Dinner for One: Review

By Jonathan Spira on 28 December 2010
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How an obscure British skit became a New Year’s Eve tradition

Every New Year’s Eve, most of Central Europe partakes in a tradition that has achieved cult-like status, namely watching Dinner for One, an 18-minute television program also know as Der 90. Geburtstag (The 90th Birthday).

Dinner for One (scroll down to watch the movie) is an English-language play that has become a must-see in numerous countries including Germany, where the broadcast originated, as well as in Austria, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, and Switzerland.  It is also a staple in Australia and South Africa.

Dinner for One was recorded in a single take in 1963 by the Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR) and was recognized by the Guiness Book of Records as having been the most frequently repeated television program ever.

While the brief introduction by moderator Heinz Piper is in German, the play itself is performed in English by British comedians Freddie Frinton and May Warden.  It is set at the 90th birthday dinner of Miss Sophie, an upper-class English woman who hosts such an event every year for her close friends, Mr. Pommeroy, Mr. Winterbottom, Sir Toby, and Admiral von Schneider.  Miss Sophie, as the moderator points out, has outlived all of her friends, however, so her butler James stands in for each guest with hilarious results.

Dinner for One was written by British author Lauri Wylie in the 1920s and was performed on stage in Britain by Frinton and Warden as early as 1945.  Frinton acquired the rights to the play in the 1950s.  While as much as half of the German population may watch Dinner for One each Silvester or New Year’s Eve (it is broadcast early enough for people to watch before going out for other festivities), it is virtually unknown in the English-speaking world. When a 2004 article in Der Spiegel looked into the mystery of Dinner for One’s cult status, it found that not only had the BBC never aired it, but the BBC spokesman had never even heard of it.

Dinner for One is also notable for being one of the first video tape recordings made by the NDR. The recording took place in the Theater am Besenbinderhof in Hamburg and was directed by Heinz Dunkhase.

From all of us at Executive Road Warrior, Bonne Annee, Boldog Új Évet Kivánok, Gott nytt år, С Новым годом, Felice anno nuovo, Prosit Neujahr, and Happy New Year.

–Jonathan B. Spira is the Editor of Executive Road Warrior and Chief Analyst at Basex, a knowledge economy research firm.


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