Around this time of year, if you are meeting or chatting with colleagues from Central Europe or Scandinavia and the topic of “dinner for one” comes up, they are probably not talking about dining alone. If they say “the same procedure as last year?” and laugh or reply “the same procedure as every year, James,” they are not talking about how they close the books at year’s end or perform surgery either.
Instead, they are talking about a New Year’s Eve tradition that has permeated most of Central Europe and Scandinavia, namely watching Dinner for One, an 18-minute black-and-white comedy sketch also known as Der 90. Geburtstag (The 90th Birthday).
Dinner for One is the story of 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 moderator Heinz Piper points out before the skit starts, has outlived all of her friends, however, so her butler James stands in for each guest. This ensues with hilarious results.
Throughout the skit, James enquires of Miss Sophie, “the same procedure as last year?” to which Miss Sophie consistently and emphatically replies, “the same procedure as every year, James.”
More than half of the entire German population will watch the program before proceeding to other festivities to ring in the New Year. Interestingly enough, the entire skit is broadcast in its original English language version although the dialog is fairly simple and easy to comprehend. Many fans have memorized lines from the skit and, especially around the end of the year, will respond with Miss Sophie’s answer to anyone saying “the same procedure as last year?”.
Some fans not only watch the broadcast, but also prepare a meal that mimics Miss Sophie’s anniversary dinner, including Mulligatawny soup, North Sea haddock, chicken, and fruit for dessert.
Dinner for One is performed by British comedians Freddie Frinton and May Warden. It was first aired in 1963 and recorded in a single take in 1963 by the Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR), but it didn’t find its way onto Silvester or New Year’s Eve television schedules until 1972, and it’s been a fixture there ever since. It’s also watched in Austria, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, and Switzerland and is a staple in Australia and South Africa.
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. The recording took place in the Theater am Besenbinderhof in Hamburg and was directed by Heinz Dunkhase. It remains 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.
From all of us at Frequent Business Traveler, Bonne Annee, Boldog Új Évet Kivánok, Gott nytt år, С Новым годом, Felice anno nuovo, Prosit Neujahr, and Happy New Year.
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