The Strange New Year’s Eve Tradition of ‘Dinner for One’

By Anna Breuer on 27 December 2017
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Every New Year’s Eve, a good part of the world stops what it is doing for a short time and engages in a tradition that is like none other, namely watching “Dinner for One,” an 18-minute skit by two British comedians that was originally broadcast in the 1960s.

As the newest staff member, it falls upon me to continue the tradition, begun some eight years ago, of writing about it.

Having lived in Germany, watching “Dinner for One” is a given on December 31 for me. Indeed, its cult-like status has made it the most watched television presentation in Germany, where it originated, as well as Austria, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, and Switzerland. Notably, those are not English-speaking countries.

The tradition is simple: Before going out for the evening on New Year’s Eve, one watches the show. If you are already out celebrating, don’t worry: it will be on in almost every bar in the country. Some even hold dinner parties using the same menu as what is served in the skit, which includes Mulligatawny soup accompanied by dry Sherry, North Sea haddock with white wine, chicken with Champagne, and fruit for dessert served with a fine port.

The line, “The same procedure as last year?” spoken in English, has become a very popular catchphrase in Germany. Not only will strangers respond with the retort, “The same procedure as every year, James” but the phrase is also used in advertising and in newspaper headlines.

Known also as “Der 90. Geburtstag” (“The 90th Birthday”), the show was recorded in a single take in 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.

Following a brief introduction by German actor Heinz Piper, the play is then performed in English by British comedians Freddie Frinton and May Warden.

The setting is the 90th birthday dinner of Miss Sophie, an upper-class Englishwoman. Miss Sophie has hosted this anniversary dinner for decades, but her close friends who are the invited guests, Mr. Pommeroy, Mr. Winterbottom, Sir Toby, and Admiral von Schneider, are no longer among the living. However, that doesn’t put a crimp in the festivities. Her butler, James, stands in for each guest at the appropriate time for that person’s toast, emptying his glass multiple times, with the foreseeable consequences.

“Dinner for One” will soon celebrate its 100th birthday as a sketch: it was written by British author Lauri Wylie in the 1920s and Frinton and Warden performed it as long ago as 1945.

Despite its easy accessibility to English-language speakers, the sketch is virtually unknown in English speaking countries, although it has gained in popularity in Australia and South Africa in recent years

On behalf of my colleagues here at Frequent Business Traveler, allow us to wish you Feliz Año Nuevo, Bonne Annee, Boldog Új Évet Kivánok, Gott nytt år, С Новым годом, Felice anno nuovo, Prosit Neujahr, and Happy New Year.

DINNER FOR ONE

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

Accura News

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