The Guardian runs its annual story about the German fascination with an ancient 18-minute British comedy sketch featuring Freddie Frinton called “Dinner for One”. (As far as I can tell the Guardian runs some version of this story almost every year, always saying that no one in the UK has ever heard of the skit….)
At 7.40pm on New Year's Eve millions of Germans gather reverently round their TV sets to watch Dinner For One – an 18-minute British comedy sketch featuring Freddie Frinton as drunken butler James and May Warden as his elderly aristocratic boss Miss Sophie.
Since it was first shown in 1963 the sketch has achieved a cult following in Germany. It is one of the country's most successful TV programmes – no mean feat given that it is shown in a language that most Germans don't actually speak. But nobody in Britain has ever heard of it.
It's an amazing example of cultural non-comprehension: the Germans think the UK sketch is so funny that it has become a major Christmas tradition, complete with (optional) drinking game. The British, well the English anyway, don't think the sketch is particularly funny and can't understand why the Germans think its such a riot. The Germans can't understand why the English don't understand just how funny it is. Both nations conclude that the other nation lacks a sense of humor. (Or humour.) There's no question that the British (and especially English) sense of humour is quirky: witty repartee, check, funny skits (think Monty Python), check, jokes, nope. But although there is much to admire about Germany, I would have to say that German humor is to me about as inscrutable as it gets. There's a certain taste for slapstick, a form of 'humor' I always think is too mean-spirited to be funny. There are a few jokes, but I hardly ever get them. And otherwise its just not funny.
Here's the full script of 'Dinner for One', complete with the famous final lines as Frinton carries Warden up the stairs:
“Same procedure as last year, Madam? – Same procedure as every year, James.”