First appearing as a Comedy Playhouse presentation entitled 'The Bed' by The Rag Trade creators Wolfe and Chesney in December 1963, Meet the Wife, featuring the consummate comedic skills of Thora Hird and Freddie Frinton, was one of the BBC's top rated comedies of the mid 1960's and arguably the template for Keeping Up Appearances, which became another huge hit over twenty years later.
Freddie Blacklock, a plumber by profession, enjoyed the simple pleasures and would do anything for a quiet life. However, that was not easy being married to Thora, his domineering and snobbish wife who had ideas above her station. Whilst in private the husband and wife would talk to each other using their natural north-country accents, in mixed company (and especially when answering the telephone), Thora would immediately adopt an obviously false refinement (such as referring to her husband as "Frayd").
Viewers easily identified with the middle-aged married couple whose constant bickering, usually over the most trivial of matters, resulted in a kiss and a cuddle by the end of each episode. Plus there was always the chance that the viewers might see Frinton play at being drunk, a routine for which he was without equal.
In fact, Freddie Frinton was so good at appearing to be "under the influence" that in 1963 he made a short film called Same Procedure As Last Year for a West German TV company. This was adapted from a British music-hall sketch called 'Dinner for One' performed on stage by Frinton, which was seen by a German director at a show in Blackpool. In this 18 minute skit, Frinton plays an ageing butler who, during the course of serving up a dinner for May Warden, becomes more and more inebriated as he consumes the drinks served for his mistresses long deceased friends. The film has been shown every year at Christmas for the last 60+ years, and Frinton is now something of a cult figure -although mainly (but not solely) in Germany, where it is shown multiple times on New Years Eve so that everybody can watch it, when it best fits their schedule. In 2003 it aired a total of 19 times on different stations in Germany. But British TV has, inexplicably, never screened it. Until 1988 the original NDR version featured a grammatical error in the introduction by narrator Heinz Piper. He quoted Frinton with "Same procedure than last year." It is now more popularly know as Dinner For One but just to add more confusion, it is also known as 'The 90th Birthday', or by its corresponding German title, 'Der 90. Geburtstag.' Sadly, Frinton died in 1968 at the age of 53.
Thora Hird (later Dame Thora) went on to become one of Britain's best-loved actresses, appearing in numerous comedies including In Loving Memory, Ours Is A Nice House and Last of The Summer Wine as well as Alan Bennett's celebrated Talking Heads series of monologues.
Published on January 4th, 2019. Written by Laurence Marcus (January 2003) for Television Heaven.