Dinner For One is served | Odd story of the British comedy classic which has never been screened in Britain. Until now

Dinner For One is served

Odd story of the British comedy classic which has never been screened in Britain. Until now

A British comedy short that has become a perennial part of Germany’s new year celebrations is to be screened in the UK for the first time.

The 1963 film Dinner for One starred Grimsby-born comedian Freddie Frinton – and is a recording of the routine he first performed in the music halls.

He plays James, a butler to upper-class Englishwoman Miss Sophie ( May Warden) who is throwing a party for all her friends to celebrate her 90th birthday… but they have all since died so James makes his way around the table, impersonating each guest in turn and knocking back their drinks, becoming increasingly inebriated.

During every course, James asks: ‘The same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?’ and is told: ‘The same procedure as every year, James!’

Frinton reportedly performed the sketch on stage since the 1920s, but its unlikely popularity arose after it was taped in Blackpool – in a single 18-minute take – by German broadcaster Norddeutscher Rundfunk.

Now it has become a tradition in Germany where up to half the population watch it every year on New Year's Eve. Even more peculiarly, it is normally screened in English, without dubbing or subtitles.

Versions are also shown by Swedish and Danish channels at New Year's Eve while it is a December 23  staple in Norway, It is also known in Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Austria – but almost unheard of in the English-speaking world.

Frinton died of a heart attack in 1969 aged 59 and did not live to see the international success of the sketch, which   has never been screened on TV or in the cinema in the UK.… until now. And even so, you will have to travel to the edge of the Kintyre peninsula to see it.

The Frinton family have given permission for Dinner For One to be screened at the Scottish Comedy Film Festival’s Slapstick Weekend in Campbeltown Picture House at the weekend, where it will be shown as double-bills with the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup and Buster Keaton’s The General. The event is also tied to the BFI’s Comedy Genius season.

In a statement, the Frinton family said: ‘We are delighted that  Freddie Frinton’s comedy genius will be celebrated… Germany, and a large part of Europe, have been enjoying Dinner For One as an annual New Year treat for nearly half a century, and it makes us so proud that, finally, this perfect example of comedy timing can be appreciated over here. 

‘Dad would have been humbled to find himself in such illustrious comedy company.’

Published: 19 Nov 2018

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