New Year’s Eve staple, Dinner for One, has been given a new lease of life just shy of 60 years after the original 1963 television adaptation, as German production company UFA announced this past week that it would start filming a six-part prequel in 2023.
Dinner for Five, set 51 years before the famous birthday party, in the year 1921, at a country house near Eastbourne, East Sussex, is based on a 2002 crime caper by the German author Michael Koglin.
In the prequel, five men vie for the attention of the unmarried and emancipated Miss Sophie, aged 39: Admiral Von Schneider, a Prussian militarist, the adventurer Sir Toby, the French bon vivant Mr Pommeroy, Mr Winterbottom, “an Englishman and colonialist”, and the son of the estate’s butler, James.
“As a child, I always asked myself why the four men don’t sit at the table and what they may have looked like,” said the producer and scriptwriter Tommy Wosch as the commissioning of the series was announced Thursday. “Of course, it would be a dream to produce a New Year’s Eve classic for the entire family.”
Originally scripted by the variety playwright Lauri Wylie and first performed in English music halls in the 1920s, Dinner for One sunk into relative obscurity for roughly four decades before becoming a New Year’s Eve mainstay in countries such as Austria, Switzerland, Denmark, Finland and Sweden for over 50 years.
A Hamburg performance in 1963 was recorded as a black-and-white film by German television station Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR), in its original English language without subtitles, with a short introduction in German. In Germany, it has been broadcast annually since 1972 on New Year’s Eve on public television channel Das Erste with some Germans even recreating the meal served in the skit.
Revolving around what appears to be a wealthy older woman, Miss Sophie (played by May Warden) as she celebrates her 90th birthday by hosting a dinner party for a group of male admirers, Sir Toby, Admiral von Schneider, Mr Pommeroy and Mr Winterbottom. On the surface, it sounds non-descript with the exception that it appears the dinner guests are long since dead which goes unnoticed thanks to Miss Sophie’s ailing eyesight.
James (played by Freddie Frinton), Miss Sophie’s butler, rises to the challenge of raising a toast on behalf of each of her departed friends by impersonating them with increasing gusto as the alcohol flows over several courses. Whether or not you understand the cultural significance of this, Dinner for One is well worth a watch even if only to bask in the comedic greatness of Freddie Finton.
The four course meal is accompanied by four drinks. The comedy ensues as James is forced to toast for the absent guests that he is impersonating, becoming increasingly inebriated. After 16 glasses of wine, James does find it increasingly difficult to go about his routine.
Despite its worldwide popularity, the sketch only aired in England for the first time in 2018 (Sky Arts) as it would be safe to categorize it as ‘unpopular’ in its country of origin.
So, wherever you are in New Year’s Eve’s to come, raise a glass of your favorite beverage, toast the film’s most famous lines…”Same procedure as last year?” and “The same procedure as every year” and celebrate this long-standing German television NYE tradition…every year going forward. What a great way for those in the U.K., the U.S. and around the world to be comedic bedfellows at least one day out of the year as millions of Germans settle in to watch Der 90 Geburtstag, a.k.a. Dinner for One.
Happy 2023 to all and to all a good night from Tellyspotting!