• Germany's news in English
 
50 years of a New Year's dinner for one
Dinner for One is watched by millions of Germans every New Year's Eve. Photo: DPA

50 years of a New Year's dinner for one

Published: 31 Dec 2013 09:00 GMT+01:00

No matter what you do on New Year's Eve in Germany: melting lead, lighting fireworks, or simply knocking back champagne, there is one thing that nearly all Silvester parties have in common. – a 20 minute television interlude to watch a black-and-white sketch in English called "Dinner for One". It was first released in 1963, making 2013 its 50th anniversary. Loved in Germany, it’s virtually unknown in the rest of the world.

Dinner for who?

Okay, let's start with the basics: The dinner is for Miss Sophie, the last member of an old English family. The sketch, which is also known as "The 90th Birthday," is about the old lady's anniversary celebration in the dining room of her musty mansion with Miss Sophie – played by May Warden – sitting on the head end of the table and Butler James – played Freddie Frinton – making sure no glass (or no eye) in the house stays dry.

Why is it so popular on New Year's Eve?

The first time the programme was aired on New Year's Eve in 1972, the sketch was more a filler in between broadcasts. But due to its great popularity it quickly gained a regular place in the Silvester TV schedule. It holds the record of the most repeated show on television and regularly attracts millions of viewers to each New Year's Eve.

Why is the dinner only for one? Doesn't the old lady have any guests?

Sure, Miss Sophie has invited her friends, but they unfortunately all died some time ago. Not to be hindered by this slight setback the dinner goes ahead as usual and her guests are (or were):

Sir Toby

Mr Winterbottom

Admiral von Schneider

Mr Pommeroy

All men? What a saucy old granny...

Well, some people say all of them have been former admirers. Unsuccessful ones, though. Her butler James is the only one who gets lucky on an annual basis, but we'll get to that later.

And what’s so funny about the sketch?

The sketch's comedy comes from Butler James taking the places of all of Miss Sophie's long dead friends. First he has to serve all "guests" drinks for every course (in his capacity as butler, of course) and as none of them are actually there anymore, he has to empty their glasses himself.

So a boozy butler and his mistress fake a party?

Pretty much! James slips into the different personas and toasts Miss Sophie in each guest’s appropriate way. For Admiral von Schneider, for example, he clicks his heels together every time and salutes with a loudSkol of the top of his voice. For Mr Winterbottom on the other hand, he puts on a thick northern English accent.

We’re still waiting for the joke...

Hang on, it's coming. Because with every drink he slugs back, the usually reserved and refined demeanour of Butler James starts to slip as he slurs and stumbles his way around the table. Added to this an unfortunately positioned tiger skin rug, the head of which James has to overcome on his frequent trips to the bar. Appropriate for the era when it was made – the whole routine had a healthy touch of slapstick.

And Miss Sophie?

The old gal never leaves her place and is totally oblivious about the amount of the butler's alcohol consumption and orders him to serve the respective courses. Dinner consists of:

Mulligatawny soup – with sherry

Haddock – with white wine

Chicken – with champagne

Fruit – with port

Mulligatawny-what? Doesn't really sound like a German dinner.

Well, it isn't! The actors May Warden and Freddie Frinton first performed "Dinner for One" in the British seaside town Blackpool in 1962. The German entertainer Peter Frankenfeld, discovered the duo, brought them to Germany and the sketch was seen on his live show on regional public broadcaster NDR one year later.

Really? Wasn't it recorded in Britain?

No, it was recorded in Hamburg in 1963. The broadcaster NDR had all the props ready, as well as a polar bear skin rug, that never was used, however, since Frinton brought his own tiger skin. After all, the stumbling over the rug was well rehearsed and depended on the height of the head. The polar bear ended up in the NDR’s prop closet – covered with dust and a sign around its head saying "Freddie Frinton."

So far so good, but why is it all shown in English?

Despite the Teutonic habit to dub anything foreign on telly, "Dinner for one" was never put into German unlike everything else on TV. The dialogue is simple and repetitive and the introduction of the sketch comes in German. Actor Heinz Piper explains the only two sentences you need to know.

Butler James: "Same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?"

Miss Sophie: "Same procedure as every year, James."

Right, not exactly rocket science, huh?

Not exactly, no. And still Piper managed to make a mistake in both of the sentences. Instead of saying "AS every year, he said "THAN every year". Protests and angry letters from English teachers across the country made the NDR correct the grammar mistake. It simply got dubbed instead of re-recorded, but when you listen closely you can tell.

Does it come at least with German subtitles?

Some versions do. In the late 1960s even a colour version was planned, but due to Frinton's sudden death in 1968 it was never realised. In recent years there have been versions in regional dialects like Low German, Swiss-German, or Hessian.

But don't worry; you'll know when to laugh, as even the recording crew is giggling along.

What do the Brits have to say about all this?

Surprising to most Germans – who consider the skit quintessential British humour – hardly anyone in Britain knows it even exists. And for those who do, the significance it has for the Germans and the place it holds in their hearts is rather perplexing.

Oh, what was that with the butler getting lucky?

Right, in the last scene, Miss Sophie gets ready for bed and calls over her shoulder for James one last time while climbing up the staircase to her bedroom. He slurs: "The same procedure as last year?" and Miss Sophie answers "The same procedure as every year." With James promising he'll do his best "as every year," they both go upstairs together.

Dinner for One can be viewed on the ARD's regional television affiliates throughout New Year's Eve. For a listing, search here here.

For more stories about Germany, join us on Facebook and Twitter

Kerstin von Glowacki (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Public pitch in to find refugee home arsonists
A set of keys found at the scene of the crime. Photo:DPA

Public pitch in to find refugee home arsonists

After police made a public appeal for information in the arson attack on a refugee home on a television programme on Sunday evening, more than 30 members of the public got in touch. READ  

Greece crisis
Merkel and Tsipras have 'positive' phone chat
Merkel and Tsipras meet in Brussels on 23 April. Photo: DPA

Merkel and Tsipras have 'positive' phone chat

Athens will resume talks with its creditors Monday, a Greek government source said, after Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras spoke on the phone with Chancellor Angela Merkel. READ  

Bayern stroll to 25th Bundesliga title
Bayern coach Pep Guardiola on the sidelines against Hertha on Saturday. Photo: DPA

Bayern stroll to 25th Bundesliga title

FC Bayern Munich found out they had won the Bundesliga title with four games to spare when their only rivals Vfl Wolfsburg lost 1-0 to Borussia Mönchengladbach on Sunday. READ  

Government knew of threat to Ukraine flights
Investigators at the scene of the MH17 crash in eastern Ukraine in mid-April 2015. Photo: DPA

Government knew of threat to Ukraine flights

Berlin knew the risks of flying over war-torn east Ukraine before Flight MH17 was shot out of the sky last year but did not inform German airlines, media reported on Sunday. READ  

Pro-Kremlin bikers defy bans on Berlin ride
Photo: DPA

Pro-Kremlin bikers defy bans on Berlin ride

Dozens of bikers from pro-Kremlin gang the Night Wolves on Saturday set off on a ride to Berlin ahead of the anniversary of Soviet victory in World War II, despite Poland and Germany barring the riders. READ  

VW patriarch Piëch resigns
Photo: DPA

VW patriarch Piëch resigns

Volkswagen patriarch Ferdinand Piëch, has resigned as head of the German auto giant's supervisory board with immediate effect, the company announced Saturday. READ  

Schumacher Jr lives up to his name
Schumacher Jr is too young to drink any of that champagne. Photo: DPA

Schumacher Jr lives up to his name

Mick Schumacher Jr did his famous father proud on his Formula Four debut on Saturday by claiming a trophy as the best rookie and finishing ninth, despite starting 19th. READ  

Deutsche Bank to sell Postbank
Deutsche Bank acquired Postbank in 2008. Photo: DPA

Deutsche Bank to sell Postbank

Germany's biggest lender Deutsche Bank announced late Friday it was seeking to sell its Postbank subsidiary as part of a revamp to improve profitability. READ  

Far left activists attack immigration office
Photo: DPA

Far left activists attack immigration office

Far-left extremists attacked an immigration office in Leipzig early on Friday morning. It was the second targeted attack on an official building in the city in recent months. READ  

Steinmeier: Armenia wasn't genocide
Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Photo:DPA

Steinmeier: Armenia wasn't genocide

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier insisted on Friday that calling Armenian massacres genocide risks belittling the Holocaust, after President Joachim Gauck broke a taboo by using the word on Thursday. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Gallery
German beer day: take the tour
Features
Off to Norway at 18 km/hour
Shutterstock
Sponsored Article
10 things you didn’t know about Zagreb (and why you should go)
Gallery
The smileys Germans love to text
Sponsored Article
What expat parents should ask before choosing a school
National
Expats face Monday deadline to register to vote for UK election
Politics
A Greek learning politics in Germany
Features
The battle of the "Gates of Berlin"
National
Germany's favourite baby names of 2014
National
Germany's 'very poor' lobbying record
National
VIDEO: Mario Draghi suffers anti-ECB confetti attack
Politics
Merkel's 15 years at the top of German politics
Features
Spice up asparagus season with The Local's serving suggestions
Travel
Lowest of the low: how woman exploited Germanwings crash
Sport
Football and the €30,000 firework
Technology
Why scientists oppose killer robots
National
Germanwings co-pilot 'searched suicide info'
Technology
Electrifying 'Ostalgia'
National
Which city is Germany's worst for drivers?
National
'Cannibal cop' gets 8 years
Can the 'nightmare' of a pilot downing a plane be prevented?
National
LIVE: Co-pilot suspected of crashing plane
Pupils mourn lost classmates
National
Freed after 25 years on death row
National
Cologne Cathedral returns from space
Features
Paddy's Day, Berlin style
Is your workload 'out of control'? You're not alone...
National
Why east Germans are happy to get it on on camera
National
What would you do with a 250-year-old pretzel?
Features
Just why is the German flag Schwarz, Rot, Gold?
Business & Money
Getting German workers and bosses thinking positive
National
Uplifting thoughts to get you through the last week of winter
National
Who wants the Olympics more - Hamburg or Berlin?
National
Last-minute drama of Germany's Eurovision 2015 entry
National
German photographer takes world's top prize
Features
Meet the woman getting Germans to drink more – and better – beer
Gallery
Get inspired for International Women's Day with German heroes
Green party proposes first-ever cannabis legalization plan
Gallery
In pictures: Germany's seven most livable cities
National
Singapore canes Germans for train graffiti
Politics
Surprise! Germans love feeling like they run the EU
Politics
Anger over plan to show women what men earn
Travel
Munich tram fans bicker over new bell
Features
Kafka: puzzling translators 100 years on
Business & Money
France or Germany: Which country really is the best country to work in?
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

7,135
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd