Barry Band: Star of Dinner For One proved a big resort hit
Nobody who saw the Freddie Frinton sketch Dinner for One, in Blackpool summer season shows, can think of anything funnier.
Well, you veterans, can you?
Pause here to consider the generation gap, or rather a generation chasm, because Freddie died in October, 1968.
Younger folk, encountering the name in the opening paragraph, might have thought: “He’s lost it. He’s talking about Freddie Flintoff.”
No, boys and girls, I do mean Freddie Frinton, who was back in the news last week when the Dinner for One sketch, filmed by German TV in 1963, had its British cinema premiere at the Scottish Comedy Film Festival – part of a British Film Institute season.
We’ve often read that the sketch is shown every New Year’s Eve on German TV, and is also popular in Denmark and Scandinavia. It is in the Guinness Book of Records as the most repeated TV programme.
Last Friday, the story of the film was outlined in a syndicated article in the Gazette.
It was said the sketch was first performed on stage in Blackpool in 1945.
But further research has shown that date to be incorrect.
Freddie’s introduction of the sketch was in Happy Holiday, the 1954 summer season show at Blackpool’s Winter Gardens Pavilion.
It was timed on the stage manager’s board at 20 minutes.
The stars of the show were comedian Terry Thomas and singer David Whitfield. Billed third in prominence was Freddie, who received a handsome write-up from the Gazette’s showbiz scribe, Bill Burgess.
He wrote: “Freddie comes to full glory in the sketch Dinner for One, with Stella Moray. This is a classic, tastefully staged, in which a grande dame and an aged butler, deputising for absent guests, plough through a four course dinner, complete with the various wines, until chaos sets in. This is very, very funny.”
A bit more detail is needed by younger readers (if they are still interested).
The stage was set as a baronial dining hall with table settings for six guests. But they existed only in the mind of the elegant Miss Sophie, celebrating her 90th birthday.
It soon became obvious the grande dame had been quite a gal in her younger days – for the absent guests were all men, presumably lovers from way back.
Her butler, James, had to serve dinner and voice birthday toasts for each course by each guest.
The guests weren’t there, but the booze was!
Before each round of drinks, James asked: “Same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie,” to which she replied: “Same procedure as every year, James.”
The butler got more and more drunk before Miss Sophie bade the absent guests good night and James said, with some dread: “Some procedure as every year, Miss Sophie?”
The reply was “Same procedure as every year, James” and the couple went upstairs, arm-in-arm.
Stella Moray was the first of three actresses to play Miss Sophie in Blackpool. In the Winter Gardens season she actually “doubled” as a soubrette with leading song and dance routines.
When Freddie brought the sketch to Blackpool’s Palace (variety) Theatre for a week in May, 1955, Miss Sophie was played by Joan Cibber.
The Gazette’s reviewer, Eric Littler, commented: “This looks like going into variety history.”
Freddie’s success brought him and Dinner for One to the 1956 summer season show at Blackpool’s largest theatre, the Opera House.
Miss Sophie was played by actress May Warden, who was to keep the role for several years, including the performance for German television.
Dinner for One did another week on a Palace Varieties bill in April, 1957, and had another season at the Opera House in 1960.
The sketch was created by a prolific comedy writer, was written by Laurie Wylie for the 1948 London revue Four, Five, Six which starred Binnie Hale and Bobby Howes.
Laurie Wylie was a brother of Julian Wylie, a producer of London shows, pantomimes, and of Blackpool seasons at the Central Pier and the Winter Gardens in the 1920s.
The Wylie brothers’ real name was Samuelson and they came from Southport.
Another brother was GB Samuelson, a pioneer of the British film industry, whose son, Sir Sydney Wylie Samuelson CBE (born 1925) was appointed the first British Film Commissioner in 1991.
After Dinner for One had run its course, Freddie Frinton appeared in three more Blackpool summer shows – comedy plays at the Grand Theatre – for producers George and Alfred Black.
He starred with Thora Hird in The Best Laid Schemes in 1963 and My Perfect Husband in 1965.
In between those shows the two actors launched the BBC-TV sitcom Meet the Wife, which ran for 39 episodes over three years.
In 1967, Freddie returned to the Grand to star in the summer season run of the comedy play Wedding Fever.
He was only 59 when he died, a year later.