victor Borge was a child prodigy who could have had a distinguished career playing concert halls. Fortunately for us he chose another direction. Born to Jewish parents in 1909, he studied and played the classics, but in his late teens began adding stand-up comedy to his repertoire. He married an American (Elsie Chilton)...

Joel Grey: White Room (1969)

Joel Grey: White Room (1969)

Actor Joel Grey won a best supporting actor Academy Award in '72 for his role as the MC in the Liza Minnelli vehicle Cabaret, following his hugely successful portrayal of the character in the Broadway musical which had won him a Tony award. After that however his successes and appearances were fewer and of lesser consequence (he appeared in...

Lou and Simon: Converted Maori Car (1965?)

Lou and Simon: Converted Maori Car (1965?)

Lou and Simon (Lou Clauson and Simon Meihana) were one of the most popular and entertaining groups of the early Sixties. Like the Flight of the Conchords they were a kind of folk-comedy duo and very adept at parodies. The other side of this single is a medley which pokes fun at Les Andrews' then-current song Click Go the Tollgates (itself a...

Anna Russell: Folk Songs (1952)

Anna Russell: Folk Songs (1952)

With her beautifully modulated tones and remarkable voice -- which went from a soprano squeal to a screech quite effortlessly -- Anna Russell was an enormously popular comedy-cum-classical act in the Fifties. She would poke fun at Wagner and contemporary classical music equally: of the latter she said it was music for the singer who was tone...

Ivor Cutler: Life in a Scotch Sitting Room and Go And Sit Upon the Grass (1975)

Ivor Cutler: Life in a Scotch Sitting Room and Go And Sit Upon the Grass (1975)

The Scottish poet and comedian Ivor Cutler (1923 - 2006) barely scraped the surface of wide public acclaim outside of the UK, and even there he was a minority figure. But he did appear in the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour in '67 after Paul McCartney spotted the eccentric, quietly spoken Cutler on a late night television show. In that Beatles...

Groucho Marx: Churchill, Chicago critics (1972)

Groucho Marx: Churchill, Chicago critics (1972)

The great Groucho has been so often copied (Alan Alda, Welcome Back Kotter etc) and parodied down the decades we forget how irreverent he was in his day. By the time of this recording however he was an old man and just five years away from his death at 86. Yet remarkably he undertook this stand-up show at Carnegie Hall and other venues where...

I WANT SOMEONE TO EAT CHEESE WITH, a film by JEFF GARLIN (Ovation/Southbound DVD)

I WANT SOMEONE TO EAT CHEESE WITH, a film by JEFF GARLIN (Ovation/Southbound DVD)

If Seinfeld introduced the idea of a television show about nothing in particular, then the series Curb Your Enthusiasm -- written by and starring Seinfeld producer/writer Larry David -- elevated it to an art form. Although some of Curb Your Enthusiasm had a long arc of storylines, much of each episode was taken up with what seemed like not much...

Mel Brooks: To Be Or Not To Be; The Hitler Rap (1984)

Mel Brooks: To Be Or Not To Be; The Hitler Rap (1984)

Very few people -- and arguably only Jewish comedians? -- can get away with making fun of Hitler and the Nazis. Mel Brooks has been relentless in his ridicule which some find tasteless and others say is a necessary corrective. Whichever way you cut it, it is dark humour which Brooks makes seem genuinely funny. By way of comparison, is...

Mr Flotsam and Mr Jetsam: Is 'e an Aussie, is 'e Lizzy (the Thirties?)

Mr Flotsam and Mr Jetsam: Is 'e an Aussie, is 'e Lizzy (the Thirties?)

This is one of those songs which, once heard, is never forgotten: how can you ever erase lines like "seems this digger likes my figure" or "he being well-born, lived in Melbourne". Mr Flotsam and Mr Jetsam (not to be confused with the metal band of similar name, of course) were a UK-based comedy duo of the Twenties and...

LE DONK AND SCOR-ZAY-ZEE, a film by SHANE MEADOWS (Madman DVD)

LE DONK AND SCOR-ZAY-ZEE, a film by SHANE MEADOWS (Madman DVD)

Many rock musicians don't need much help to appear stupid. (The court calls Nikki Sixx.) But there has been a long line of films and television shows which parody or poke fun at musicians and their apparent lack of smarts, or even a sense of reality. Bad News, The Rutles, the classic Spinal Tap, Hunting Venus, Fear of a Black Hat (which...

Tiny Tim: We Love It/When I Walk With You (1968)

Tiny Tim: We Love It/When I Walk With You (1968)

If you were there at the time, Tiny Tim was novelty act: the long-haired eccentric with a ukulele singing Tiptoe Through the Tulips in an impossibly high falsetto. But that was the late Sixties for you, a time when the retro sound of Winchester Cathedral by the New Vaudeville Band and I Was Kaiser Bill's Batman by Whistling Jack Smith could...

Ronnie Ronalde: If I Were a Blackbird (1950)

Ronnie Ronalde: If I Were a Blackbird (1950)

Roger Whittaker does it, and so does Bryan Ferry when he sings John Lennon's Jealous Guy. They whistle on stage, which isn't the easiest thing to do -- least of all if, as with Roxy Music playing in Auckland earlier this year, it's a breezy night and the wind is in your face. Whistling was once a commonplace and every now and again in the...

Atlanta Rhythm Section: Imaginary Lover (1979)

Atlanta Rhythm Section: Imaginary Lover (1979)

There's no real reason for this particular installment of From the Vaults other than the sheer silliness of it. The trick here is to look at the video clip first before you play the sample track: what you get is singer Ronnie Hammond up front of the Atlanta Rhythm Section who were a band of seasoned session musicians pulled together...

Stan Freberg: Rock Island Line (1956)

Stan Freberg: Rock Island Line (1956)

Because a parody only works if you know the original it might be useful to check out the video clip here (kinda cute in its own way) before playing American comedian Freberg's poke at it. The original of Rock Island Line was by Leadbelly in the Thirties but Donegan's version of 1955 was emblematic of the skiffle era in Britain where young...

Green Jelly: Three Little Pigs (1993)

Green Jelly: Three Little Pigs (1993)

There just aren't enough fairy tales at From the Vaults. Only the clip of Sam the Sham and the Pharoah's Little Red Riding Hood as far as I can recall. Time then to resurrect this from the grunge era, the delightful Green Jelly (an umlat over the Y meant it was pronounced "Green Jello") with their update of the old story of the...

Ennio Morricone: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966)

Ennio Morricone: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966)

The relationship between some movie directors and composers is so close that it is hard to imagine certain films without their soundtracks: Hitchcock had Bernard Herrmann's gripping scores for Psycho and North by Northwest and others; Werner Herzog with the German avant-rock band Popul Vuh providing the eerie music to Aguirre, Wrath of God and...

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