An After-Thought of Fame

dinner-for-oneFame has never been a reliable mistress. It drives many to the point of destruction in their quest to achieve it, is sometimes bestowed on those who do not wish for nor deserve it, and may arrive long after death if it bothers to show at all. Forty years after his death at the age of 59, and nearly a century since his birth, the English comedian Freddie Frinton epitomizes fame as an after-thought in the after-life. That it rests on eleven flickering minutes of black and white footage, undercuts Warhol's fifteen minutes of the stuff by four. Those eleven minutes are called Dinner for One. Frinton, born Frederick Bittener Coo, was born in Grimsby on January 17, 1909. After a brief career in a fish cannery, he drifted into acting and changed his name to Frinton. He found success fairly late in life after treading the boards of provincial theaters for most of his career. In the mid-1960s he starred in a sitcom called Meet the Wife, which proved a tremendous success, the spouse in question being British comedy legend Thora Hird. The show even crops up in the Beatles song "Good Morning Good Morning" in the lines "It's time for tea and Meet the Wife." Dinner for One is a surreal confection, a delight of whimsical simplicity. It really is a silent short with sound. Frinton plays an amiable butler who is serving the birthday dinner, her 90th, to his elderly employer, a regal matron realized with serene aplomb by May Warden. The table is set for five, and Frinton colludes with her conceit that these absent friends are present by downing their drinks and raising each one after each course, in a toast to her. Needless to say his straitlaced sobriety suffers, as does his uneasy relationship with a tiger skin rug. Frinton first performed the sketch in 1945 in Blackpool, but as he had to pay a royalty each time he did so, he bought the rights, which was to prove a salient move. In 1963 it was recorded by the German television company NDR. This non-sub-titled English language short became a New Year's institution in Germany. The same success and affection was repeated in Denmark, Finland, and Sweden. In the past fifteen years the same status has been conferred upon the film in Australia. Freddie Frinton is forgotten and his short film unknown in his native Britain. An obscure and not too successful comedian in life, he has in death become a minor legend in territories his footsteps never trod. For a man who was a devout non-drinker, having witnessed too much of the sorrow it can bring, he played the drunk with delightful distinction and a great degree of affection, which is precisely the manner in which fame has rewarded him at the end of each year. Long may it continue to. - Robert Cochrane cochrane.jpgMr. Cochrane is a poet and writer living in Manchester, England. His work has appeared in Mojo, Attitude, and Dazed & Confused. He has published three collections of poems, and Gone Tomorrow, his biography of the rock singer Jobriath, will appear via SAF in 2008.