Sun. Sep 27th, 2020

1 thought on “The owls are not what they seem to be

  1. German New Year Customs: “Dinner for One”
    The German Cult TV Broadcast
    The same procedure as every year

    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.

    In fact, besides long ago entering the 2003 Guiness Book of Records as the most-repeated television show of all time (over 230 times at that time), the New Year’s TV sketch has become such an institution of German culture, that Deutsche Post, the German postal service, decided to release a 45-euro-cents commemorative stamp for the 55th anniversary of the first broadcast of the cult classic by the NDR (Norddeutscher Rundfunk) public channel in Hamburg. The very first time the sketch aired on NDR TV was on 8 March 1963. The first New Year’s telecast didn’t happen until 1972 – and the rest is history. The new stamp was ceremoniously introduced, complete with a special first day cover, at NDR’s studios in Hamburg on 11 October 2018.

    Although newer renditions of “Dinner for One” have been produced – including a colorized video version, a Plattdeutsch radio version, and audio versions in other dialects – every year around Silvester (New Year’s Eve), German public television broadcasts the classic, black-and-white English-language version filmed with a live audience in Hamburg back in 1963. 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 television event.

    Besides Austria and Switzerland, other countries where “Dinner for One” is also a New Year’s TV tradition include Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Luxembourg, and Sweden. In all of those places the sketch is shown with its original British English soundtrack.

    Freddie Frinton and May Warden

    The British actor Freddie Frinton (1909-1968) played the tipsy butler James in the 1963 German NDR TV production. Frinton died of a heart attack at 59, only five years after the Hamburg filming, and never got to enjoy his international success. May Warden (1891-1978) 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 died years ago. 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 more 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 some German airlines show the 17-minute sketch on flights between Dec. 28 and Jan. 2, just so passengers won’t miss out on the annual tradition. With the advent of video streaming services, it is now possible to watch “Dinner for One” in North America and elsewhere around the globe at any time. YouTube alone offers many versions.

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