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Monday, December 7, 2020

Dinner for One

Sprechen Sie Deutsch?


Dinner for One, starring Freddie Frinton and May Warden, is a short black-and-white comedy sketch recorded for German television in 1963, which has become a cult tradition on television around Europe where it is watched by millions every New Year's Eve.

In less than fifteen minutes, it tells the peculiar story of an elderly lady, Miss Sophie, and her butler James, who are enacting a tradition themselves - an anniversary meal with four of Miss Sophie's admirers, all of whom, unfortunately, have died. So the loyal butler plays the part of each of the four men - Sir Toby, Admiral von Schneider, Mr Pomeroy and Mr Winterbottom - and gives a series of toasts to Miss Sophie's health. Unsurprisingly, since he is drinking for four, he's soon legless.

Weaving around the room like a comedy penguin, he serves Miss Sophie a meal of mulligatawny soup with dry sherry, North Sea haddock with white wine, chicken with champagne, and fruit with port, frequently tripping over the head of a tiger-skin rug.

The English version

Before each course, James asks: "Same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?' - to be told by the amiable old girl: 'Same procedure as every year.' Then, in a faintly surreal twist, she announces that she wishes to retire to bed, indicating that James should lend her a supportive arm. 'Same procedure as last year?' asks the inebriated butler. 'Same procedure as every year', she smiles. 'Well, I'll do my very best', he responds, treating the audience to a big, dirty wink.

It took some young Europeans many years, passing out of childhood into adolescence, to get the implication of that final wink - and when they did, it was a shock on a par with realising that Santa Claus doesn't exist.

The big curiosity about Dinner for One is that, despite its stereotypical Englishness, it has never been shown on British television which represents a failure by the British to laugh at themselves - an accusation that they regularly and gaily throw at others.

"Don't mention the war!"

'Same procedure as last year?' is to the Germans what 'Don't mention the war' in Fawlty Towers is to the British. Perhaps there should be some kind of cultural hostage exchange? Well, it's that time of the year again, so I'll do my very best! (but first I take my annual bath, whether I need one or not)

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