After reading mt58’s article about Kalle Anka and Friends, I decided I needed to make watching a Disney clip show from 1958 a family tradition in my house, too.
If it’s good enough for the entire country of Sweden to come to a standstill on Christmas Eve? It’s good enough for my humble household.
So we watched it.
It’s not that good.
Of course, we can’t be sure we saw the whole thing. YouTube playlists aren’t always complete. The Ferdinand The Bull and the Clown Of The Jungle shorts and who knows what else were missing from ours. We watched those two separately.
Still, I don’t think we’ll try again next year. Oh, sure; the clips from Cinderella and Bambi are charming in their way, but Chip & Dale and Donald Duck grate on the ears and nerves. I was always more of a Looney Tunes man anyway.
My son, who knows these sorts of things, is visiting for the holidays and said,
“It’s like the Dinner For One New Year’s Eve tradition in Germany.”tnocs.com guest commenter virginpup
I had no idea what he was talking about.
Here’s what we learned:
It seems there was a stage actor and writer known as Lauri Wylie, though his birth name was Maurice Laurence Samuelson Metzenberg. In 1934, he was in a review called En Ville Ce Soir, or In Town Tonight, in English. He wrote a sketch featuring two characters, an elderly and wealthy woman named Miss Sophie, and her butler James.
It starts with a master of ceremonies explaining the basic plot. Miss Sophie is celebrating her 90th birthday the same way she does every year, with four friends coming over for dinner.
However, her friends have all passed on.
This means James has to stand in for each guest.
Before each course of the meal, Miss Sophie suggests a different drink – sherry, white wine, and so on. And with each suggestion, James asks, “The same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?” and Miss Sophie replies, “The same procedure as every year, James.”
Each course and its accompanying drink has a toast. James imitates each of the guests’ voices and characteristics. As he has to drink each of the four guests’ drinks to please Miss Sophie, he gets really drunk.
Wylie called the sketch Dinner For One, and it was a modest success.
A review of the show called the sketch “a very laughable burlesque of hackneyed sentimentality.”
The sketch was revived in the West End in 1948.
But somewhere along the line, Wylie sold the rights and made no money from its later popularity.
He died in poverty in 1951 at the age of 70. He was living in a camper van at the time.
In 1945, actor Freddie Frinton started doing Dinner For One in Blackpool. It was a popular part of his act, and he bought the rights for it so he wouldn’t have to pay a royalty every time he performed it. It appears that someone else owned the rights between Wylie and Frinton, but I haven’t found any details.
One of Frinton’s other roles was as the husband on Meet The Wife, a popular sitcom that ran on British television from 1963 to 1966.
The wife, played by Thora Hird, henpecked Frinton’s character, Freddie.
Freddie was a plumber who sometimes drank before coming home from work.
Because everything in the 1960s relates to The Beatles somehow, I’ll mention that their song Good Morning from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band includes the line, “It’s time for tea and Meet The Wife.”
Though the roles of James and Freddie required him to act drunk, Frinton never touched the stuff in real life. Yet he’s regarded as one of the great stage drunks. I didn’t know anyone kept such a list.
Two people of note saw Dinner For One in Blackpool in 1962. One was German television director Heinz Dunkhase, the other was entertainer Peter Frankenfeld.
Frankenfeld acted in sketch comedies and was one of the first game show hosts on German TV. He brought Frinton and actress May Warden to Germany to perform Dinner For One on his live variety show.
It was so popular, he brought them back the next year and recorded the performance. Dunkhase directed. This is the version that plays on German television on New Year’s Eve.
It wasn’t played every year from 1963 to 1972, but it’s been on every year since.
It’s usually on in the afternoon on Das Erste, the main channel, and repeated on the various other channels through the rest of the day.
And it spread to other countries.
Austria, Australia, South Africa, and all the Scandinavian countries all play it on New Year’s Eve.
Danish TV didn’t show it in 1985 and received so many complaints, the network there doesn’t even consider not playing it.
In Norway, it accidentally aired 15 minutes early in 1992, and the phone calls started coming in immediately. So many people complained that they tuned in at the right time but still missed the showing, that the network changed their schedule and reran it later that evening.
It’s appointment television.
But it’s special in Germany.
The post office there released a set of commemorative stamps.
The German airline LTU went out of business in 2009, but they showed Dinner For One on all its flights between December 28th and January 2nd every year, just so no German citizen would miss it while traveling.
Here in the United States, we repeat catchphrases from TV shows like, “That’s what she said,” “Yada yada yada” and “What’choo talkin’ about, Willis?” In Germany, they have, “The same procedure as last year?”
Everyone knows it.
Dinner For One isn’t well known in the UK. It was written and performed there for years, but its popularity faded decades ago. No one knows it now, except through a 2018 documentary about this obscure sketch that’s beloved in a half dozen non-English speaking countries.
It’s not widely known in North America either, though comedian Red Skelton wrote a very similar sketch at around the same time. This was in the early 1930s, before either Wylie or Skelton were famous, so there’s no evidence that one plagiarized the other.
However, Americans might know an episode of I Love Lucy called Lucy Does A TV Commercial.
Lucille Ball knew about Skelton’s sketch and got his permission to do something similar.
In the episode, she has to do a commercial for a Geritol-like tonic called “Vitameatavegamin” that happens to be one quarter alcohol.
After rehearsing the commercial a few times, she’s too drunk to pronounce “Vitameatavegamin.”
It’s a funny bit, funnier and more clever than Dinner For One.
And it begs the question: Why did an obscure bit of British vaudeville become so popular in certain parts of the world? Why is it in the Guinness Book Of World Records as the “Most annual airings of a television comedy sketch?”
No one seems to know.
Tradition is a funny thing. Our sense of humor may have veered away from broad physical comedy, but a generation found it tremendously funny once. That generation’s children grew up with their parents laughing through Dinner For One, so it’s a good memory. Everyone loves the familiar, especially around the holidays. That’s why we have turkey on Thanksgiving. It’s a pretty flavorless bird and no one really loves it, but it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without it.
In Germany and several other countries, it just wouldn’t be New Year’s Eve without Dinner For One.
Watch it once, just for fun.
And maybe you’ll do the same procedure next year.
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I suspect had I been watching in 1962, I wouldn’t have given two thoughts to the rug. In 2022, it’s the first thing I saw (I’m not a vegetarian but I’m not a hunter, either) and it made for tough viewing the rest of the time.
Yeah, it’s the kind of thing you don’t see anymore. Thankfully.
I have health, eco-practical, and personal reasons why I haven’t eaten meat in 20 years. But I am perhaps the least militant vegetarian that you’ll meet.
I try to live and let live. If you like steak, have at it. My only request is that folks don’t make wisecracks or otherwise belabor the point about my choices of what to eat.
As far as killing an animal to make a decorative item from its corpse, I find that odd, cruel, and wholly unnecessary on many levels.
Not to mention, disrespectful and… I guess the word “ungrateful” comes to mind.
(Sorry, Bill, about putting a downer on your excellent article.)
I try to be low-key about my non-meat diet. If pressed, I’ll namedrop Eric Schlosser. Factory farming, in my experience, is more relatable to people.
I was kind of glad the rug kept tripping him. Maybe the tiger was getting a little of its own back.
There’s a bit of a paradox in that Dinner For One has got quite a lot of coverage in the last few years in the UK so it has become well known for not being well known despite originating here. I think it was the panel show QI where I first heard of it and it now crops up annually in the media at this time of year for a bit of light hearted xenophobic evidence that German’s are weird.
It wasn’t til the documentary in 2018 that it was ever shown here. I’ve seen brief clips but never watched the whole thing.
When I was travelling I spent new year 2004/05 in eSwatini with a couple of Germans and they never mentioned it or displayed any signs that they were pining for it. Maybe they sneaked off to watch it online for their new year fix.
I’ve just verified with my son that he learned about it on QI, too.
I guess it’s the opposite of people who are famous for being famous. It’s famous for not being famous.
Thanks for the interesting post, Bill.
Humor, whether here or abroad, seems to be a cultural bit.
In the late sixties and early seventies there was a revival of the Marx Brothers
and W. C. Fields as being popular amongst the college crowd but nowadays outside of us oldsters, you here very little about them.
Laurel and Hardy were a tremendous success in the 20’s and 30’s, but apart from a brief revival in the ’60’s, you again hear very little about them.
My favorites, Abbott and Costello, get very little airplay today (outside of TCM) but they were the box office kings of the ’40’s (alongside Hope and Crosby).
JJ, what about Benny Hill? He was a popular regular on PBS in the “80’s but again, his been relegated to the archives.
Lucille Ball has been the longest running comedian on TV but there’s very little said about her impact on history. Carol Burnett does the live concert circuit but at her age, how long can she perform.
That said, how many of the comedians performing today will be remembered
even ten years from now?
Fun fact: in Poland, Laurel and Hardy are known as Flip and Flop.
I’m not sure anyone under the age of 40 knows who Benny Hill is. He went from being one of the biggest stars of British TV through the 70s and 80s to being largely ignored once his show came to an end in 1989. The general perception from the younger audience and alternative comedy scene was that his particular brand of comedy had run its course and there was something a bit unsavoury about a man now in his 60s running around with and objectifying much younger women in various states of undress.
Jon Stewart, maybe.
Cappie. You may be right but I’m thinking about Mort Sahl (who was the Stewart of his era) and think about Steve Allen , Jack Paar, Johnny Carson and, yes, even David Letterman who are basically relegated to Youtube if you want to see their work.
Unrelated to the discussion, but everytime I see the heading pic for this article my brain wants to do an MST3K-style riff: Fred Armisen IS Bela Lugosi IN “The Guy Lombardo Story”!
Fred Armisen’s marriage to Sally Timms is fascinating only if people know who The Mekons are.
Big news just in on Dinner For One; they’re making a six part prequel – not sure the material warrants this much of a back story but when did that ever stop tv executives?!
What? That’s unbelievable!
But obviously there’s a market for it.
Flavor less bird?! You must be eating the white meat…
Fascinating article! Reminds me of Jerry Lewis’ popularity in France. I wonder if they still love him there?
I will not stand for this turkey slander. Dark meat is delicious.
I nominate “Turkey Slander” for Vdog’s list of awesome band names.
That’s as bonkers a read as finding out during the NFL game in Munich, Germany a few weeks back that “Take Me Home, Country Roads” is the unofficial Oktoberfest anthem in Germany.
Then again, I’m sure there’s plenty of folks who are eternally perplexed that singing “Sweet Caroline” at Red Sox games is a revered tradition.
Or like Mr Two-Bits who was a mainstay at UF College football games for decades. The man could control 90,000 people with just his whistle and get the entire place chanting –
All For the Gators,
Stand up and Holler!”
Traditions are some crazy and awesome things. 🙂
And the dude did it singlehandedly for almost 60 years! (Side note: Based on his remarks about 1:00 into this clip, he would never make it as a Philly sports fan.)