Miles Kington: How to make a German security officer laugh

One of the funniest British TV films ever made has never been shown on British TV
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The Independent Online

Recently I was changing planes in Cologne airport when I got caught in the old corkscrew trap. Again. It happens like this. When I leave home, I like to have a waiter's friend in my pocket (one of those penknives with corkscrew attached). My wife says: "Don't forget to put it in your washbag, or it will set off all the alarms at the airport." I say: "Yeah, yeah," and I put it in my washbag going there, and then get it out and forget all about it and leave it in my pocket for the return journey, and get caught.

"You can't take this on the plane, sir," said the German security man politely at Cologne, holding up my corkscrew.

There was a time when I used to inquire angrily how it was possible to hijack a plane with a corkscrew, but I have discovered over the years that airport security staff have been trained by ancient Japanese martial art experts in how to deflect sarcasm with a raised eyebrow, and it's not worth it.

"You have plenty of time before your flight to go and buy an envelope, and some stamps, and send it home," said the man, and I did go back and wander round for a while seeing if I could, but what they are selling at Cologne airport right now is World Cup 2006 shirts, not envelopes, so I gave up and just chucked the old cheap waiter's friend in a bin and went back, to be searched again by the same man.

"You've searched me already," I said.

"I have to search you again," he said.

"Same procedure as before, then?"

"Same procedure as every year," he said.

We both laughed.

Now for today's quiz question. Why did we both laugh when he said "Same procedure as every year..."?

If you don't know, you will never guess. I only happen to know the answer by accident. And the answer is: "Because it is a direct quote from one of the funniest films ever made, called Dinner For One, a short black and white film made by an Englishman for German TV in 1963. It is shown on German TV on New Year's Eve every year, over and over again, and most Germans know it off by heart. It has, however, never been shown on British TV, and we have never heard of it."

The Englishman who made the short film was Freddie Frinton. He plays the part of a butler. The only other character is his employer, Miss Sophie, played by an elderly actress called May Warden. Miss Sophie is having her 90th birthday party, to which she has invited her four closest male friends. Alas, she is a bit gaga in the sweetest possible way, and does not realise they are all dead, so the butler has to play the part of all four of them. He switches from seat to seat, impersonating each one, and drinking enough sherry, wine and champagne for four people.

Pretty soon he is getting plastered and having more and more difficulty with his role(s), especially as his way to and from the source of food and drink is barred by an enormous tiger-skin tiger head on the floor, with which he has an increasingly bizarre relationship. In real life, I am told, Frinton was teetotal, but his drunk act is the funniest I have ever witnessed, and on the few occasions I have been lucky enough to see the film I have rolled around on the floor with laughter.

Every time Miss Sophie calls for more wine, Frinton looks aghast at the thought of having to consume four more glasses, and says piteously: "The same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?" and she says firmly: "The same procedure as every year, James."

Finally she says she is retiring to bed and the same exchange takes place, and he says: "Well, I'll do my best" and follows her upstairs, ho ho.

Anyway that's why the man and I had a good international laugh in Cologne airport.

And that's why, the other day, when I made my 17-year-old son watch Monsieur Hulot's Holidays and to my chagrin he found it totally unfunny, my wife said to me afterwards: "Don't give up with vintage comedy. You still haven't shown him Dinner For One."

She's right. All I have to do is find a copy. I have never seen one in England. I wonder if it will mean having to go to Germany to find it. They seem to know about humour over there.