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

By Jonathan Spira on 27 December 2018
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The tradition of reviewing “Dinner for One” goes back almost a decade here at Frequent Business Traveler and, just like the tradition of watching “Dinner for One” on Silvester or New Year’s Eve, came about by accident.

Indeed, in Germany and Austria as well as other parts of Europe, before going out to celebrate the New Year, watching “Dinner for One” is de rigueur, just as it has become for the staff of Frequent Business Traveler and our friends. It’s now a staple in Denmark, Finland, Sweden, and Switzerland. Notably, those are not English-speaking countries, although it’s reportedly gaining popularity in Australia and South Africa as well.

Written in English in the 1920s by British author Lauri Wylie and performed on stage in Britain by comedians Freddie Frinton and May Warden as early as 1945, the skit we watch today was recorded in a single take in 1963 by the Norddeutscher Rundfunk. It was broadcast only a few times until it gained its New Year’s Eve spot in 1972, ostensibly as filler.

It is virtually unknown in the English-speaking world. When a 2004 article in Der Spiegel looked into the mystery of the cult status that “Dinner for One” occupies, it found that not only had the BBC never aired it, but the BBC spokesman had never even heard of it.

While the brief introduction by moderator Heinz Piper is in German, the play itself is performed in English by Frinton and 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.

The crucial exchange between Miss Sophie and James during every course:

James: The same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?
Miss Sophie: The same procedure as every year, James!

These are lines that virtually every Austrian and German can recite from memory.

Given the absence of Miss Sophie’s friends, James stands in for each, making multiple toasts in honor of her birthday for the four deceased guests.

By the end of the evening, James has consumed no fewer than 16 glasses of wine and his British-stiff-upper-lip demeanor is somewhat compromised.

As much as half of the German population may watch “Dinner for One” each New Year’s Eve before going out to celebrate. Some stay in, however, and prepare menus in strict accordance with what was served in the play and such menus include Mulligatawny soup accompanied by dry Sherry, North Sea haddock with white wine, chicken with Champagne, and fruit for dessert served with a fine port wine.

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

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

DINNER FOR ONE

Accura News

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