It’s repetitive…it’s predictable…it continues to be brilliantly funny every year and it’s worthy of an annual mention on Tellyspotting every New Years Eve. On the surface, Dinner for One is a short British cabaret sketch from the 1920s that has become a German New Year’s tradition. 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.
While I’m not really sure who “they” are, they say that comedy makes for strange bedfellows. Never has this been more evident than with the long-standing habit/tradition in Germany and around the world on New Year’s Eve involving an 11-minute British comedy sketch, Dinner for One, which is also known in Germany as Der 90 Geburtstag (The 90th birthday).
It seems that watching television on New Year’s Eve in Germany is right up there with the past tradition of watching the Queen’s Christmas Day message in the UK. Dinner for One is a particularly crucial part of Germany’s festive programming, where it has been broadcast on Das Erste, a public television channel, since 1972. Around half the population still tunes in on New Year’s Eve to watch it with some Germans even recreating the meal served in the skit.
Dinner for One was originally written by British author Lauri Wylie for the theatre to be performed in British music halls. German television station Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR) recorded a performance in Hamburg in 1963, in its original English language without subtitles, with a short introduction in German.
Relatively unknown to a bulk of the English speaking world to this day, Dinner for One remains the highest-rated TV show in German history and went on to become the most frequently repeated TV program ever according to the Guinness Book of World Records having aired numerous times annually in Germany since 1972 on Germany’s regional public television channels. It is also traditional festive viewing in Denmark, Sweden and a host of European countries.
Miss Sophie, played by May Warden, is celebrating her 90th birthday by throwing a dinner for her friends Sir Toby, Admiral von Schneider, Mr Pommeroy and Mr Winterbottom, along with the help of her butler James (Freddie Frinton).
Unfortunately, these friends are unable to attend the dinner as they’re long dead, which doesn’t put James off pretending he is them to help keep Miss Sophie and her ailing eyesight in good spirits.
James serves four courses 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. With today being New Year’s Eve, we thought it best to provide a way for those in the U.K., the U.S. and around the world to be comedic bedfellows at least this one day out of the year as millions of Germans settle in to watch Der 90 Geburtstag, a.k.a. Dinner for One.
So, wherever you are, raise a glass of your favorite beverage this evening, 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.
While 2023 is definitely better that 2020, 2021 and 2022, I can’t put this past year in my rear-view mirror fast enough, here’s wishing everyone a safe, healthy and Happy 2024 from Tellyspotting!