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BBC boots Benny Hill

Guest JMT

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Guest JMT

It's bye bye Benny, hello Hollyoaks for the BBC



His saucy slapstick may have lost favour in Britain more than two decades ago but Benny Hill remains that rare thing: a long running hit in America.


However, not for much longer, if the BBC has its way. The corporation's US commercial arm, which currently airs the show twice a day to millions of Americans, has decided to axe the comedy because it no longer reflects Britain.

The programme, first broadcast in 1955, is to be ditched along with other British favourites - The Avengers, Keeping Up Appearances and Are You Being Served? - to make way for more contemporary shows.

Executives feel their outdated, often sexist jokes belong to a less politically correct Britain which is long gone. They think that shows such as Hollyoaks, the teenage soap set in Chester, Wire in the Blood, a crime drama about a forensic psychologist, and Footballers' Wives better reflect the Britain of today.

The "refocusing" is the brainchild of Garth Ancier, a former US network chief, who took over BBC America a month ago. "We're undergoing a radical makeover," he said. "We are now going to focus exclusively on bringing US audiences the very best in contemporary British programming. We want to present a view of contemporary Britain. It's what the BBC does best. I'd rather have Wire in the Blood than Benny Hill."

Amy Mulcair, his director of publicity, added that although Benny Hill remained surprisingly popular among Americans it was not the image the BBC wanted to portray. "I am afraid Benny Hill reflects older Britain and our job is to reflect contemporary Britain and all the cool shows coming out."

She said that US viewers had never been so "hungry" for British comedies because they were so different to their home-grown counterparts such as Friends and Ally McBeal. BBC America, which is free to air and makes its money from advertising, has been broadcasting across the US for nine years and is available in 54 million homes.

Although it has occasionally introduced audiences to innovative shows such as The Office and Extras, it has tended to stick to repeating programmes such as Cash in the Attic and Whose Line Is It Anyway? several times a day, sometimes in blocks of two hours at a time. Daytime programming has recently been based around The Saint, featuring Roger Moore, which was first shown on British television in 1962 and The Prisoner, with Patrick McGoohan, which first saw the light of day in 1967. They will be axed as well as repeats of 'Allo 'Allo.

While no doubt many will be happy with the new line-up, others complained that it was change for change sake and that many of the new shows were inferior to the ones they replaced. David Croft, who wrote Are You Being Served?, Dad's Army and 'Allo 'Allo as well as producing Benny Hill, said: "I am afraid this happens from time to time. A new executive comes in and decides to clear the boards and realise their mistake later. But if shows are good and funny they will come back. They will last longer than these executives I am sure.

"As for Benny Hill not reflecting modern Britain, that is just rubbish. It never reflected anything. It is just a funny show. This is a case of taking these things far too seriously. They are funny and popular and so should stay on air. They were never vulgar and obscene like a lot of the new stuff."

The writer Carla Lane, who created Bread and The Liver Birds, said: "It is ridiculous to say they are outdated. If there were good contemporary comedies out there to replace them then all well and good but I think most new stuff is rubbish." Frazer Rice, 33, a private banker in Manhattan, said: "It's sad that the last vehicle for discovering these programmes is going away.

"They are a piece of nostalgia and for Americans they provide an escapist fantasy of what Britain might really be like."


Benny Hill Show

Slapstick comedy best known for him chasing near-naked women to music

Are You Being Served?

Innuendo-laden Seventies sitcom in a department store

The Avengers

Sixties espionage with Patrick Macnee

Keeping Up Appearances

Suburban comedy with "Hyacinth Bucket"

As Time Goes By

Sitcom with Geoffrey Palmer and Dame Judi Dench

The Saint

Sixties detective series with Roger Moore



Channel 4 daily soap about teenagers in Chester


BBC America/ITV production about those who risk their careers to expose dangerous secrets


Doctor Who spin-off

Hotel Babylon

Tacky BBC1 hotel drama with Tamzin Outhwaite

Lead Balloon

BBC4 comedy series starring Jack Dee


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