When it comes to Christmas television, soap operas and comedies run the roost. Folk might go on about Doctor Who, but given the choice between Den and Angie’s divorce papers and Jim Royle’s banjo, or a grown man wearing a bow-tie prancing around in a police box. then give me this every single time:
The mix of Christmas, comedy and drama is a winning trio, which means the success of Ernie by Benny Hill is understandable.
I’ve been thinking about how best to talk about this song in depth, because essentially it’s a joke record made by a comedian whose only name value in my head, is his name, this song, the fact that he’s constantly used as an example of Britishness in American sitcoms, and of course this bit of music…
Which has been the savior of many an editor desperately looking to add context to nonsensical footage they have to piece together.
I can also tell you that Benny Hill had a large fan base, with people like Charlie Chaplin, Michael Jackson, Snoop Dogg, Mickey Rooney, Walter Cronkite and Michael Caine all proclaiming themselves to be fans.
I could tell you that, and if you like me were not particularly au fait with Hill’s comedy you would probably want to find out a lot more about him.
But then I would tell you that Gary Bushell wanted to erect a statue of him, and that David Cameron chose Ernie as one of his eight favourite records on his Desert Island Discs appearance back in 2006.
All of a sudden he doesn’t sound as great right?
It’s actually very interesting looking back at Cameron’s Desert Island Discs, especially as he chose them a couple of years before he became Prime Minister. As well as Ernie, Cameron chose tracks by Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd, Radiohead, The Smiths, R.E.M, The Killers as well as a token classical piece by Felix Mendelssohn.
Cameron’s choices were surprising, considering the left leaning politics favoured by the likes of Radiohead and The Smiths. Johnny Marr forbade David Cameron from listening to The Smiths, after Morrissey also expressed his disgust at Cameron being a fan. The Prime Minister laughed off the ban in his special way.
What has this all got to do with Ernie? Nothing, I just wanted to share this video of Cameron getting heckled by a Smiths fan in parliament, before giving as good as he got, the big bald baby.
Ernie was Christmas number one in 1971, beating Jeepster by T-Rex to the top spot. Novelty songs have traditionally done well at Christmas, from Bob The Builder, Mr Blobby and St Winifred’s School Choir, all the way to Leon Jackson’s terrible cover of When You Believe in 2007.
This is a song which has a timeless and universal theme – love. A milkman named Ernie is in love with a lady called Sue. Now and then they get it on after his round. But Sue also is involved with man named Ted who lives in Teddington. Ted is a baker, and his wholemeal bread and treacle tarts drive Sue wild. One afternoon Ted notices that Ernie’s milk van has been outside Sue’s house all afternoon. In a jealous rage he challenges Ernie to a duel with the winner ‘having’ Sue (obviously Germaine Greer’s feminist revolution hadn’t hit Teddington in 1971.)
The two men battle, with strawberry milkshakes and buns fizzing from each others hands like a low budget Power Rangers. The scrap ends with Ted hitting Ernie with a rock cake and a stale pork pie eventually killing Ernie. Sue and Ted end up engaged, but on their wedding night they hear the sound of Ernie’s van, who one can only assume is joining them for a threesome from beyond the grave.
If Doctor Who had story-lines as complex and enthralling as the one played out in this song, perhaps more adults would be interested in the show. If you’re a Doctor Who fan and reading this and getting very frustrated at these words, I can only apologise for your lack of interest in quality television, but I still hope you’ll be my friend and we can still go to the cinema, drink orange hot chocolate and eat sausages together.
One interesting aspect of this song is the naughtiness in the lyrics. Because of the way history is presented, especially in regards to British television and music, it seems slightly outrageous at some of the suggestive lyrics Hill managed to sneak into the song.
Who would have thought you would have found lines like…
“They said she was too good for him, she was haughty, proud and chic, But Ernie got his cocoa there three times every week”
“She said she’d like to bathe in milk, he said, “All right, sweetheart,” And when he’d finished work one night he loaded up his cart. He said, “D’you want it pasturize? ‘Cause pasturize is best,” She says, “Ernie, I’ll be happy if it comes up to my chest.”
“He tempted her with his treacle tarts and his tasty wholemeal bread, And when she seen the size of his hot meat pies it very near turned her head.”
“She nearly swooned at his macaroon and he said, “If you treat me right, You’ll have hot rolls every morning and crumpets every night.”
Pretty risque lyrics for 1971 I’m sure you’ll agree. Ernie was originally written in 1955, so the song took 16 years from its origin to release, but luckily Ernie was no Chinese Democracy – it was actually good when it eventually came out.
If for some incredible reason you haven’t had enough Ernie despite reading almost a thousand words of pure nonsense, then check out this pretty rare live version of the song by Benny Hill himself. The clip was filmed in black and white due to a technicians strike, which shows that disposable people in media have always had egos.
Very interesting to watch actually as this clip was made a year before the single came out, so you get to see what worked and what didn’t in terms of audience reaction, what was supposed to be funny and what wasn’t.
If you’ve made it to the end, congratulations, they won’t all be as bad as this. Check out the songs in the countdown on this Spotify playlist which is updated daily:
Let’s finish with looking at just what someone who would comment on a Benny Hill video would have to say about Ernie..
To catch up on the rest of the countdown CLICK HERE