The Mystery of ‘Dinner for One’ and Its New Year’s Eve Cult Classic Status
Every year, an FBT staffer gets to take our annual look at the cult classic “Dinner for One,” an 18-minute-long black-and-white comedy filmed in Germany in the 1960s with a British cast. This year it’s my turn.
“Dinner for One,” which starred British comedians Freddie Frinton and May Warden, was recorded in a single take in the summer of 1963 by the Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR) and was recognized by the Guinness Book of Records as having been the most frequently repeated television program ever. While the skit is virtually unknown in England and the United States, it’s been adopted as a New Year’s tradition after it was used as a filler on New Year’s Eve in 1972. Its popularity extends to Austria, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, and Switzerland. More recently it has become a staple in Australia and South Africa.
I’ve been watching “Dinner for One” since living in Munich while at graduate school. The premise is simple: The setting is the 90th birthday dinner of Miss Sophie, an upper-class English woman who hosts a similar anniversary celebration every year for her close friends, Mr. Pommeroy, Mr. Winterbottom, Sir Toby, and Admiral von Schneider. Miss Sophie, as the moderator Heinz Piper points out, has outlived all of her friends, however, so her butler James stands in for each imaginary guest.
“Stand” may not be the best word, however, because James has to drink multiple toasts to Miss Sophie throughout the dinner on behalf of her four departed friends, while continuing to serve the meal.
One of the reasons it’s become so popular is the repetitive nature of the dialog: at multiple instances during the dinner, 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.” Fans around the world have memorized these and other lines and tend to recite them, in English of course as Silvester, as New Year’s Eve is called in many countries, draws closer. If you walk into a bar in Germany around this time of the year and shout out the question “The same procedure as last year?” you are well guaranteed a group response using Miss Sophie’s retort verbatim.
The program was performed and recorded in the Theater am Besenbinderhof in Hamburg and was directed by Heinz Dunkhase.
This is the sixth year that we have written about “Dinner for One,” each time following the same procedure as last year. From all of us at Frequent Business Traveler and Accura Media Group, Happy New Year and Prosit Neujahr!
DINNER FOR ONE
(Photo: Accura Media Group)