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Obscure English comedy sketch is huge hit in Europe on New Year's Eve

© Screen shot from Dinner for One

Text by Monique El-Faizy

Latest update : 2017-01-13

This New Year’s Eve, just before midnight, millions of revelers will do the same thing they do every year. They will pause their celebrations to watch a short piece of comedic English dinner theater that few people in Britain even remember.

More than 50 years ago a German television channel made a recording of a performance of a two-character British comedy sketch called “Dinner for One” that went on to be the most frequently aired television programme ever, according to the Guinness World Records Book, and now has become as integral on New Year’s Eve for many Europeans as champagne and fireworks.

The 18-minute recording, which is known as the 90th Birthday in Germany (Der 90. Geburtstag) and includes an introduction in German, has become mandatory New Year’s Eve viewing in Germany, Austria, Sweden, Denmark and Australia. Norwegians already watched it, because it aired there on December 23. It is also a cult hit in Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and the Faroe Islands, according to Wikipedia. But it has reportedly never been aired in the UK.

The sketch, written by Lauri Wylie and featuring comedians Freddie Frinton and May Warden, depicts Miss Sophie and her butler James at her 90th birthday dinner. Four places are set for her long-dead guests, Sir Toby, Admiral von Schneider, Mr. Pommeroy and Mr. Winterbottom.

As he serves each course, James queries Miss Sophie: “The same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?”

“The same procedure as every year,” she replies every time.

That “procedure” consists of James pouring the accompanying wine course for each of the four guests, and then adopting the persona of each as he toasts the birthday girl and empties each glass. Needless to say he becomes drunk, sloppy and silly.

The skit finishes with James helping Miss Sophie out of her chair and up the stairs as he asks: “The same procedure as last year?”

“The same procedure as every year,” comes her expected, if somewhat risqué, response.

According to online newspaper The Local, the recording was the brainchild of German entertainer Peter Frankenfeld, who saw the skit being performed during a visit he took to Blackpool and was so taken with it that he arranged for it to be recorded for German TV. It was first aired in Germany in 1963. The New Year’s Eve broadcasts began in 1972.

By 1997, the nearly 12 million people who watched "Dinner for One" outnumbered the more than nine million who watched the Chancellor’s New Year’s speech. As of 2015 it had been aired more than 230 times in Germany.

The German version was filmed in front of a live, often hysterical, audience. The Danes watch a slightly more somber version of the film in which no audience is heard. And a third, more sober version (it shows less drinking) was recorded for Swiss television and is the one aired in Sweden.

The actors never knew what a hit they became. Finton died in 1968 and May died in 1978.

 

Date created : 2016-12-31

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