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Jan 07

BENNY HILL – “Ernie, The Fastest Milkman In The West”

FT + Popular47 comments • 9,600 views

#307, 11th December 1971

 

Comedy hits come in many varieties. Some are parodies, many rely on the incongruity of a comedian singing a well-known song, others are simply desperate reels of catchphrases slapped over any track the producers had lying around. “Ernie” is none of these – it’s a bona fide comic song, such as might have been sung in 1871 – minus most of its bluer jokes. It gives Benny Hill – best known as a boob-obsessed physical comedian – an opportunity to show off his comic timing as a singer, and he seizes it with chortling relish.

“Ernie” is more than just a rollicking music-hall throwback, though – it’s a canny snapshot of early-seventies comedy trends. The song is as soaked in sauce as a Carry On film, though most of the fun is in Benny’s delivery: the laugh in “seen the size of his hot meat pies” is in our expectation of smut, rather than in ‘meat pies’ resembling, well, anything really. More unexpectedly, this High-Noon duel of milkman and baker has the cheerfully surreal aspect of a Goodies episode or Monty Python sketch – in fact, the death-dealing pies are a close relative of the Goodies’ black-pudding Kung Fu.

“Ernie”‘s mix of traditional form and contemporary style was memorable enough for David Cameron to pick it on Desert Island Discs – a selection which earned him a certain amount of mockery. But the Tory leader is on to something – and not just because “Ernie” is a portrait of competitive entrepreneurialism. This is a superbly arranged and performed record that plays far better than any other 70s comedy piece.

{democracy:33}

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Comments

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  1. 26
    Tom on 1 Feb 2007 #

    Yes Marcello’s views on this reflect mine – one of the fantastic things about pop music is the huge range of things people use it for. I don’t enormously love comedy records myself (novelty records are a different thing anyway, and much closer to the heart of *my* version of pop) but I can appreciate a good one.

  2. 27
    intothefireuk on 1 Feb 2007 #

    Marcello – Sorry, I can’t claim to be the great PP. I am also somewhat surprised that his views are similar to mine but it’s probably no surprise that I’m one of those musicians – just trying to earn a living !

    I understand the ethos that says in there should be no barriers in pop but to the casual listener number one status can often be seen as a mark of quality, it’s a lazy way of identifying what was/is the best record in the chart. In this instance comedy/novelty records cloud the issue. The more discerning listener sees the chart more as a barometer of popular taste, saying more about the buying public than the actual music and in this instance comedy records are as valid as any other.

  3. 28
    Erithian on 1 Feb 2007 #

    Yes, it also depends on where you draw the line between novelty and “proper” records – Aqua? The Bonzos? Yellow Submarine?

    Agree with Marcello about the Trojan horse effect. I mean, who didn’t sneakily enjoy Bob the Builder foiling both Eminem and Westlife? I loved this comment on Ceefax at the time: “Imagine all the Westlife fans seething that their favourites have been denied by a manufactured puppet. Oh, the irony.”

  4. 29
    Marcello Carlin on 1 Feb 2007 #

    Also I think that the situation helps to encourage Real Musicians to up their game, so that when they actually get into a top ten full of workaday teenpop/MoR/novelties it is more of an achievement, as opposed to arbitrarily fencing off categories which only tells you how well you’re doing in terms of your peers as opposed to in the Actual World (though of course as a lifelong total omnipluralist I instinctively react against the idea of teenpop/MoR/novelties being something less but much more space to discuss that in ’72).

  5. 30
    Chris Brown on 4 Feb 2007 #

    Cameron did indeed chose this song – I remember it was around the time that he was making a big fuss about violent lyrics, and some people questioned whether it was strictly appropriate for him to be endorsing a song about men fighting to the death over sex (or for that matter, a band called The Killers). I can’t really explain why I don’t like this more but perhaps there’s just a limit to how often you can hear a comedy song like this. Maybe it’s just that Hill’s voice, though certainly well-used here, is bit irritating. I agree that “Trigger” is the funniest bit, though.

    I sort of remember this ending up in an advert for milk at some point, hence the re-issue. I don’t think the record company could have turned it around in five weeks.

  6. 31
    Chris Brown on 5 Feb 2007 #

    Sorry about the self-follow-up, but just to answer a question upthread:
    Klaxons are at 195 this week on 650 sales (with their version of ‘Not Over Yet’ for some reason).

  7. 32
    MikeMCSG on 16 Jul 2009 #

    This was the first pop record I heard because the video was shown at least twice through one of the windows on “Play School” and made an impression over the deadly-dull instructive films that normally lurked there. Clearly as with The Magic Roundabout the BBC decided (correctly in my case) that the innuendo would go over the kids’ heads and might provide some relief for the long-suffering parents watching.

    It isn’t the first pop song I became aware of though as the family next door were endlessly trilling Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep earlier that year but being in a strictly Radio 4 household I had no idea where it had come from. Strange that my mum did like music (including a bizarre love for Meatloaf and Michael Bolton) but always wanted speech on the radio. Even when the old Radio Five used to punctuate sports commentary with the odd record when nothing much was happening it used to annoy her to the point of switching off.

  8. 33
    Waldo on 19 Oct 2009 #

    Upthread, Erithian magnificently coughs that he and a little pal renacted the duel between Ernie and Ted, ending with our hero being mortally wounded by “the concrete-hardened crust of a stale pork pie”. Waldo’s crime, shared by so many of my fellow street urchins, was to be able to quote the entire song verbatim with certain modifications (I don’t think I ever got “hot blood through his veins did course”). Perhaps surprisingly therefore, I never owned the record, although I remember the accompanying film clip very clearly indeed even to this day. Obviously, society has moved on since 1971 and the sight of an old perv running after swim-suited lovelies (or they after him) would not make it onto any network TV schedule today. “Ernie”, however, did not go down this path. It was and is a brilliantly daft and clever little tale with the hero of the piece (like Lily The Pink) dying before the last chorus. A High Noon fight to the death between a Milkman and a baker, with youghurts and buns as weapons is something only the British could have come up with and the whole daftness of the fable easily glosses over any negative feelings I could have of it even if it did keep “Jeepster” (which I did own) off the top. I think that this record is an absolute treasure.

  9. 34
    Chelovek na lune on 4 Oct 2010 #

    Listening to this now, it really strikes me that this really is the (somewhat unlikely) precursor to “Funky Cold Medina” – even down to the rhythm. Specifically, the lines “When she got undressed, it was a big old mess, Sheena was a man (Sheena!)”, while a little too unambiguous for Benny and the time, could have fitted into this song perfectly well.

  10. 35
    Mark G on 24 Jun 2011 #

    Has anyone else noticed the similarity between “Ernie” and Scott Walker’s “Jackie” ?

  11. 36
    wichitalineman on 24 Jun 2011 #

    Dear God, you’re right. “Ted went for his bun, in a stupid ass way.”

  12. 37
    Lena on 14 Aug 2012 #

    Not like everyone else: http://musicsoundsbetterwithtwo.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/being-bold-t-rex-jeepster.html Thanks for reading, everybody!

  13. 39
    Jimmy the Swede on 17 Apr 2013 #

    This very day sees the Swede reach exactly the same age as Ernie was when he met his fate. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

    Yes I do. I’m laughing!

  14. 40
    lonepilgrim on 17 Apr 2013 #

    Mucky Happy Returns Swede!

  15. 41
    Lazarus on 17 Apr 2013 #

    I have a vision now of Jimmy re-enacting the ‘Ernie’ video with Mucky Sue …

    … well, the name matches. And the horse is Freaky Trigger!

  16. 42
    Jimmy the Swede on 18 Apr 2013 #

    Cheers, pilgrim!

    Lazarus – I have to say that it only just occured to me that Ernie and Ted fought to the death in order to win a lady called Sue. Had the prize have been Mucky Sue, there’s no way on God’s green earth I (being Ernie) would have lost, I can promise you that! And the horse indeed is Freaky Trigger. Brilliant!

  17. 43
    Mark G on 18 Apr 2013 #

    But who would be Two Ton Ted? Own up, who’s from Teddington ’round here?

  18. 44
    Jimmy the Swede on 18 Apr 2013 #

    He’s going down, whoever he is…

  19. 45
    Mark G on 14 Mar 2014 #

    I always reckoned that “Ernie” and Scott Walker’s “Jackie” would make one hell of a mix/bootmash. Now I have sussed out why: Wally Stott orchestrated both!

    Also, I have just passed Ernie’s age! I didn’t wanna die, either!

  20. 46
    wichitalineman on 17 Dec 2014 #

    Not exactly a stork sign, but this was the first record I ever owned, bought for me by my great grandmother… who was a notorious tea leaf so maybe she didn’t buy it.

    I’ve just got hold of a Noel Edmonds Radio 1 show (don’t run!) during Ernie’s stint at no.1 in Jan ’72. As a time capsule it’s terrific (Strawbs, Cher, Yes, Newbeats, Middle of the Road), and Noel at least played on a Kenny Everett-lite humour back then.

    Here’s what’s interesting, though. The first record he plays is Jeepster, with a Donald Duck noise covering up “I’m gonna suck ya!”. Two records later, Isaac Hayes’s Theme From Shaft has “he’s a bad mother” reduced to “he’s a bad…”.

    Morals, prissiness, hypocrisy, et cet…

  21. 47
    Mark G on 17 Dec 2014 #

    And here’s me thinking it was rude because the backing singers had told him to “shut yr mouth”. Mnd you, from what I remember, it was rare that Jeepster ever got played right to the end. Still, I do love those “time capsule” tapes, it’s sometimes worth it buying a random unmarked cassette at a boot sale if it looks like an early seventies vintage and isn’t marked up with “Peters and Lee – Welcome Home” or some such.

    #45, btw, completely wrong. It would probably make a decent bootmash (sigh), but Wally Stott didn’t orchestrate the Benny Hill record. Sorry about that.

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