Dinner for One

A German New Years Eve Tradition

Butler holding tray with hand
The same procedure as every year, Miss Sophie?. Oktay Ortakcioglu-E+@getty-images

It's a bit bizarre when you think about it. A short British cabaret sketch from the 1920s has become a German New Year's tradition. Yet, although "The 90th Birthday or Dinner for One" is a famous cult classic in Germany and several other European countries, it is virtually unknown in the English-speaking world, including Britain, its birthplace.

Although newer versions have been produced, every year around Silvester (New Year's Eve), German television broadcasts the classic, black-and-white English-language version filmed back in 1963 in Hamburg. All across Germany, from the 31st of December to January 1st, Germans know it's the beginning of a new year when they watch this annual event. 

The Same Procedure as Every Year

The British actor Freddie Frinton played the tipsy butler James in the 1963 German TV production. (Frinton died only five years after the Hamburg filming.) May Warden played the role of Miss Sophie, who is celebrating her 90th birthday. The only problem is... all of her party "guests" are imaginary friends who have died off. A German New Year's Eve just doesn't seem right without hearing the lines known to just about any living German: "The same procedure as last year, Madam? - The same procedure as every year, James."

In these politically-correct times, the sketch-in which Miss Sophie and her butler proceed to get thoroughly sloshed-has come under some criticism. But so popular is the perennial "Dinner for One" that the German airline LTU in former years showed the 15-minute sketch on all its flights between Dec. 28 and Jan. 2, just so passengers wouldn't miss out on the annual tradition. Before its demise at the end of 2005, the GERMAN TV satellite service also broadcast "Dinner for One" in North America.

One commenter also came to the conclusion that there might have been a love affair going on between the two main characters of the play, which always made the butler nervous and gave enough reason to get drunk, but of course, there's no official statement about this.

Why Is This Show Cult in Germany?

It's honestly difficult to understand. While the show certainly has it's funny moments, its humor simply can't appeal to 18 million viewers every year. My assumption is that in many households the TV is just running and nobody really watches this anymore like it was in my youth, but I might also be completely wrong. It might also be a representation of the simple need for persistence and continuity in an ever-changing world. 

More About 'Dinner for One'

  • Watch the full video on YouTube (18mins, not available in Germany)
  • NDR (Norddeutscher Rundfunk) has a nice section with background info on "Dinner for One" 
  • "Dinner for One von A-Z," everything you wanted to know about DfO.

Original article by: Hyde Flippo

Edited on the 28th of June 2015 by: Michael Schmitz

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Schmitz, Michael. "Dinner for One." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, thoughtco.com/dinner-for-one-1444379. Schmitz, Michael. (2021, February 16). Dinner for One. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/dinner-for-one-1444379 Schmitz, Michael. "Dinner for One." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/dinner-for-one-1444379 (accessed June 3, 2023).