Dinner for One
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|Dinner for One|
|Directed by||Heinz Dunkhase|
|Written by||Lauri Wylie|
|Language||English dialogue, with German introduction|
Dinner for One, also known as The 90th Birthday (German: Der 90. Geburtstag), is a two-hander comedy sketch written by British author Lauri Wylie for the theatre. The German TV station Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR) recorded it in 1963, in the original English, with a short introduction in German. It is an 18-minute single-take black-and-white videotape recording, performed by British comedians Freddie Frinton and May Warden. It has become a tradition in Germany, and is the most frequently repeated television programme ever.
The programme is now broadcast annually during the festive season on many TV stations across Northern Europe and Scandinavia, as well as Australia and South Africa (see details below). Despite its popularity in other countries, it remains virtually unknown in its country of origin, the UK, with its first national broadcast there airing on New Year's Eve 2018.  Apart from a few satires, Dinner for One is not known in the United States. The article "Dinner for One: The greatest cult film you’ve never heard of" investigates the reason for its obscurity.
In 2003, the Danish TV producer Paul Anthony Sørensen directed and produced a documentary about the sketch that includes interviews with relatives of Freddie Frinton and May Warden. It was nominated for the Rose d'Or 2004.
It is the 90th birthday of upper-class Englishwoman Miss Sophie. She hosts a dinner every year for her friends Sir Toby, Admiral von Schneider, Mr. Pomeroy, and Mr. Winterbottom. She has outlived all of them, but continues to host the party, pretending her friends are alive and seated round the table. Her aged manservant James aids the tradition, reluctantly, by impersonating the guests.
The food and drinks are arrayed on a sideboard at one end of the room. Between it and the long dining table lies a tiger-skin rug with a huge head, which James must remember to avoid (but seldom does) every time he serves something. Miss Sophie sits at the far end of the table, near the stairs to the upper floor. The dinner is a traditional four-course meal served à la russe: mulligatawny soup for the appetizer, North Sea haddock, chicken for the main course, and fruit for dessert. Each course of the dinner follows a set pattern: James places a plate of food in front of Miss Sophie. She chooses which beverage to serve with the food: dry sherry, white wine, champagne and port respectively.
James asks, "The same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?"
Miss Sophie answers, "The same procedure as every year, James!"
James pours a drink for Miss Sophie and each of her guests; he argues with the absent Sir Toby each time before pouring him more wine. He then goes around the table again, stopping at each place and drinking a toast to Miss Sophie in the character of that guest. This means that for each course, James must consume four alcoholic drinks. Another running gag is his dread at having to impersonate the Admiral, as the Admiral's toast involved clicking his heels together, which causes James great pain.
As the dinner progresses, James becomes increasingly inebriated. He struggles to keep his balance as he navigates the table, slurs his speech increasingly, wildly misses when he tries to click his heels together for the Admiral's toast, throws the drinks around with reckless abandon, at one point mistakes a flower vase for his required drink (remarking "Ooh, I'll kill that cat!"), and breaks into "Sugartime" by the McGuire Sisters for a brief moment.
At the end of the meal, Miss Sophie, who herself has had four rounds of alcohol but still appears sober, tells James that she wishes to retire to bed. Hand in hand, they head to the staircase, at which point the usual dialogue is repeated, with one crucial addition:
James: By the way, the same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?
Miss Sophie (delightedly): The same procedure as every year, James!
James: (takes a deep breath, then, with a sly grin) Well, I'll do my very best!
Origin of the sketch
Wylie is said to have written the sketch in the 1920s. Some sources claim Frinton and Warden performed Dinner for One on stage on Britain's seaside piers as early as 1945, paying royalties to Wylie until 1951, at which point Wylie died and Frinton acquired ownership. The sketch was also staged elsewhere, for example in 1953 in John Murray Anderson's Almanac at the Imperial Theatre with Hermione Gingold playing Miss Sophie, Billy DeWolfe as the butler, and four dead friends.
In 1962, German entertainer Peter Frankenfeld and director Heinz Dunkhase discovered Dinner for One in Blackpool. The sketch was staged in Frankenfeld's live show shortly thereafter, and recorded on 8 July 1963 at the Theater am Besenbinderhof, Hamburg, in front of a live audience. The introductory theme was composed by Lew Pollack and recorded by the Mantovani orchestra. According to the NDR, Frinton and Warden were each paid DM 4,150. The show was re-run occasionally until it gained its fixed spot on New Year's Eve in 1972.
The sketch has become a tradition on New Year's Eve in German-speaking countries, where up to half the population may watch it every year on New Year's Eve. Some fans even copy the meal served in the sketch. The full 18-minute version is typically aired in Germany on ARD in the afternoon, and the regional third channels several times throughout the afternoon and evening. In Austria, ORF eins airs the full sketch around 11:30 pm. Swiss public broadcaster SRF shows its own 11-minute version around 7:00 pm on SRF 1 and at 11:50 pm on SRF zwei.
It is also a New Year tradition in Scandinavian countries. In Sweden, the show was put on hold for six years, deemed unsuitable because of James' heavy drinking. However, the TV network finally capitulated to popular demand and brought it back. In 1985, the Danish television network, DR, decided not to broadcast the sketch, but received so many complaints that it returned the following year. With this single exception, Dinner for One has been shown on DR every 31 December since 1980. In Norway, the show is broadcast on 23 December, also since 1980. In 1992, it was aired 15 minutes early, and the resulting audience uproar caused it to be re-broadcast later that night.
It is broadcast annually on New Year's Eve in Australia (since 1989) and South Africa, though it is not as well-known as in Europe. It was shown briefly in the US (by HBO) in the 1970s.
The sketch is almost completely unknown in the United Kingdom, and its first national British television airing did not come until Sky Arts broadcast the film on New Year's Eve 2018 (although a year prior, the film had been screened on Grimsby local channel Estuary TV). The Sky Arts broadcast included English subtitles for the German-language introduction, the end of which briefly faded out followed by a fade in on Frinton, cutting out the moment when the German announcer introduces James.
Although the sketch is most popular in European countries, it is typically shown there in the original English without dubbing or subtitles. It is easy to understand with even a basic knowledge of English due to the physical nature of the comedy. British people are often left perplexed when encountering fans' ability to quote dialogue.
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The NDR television channel recorded several other versions in 1963. Danish TV shows a version in which no audience is heard.
A third, 11-minute version was recorded by Schweizer Fernsehen (Swiss Television). This version, with less alcohol drunk, is also the version shown in Sweden, where the sketch was banned from state broadcaster SVT for a number of years.
Both the 18-minute and 11-minute versions have been released on DVD in Germany.
In 1999, the NDR released a colourised version.
In Denmark, a parody of the sketch was filmed, subtitled "The 80th Birthday" in which Miss Sophie's friends are still at the table (though the NDR version mentions that the last of Miss Sophie's friends died 25 years ago). Other versions had been produced in different German dialects, including one in Low German, various re-enactments or parodies by different comedians, and a version featuring the German glove puppet character Bernd das Brot ("Bernd the Bread").
On 24 December 2011, a digitally-edited satirical version entitled "The 90th Euro rescue summit, or, Euros for No One", produced by Udo Eling and German state broadcaster ARD, was uploaded to YouTube. It features German Chancellor Angela Merkel as Miss Sophie and French President Nicolas Sarkozy as her servant and has new German (and some French) dialogue about the Eurozone debt crisis.
In 2016, Netflix made a parody in which the guests are replaced with characters from Netflix shows, specifically Saul Goodman from Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, Frank Underwood from House of Cards, Pablo Escobar from Narcos, and Crazy Eyes from Orange is the New Black.
Catch phrase: "Same procedure as every year"
The line "Same procedure as every year" (in the original English) has become a very popular catchphrase in Germany. The phrase has entered everyday vocabulary, and is used in newspaper headlines and advertisements.
- From All of Us to All of You, 1958 Disney Christmas special that has become a tradition in the Nordic countries.
- Tři oříšky pro Popelku, a holiday classic in several European countries.
- The Irony of Fate, or Enjoy your Banya! (Russian: Ирония судьбы, или С лёгким паром!), a Soviet film traditionally broadcast in Russia and the former Soviet republics every New Year's Day.
- Trading Places, (Italian: Una poltrona per due), 1983 American comedy film, for its Christmas atmosphere the movie has become a tradition on Italian television, it is always broadcast in the evening of Christmas Eve.
- The Snowman, a half-hour animated adaptation of the book of the same name, which debuted on Channel 4 in the United Kingdom on 26 December 1982. It has since became a prominent annual festive event in British popular culture.
- Guinness Book of Records, 1988–1995 eds.; later editions no longer have the category
- Bolzen, Stefanie (30 December 2018). "Dinner for One: the British comedy Germans have been laughing at for years". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2 January 2019.
- Eger, Henrik (1 February 2018). "Dinner for One: The greatest cult film you've never heard of". Phindie. Retrieved 5 January 2019.
- "PlayBillVault: Almanac". playbillvault.com. Retrieved 3 November 2013.
- "Dinner for One: The Same Procedure As Every Year On New Year's Eve | Frequent Business Traveler". www.frequentbusinesstraveler.com. Retrieved 2 January 2019.
- "Dinner for One Sendetermine 2013–2018".
- "Grevinnan och betjänten hade en romans på riktigt..." Aftonbladet Plus (in Swedish). Retrieved 24 November 2018.(subscription required)
- "DR viser '90-års fødselsdagen' hver nytårsaften, men hvilket år blev den ikke sendt?". Politiken (in Danish). 5 January 2007. Retrieved 1 January 2012.
- "Hvornår blev sketchen '90 års fødselsdagen' sendt første gang i Danmark?". DR (in Danish). 24 March 2011. Retrieved 1 January 2012.
- "Broadcast on SBS for over 25 years: How Dinner For One became a NYE tradition". Guide. Retrieved 3 January 2019.
- "Alt om Grevinnen og hovmesteren". Guide (in Norwegian). Retrieved 2 January 2019.
- "When is a UK TV premiere not a premiere? How PR quickly changes history". a516digital. Retrieved 2 January 2019.
- Buell, Todd (26 December 2013). "Same Procedure: Germans Celebrate New Year's Eve with 'Dinner for One'". the Wall Street Journal.
- "Dinner for Who?': Germany's New Year 'Procedure'". Der Spiegel. 30 May 2006.
- Doderer, Joop. "Dinner for One". NPO. Retrieved 14 January 2017 – via YouTube.
- Hall, Allan (31 December 2011). "Nicolas Sarkozy becomes Angela Merkel's tipsy butler in YouTube satire". The Daily Telegraph.
- Eger, Henrik (12 February 2018). "Dinner for One: The greatest cult film you've never heard of". Phindie. Retrieved 25 January 2018.
- Peake, Mike (30 December 2006). "Gesundheit to an old favourite". The Telegraph.
- Deutsche Post. "Stempel & Informationen" (PDF). Deutsche Post. Retrieved 30 December 2018.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Dinner for One.|
- Alternative versions
- Dinner For One: How an obscure British skit became a New Year’s Eve tradition 28 December 2010
- BBC News article 3 August 2009.
- 'Dinner for One' – A Sketch Well-known to all but the British
- British comedy lives on in German television in The Guardian (31 December 2002)
- The Mystery of Dinner for One. How an obscure British skit has become Germany's most popular New Year's tradition from Slate.com (30 December 2005)
- John Murray Anderson's Almanac at the Internet Broadway Database