Thursday 7th January 2010, 11:18

Odd traditions: Dinner for One and a panto

Ein gutes neues Jahr!

What's the most frequently repeated TV programme ever? That Last of the Summer Wine ep when they slide down the hill in a bath? (Little-known fact - they slide down the bath in most episodes, so no, they are different ones.)

No, it's 'Dinner For One', aka The 90th Birthday, aka Der 90. Geburtstag. It's apparently massively popular in mainland Europe, and is shown every New Year's Eve as a locked-down tradition. On Dec 31st, 2003, it was broadcast 19 times on various channels.

Unfortunately, I couldn't remember the title, so I ordered on my online DVD rental list a film called Le Diner de Cons, which is a French comedy. It's not bad, and is certainly the funniest French comedy I've seen (ie. funnier than Amelie and La Haine), but is not the one I was after. Still, I found a good way to watch subtitled films if you just want to get through them really quickly is to watch them on fast-forward. I got through the entire film in 20 minutes, thanks to a good bit of speed-reading.

Dinner For One is viewable on the internet, I've now found, and is a black-and-white sketch from 1963, although originally performed in the 1920s. It stars English comedian Freddie Frinton and is massively popular in Germany, as well as Australia, Norway, Sweden, Finland, South Africa... basically everywhere but the UK. If you haven't seen it, imagine Mr Bean as a butler, and you're not far off. Have a look on youtube if you want to see what the fuss is all about.

But then, we have our own bonkers tradition. I had to explain earlier today what a panto is, to an American friend. And when you write out exactly what one is, it makes you wonder why it ever caught on. Somehow a panto isn't a panto without a cow played by two people, or an ageing celebrity in drag delivering sexual innuendos to an audience of children, or a bucket being thrown at the audience as if it's got water in it when actually it's tinsel. Yet caught on it has.

A factette you can take away with you: Panto has caught on around the world, in Australia, Canada, and others - not as much as in the UK, but with ex-pat pockets making it happen every year. My favourite? The Phnom Penh Players of Cambodia, who always bill a celebrity guest star who fails to appear. 2009's 'Snow White and the Jackson 5' advertises Jude Law as appearing - every night so far 'he's cancelled' and the understudy steps in. Jude, if you're reading this, go on, show up, just for one show...

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