‘Dinner for One’: How an Obscure Short Film Became a New Year’s Eve Cult Classic

By Gracie Connell on 29 December 2020
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Each year, Frequent Business Traveler celebrates the New Year with the same procedure as every year: a look at an 18-minute German television sketch entitled “Dinner for One” presented entirely in English.

This FBT tradition falls to the newest staffer as a rite of passage, welcoming them to the team. Having joined the magazine’s staff two weeks before this article was scheduled to run, I was called to duty.

Filmed in 1963 in a single take by German director Heinz Dunkhase at the German television station Norddeutscher Rundfunk, the sketch stars British comedians May Warden and Freddie Frinton. Written by Lauri Wylie, “Dinner for One” has become a mainstay in Germany, Austria, and other European countries in celebration of Silvester, or New Year’s Eve, after being aired as a filler between regularly scheduled programs in 1972. As of 1995, it was the most frequently repeated television program ever, according to the Guinness Book of Records.

Despite its origins as an English sketch, “Dinner for One” is virtually unknown in its country of origin, instead having an almost cult-like following in German-speaking countries. The film has achieved such notoriety that some even stage “Dinner for One”-themed parties, recreating the entire four-course meal featured.

As a former cast member of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” I love a show with a cult following and I also love a callback. “Dinner for One” is rife with both. The phrase “The same procedure as last year?” has become so prevalent in Germany that practically anyone would automatically respond “The same procedure as every year, James.”

The skit follows the 90th anniversary or birthday dinner of Miss Sophie, a wealthy Englishwoman, and her butler James’ trials and tribulations in attending to her wishes..

Miss Sophie has invited four guests to this dinner party, but it seems all of them have long since passed away, so the task falls to James to not only serve all the food and drinks, but also act out the roles of all of Miss Sophie’s departed friends. Unfortunately, or fortunately for him depending on your bacchanalian proclivities, this means he must consume all the alcohol that the attendees were intended to drink. Given that Miss Sophie’s celebration is a four-course meal with wine pairings for every course, this is no small feat.

The film lives in a world of slapstick vaudevillian humor. Much of the comedy lies in James’ increasing intoxication as the sketch goes on along with repeated gags, including him tripping over the head of a tiger skin rug every time he goes to the serving station to fetch something for Miss Sophie.

The final gag of the skit is the one most repeated throughout the piece. James leads Miss Sophie up the staircase towards her room and drunkenly queries “By the way, the same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?” to which she retorts “The same procedure as every year, James!” He then mugs to the camera as the theme music begins to play and the credits begin to roll.

In the vein of “Dinner for One,” we at FBT follow the same procedure as every year. We celebrate New Year’s Eve, or Silvester, with tradition. With all the turmoil of the past year and uncertainty in the pandemic, procedure is perhaps the strongest way we can end 2020 and kick off a more hopeful and stable 2021. But rest assured, dear reader, “Dinner for One” will return, as it does every year, to welcome in the year 2022, and we will follow the same procedure as every year.

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.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

DINNER FOR ONE

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