Why do the Swiss watch Dinner for One every New Year's Eve?
To many English-speaking expats, the name Freddie Frinton does not ring many bells. However, to people across Europe, he is one of the great comedic actors and star of a New Year’s staple in Switzerland: Dinner for One.
Dinner for One is one of the most repeated television programmes ever
Dinner for One is a black and white 18-minute comedy, entirely in English, filmed in West Germany in 1963. The film follows the 90th birthday party of Miss Sophie (played by May Warden), where the butler (played by Frinton) has to impersonate her friends who have passed away, leading to funny gags and lighthearted high jinks.
The sketch is full of recurring jokes to delight the audience, including the butler tripping on a tiger's head rug, striking his heels whenever the late Admiral von Schnieder drinks with an all-mighty “Skål!” (Danish for cheers), and perhaps the most famous line of all: “Same procedure as every year, James.”
The latter has become a popular catchphrase in Germany, making its way into newspaper headlines and ads. The show is now the most repeated television programme ever in Germany and is always shown on New Year’s Eve in Switzerland.
History of Dinner for One
The sketch itself has its origins in a "revue" by Lauri Wylie, which was then staged in 1934. Frinton and Warden, who would go on to star in the recorded version, had been playing the sketch on England’s many seaside piers since 1945, and inherited the rights to the sketch in 1951, which they used to tour the coast of Great Britain.
The sketch was performed on stage in several theatres across the UK before making its way to Germany when, in 1962, Peter Frankenfeld and the director Heinz Dunkhase saw a production of Dinner for One in Blackpool. The performers were shipped over to Hamburg, where the piece was filmed in the Theater am Besenbinderhof in July 1963.
Why is Dinner for One so popular among Europeans?
Since first airing on North-German television in 1963, the film has become a New Year’s staple across Europe. Up to half the population of Germany tunes in to the show every year and, according to Frequent Business Traveller, some families choose to mimic the meal served in the show: Mulligatawny soup, North Sea haddock, chicken, and fruit for dessert.
Despite being in English and featuring an all English cast, the film is completely unknown in the UK and USA, only being broadcast nationally for the first time in the UK in 2018. Although the entire sketch is in English, most countries choose to air the show without subtitles or dubbing, leading to some Europeans who can’t speak English being able to quote the show verbatim, taking humour from the slapstick comedy.
Today, each country has its own edited version of the programme. A famous old Swiss version, broadcast by SRF, is known for reducing the amount of alcohol the butler drinks. In 2016, Netflix released a parody version where the traditional dead guests were replaced by Saul Goodman (Breaking Bad), Frank Underwood (House of Cards), Pablo Escobar (Narcos) and Crazy Eyes (Orange is the New Black).
Join in with the Swiss tradition
Dinner for One will be broadcast on New Year's Eve on SRF 1 at 7.10pm and again on SRF 2 at 11pm. If you want to celebrate like a local this New Year, watching Dinner for One is a great place to start!