The Strange Tradition of ‘Dinner for One’ and ‘Dinner for One’ Reviews

By Christian Stampfer on 28 December 2016
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MUNICH — If we think of a tradition, we commonly remember behaviors or actions we had already known for some time. The word itself derives from the Latin term “tradere,” which means to transmit or hand over something. Passing on traditions has become human nature, performed from generation to generation.

One such tradition, which was passed on to me, is watching “Dinner for One,” an 18-minute television sketch from 1963. Every New Year’s Eve I feel obliged to watch it, and if I don’t, something feels terribly wrong. Television stations broadcast the sketch in many European countries, such as Germany and Austria, as well as Scandinavia on the evening of December 31 every year. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the movie has become the most frequently repeated program in television history. Indeed, in this sense, it unquestionably has become a tradition.

Another tradition is Frequent Business Traveler’s annual story on “Dinner for One.” This year it was my turn as European Editor and I was happy to write the seventh review of “Dinner for One” to appear in the magazine.

“Dinner for One,” performed by two British actors, May Warden and Freddie Frinton, was recorded in 1963 in a single take by the NDR (Norddeutscher Rundfunk), a radio and television broadcaster in northern Germany. As the sketch is entirely performed in English, the original version has a German moderator, Heinz Piper, providing a short explanation about the sketch at the beginning.

It was later used as filler on New Year’s Eve in 1972 and became an overnight cult classic. The popularity of “Dinner for One” extends to Austria, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, and Switzerland and, more recently, Australia and South Africa. It’s important to note that the skit is virtually unknown in England and the United States, despite it being performed entirely in English.

The story encompasses an evening dinner at Miss Sophie’s, who is celebrating her 90th birthday together with her friends Mr. Pomeroy, Mr. Winterbottom, Sir Toby, and Admiral von Schneider. However, what sounds like a nice birthday party turns out to be a real Dinner for One. Because of Miss Sophie’s considerable age, she has outlived all of her friends. Is there is a solution for this slight problem? James, Miss Sophie’s butler, steps into the role of each guest and takes over their responsibilities, namely to empty the wineglass of each imaginary guest at each course.

As a result of the number of courses, each accompanied by wine, James’ professionalism as a butler suffers heavily. As the dinner progresses, it becomes more difficult for him to serve Miss Sophie the next dish or empty the drinks. He becomes so inebriated that at a later stage he drinks from a flower vase on the table, confusing it with a wine glass.

The memorable exchange between James and Miss Sophie takes place at the beginning of each course. James asks Miss Sophie: “The same procedure as last year?” To which she repeatedly replies: “The same procedure as every year, James.”

On behalf of the entire editorial team at Frequent Business Traveler and Accura Media Group we wish you a Happy New Year and Prosit Neujahr!

DINNER FOR ONE

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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