Dinner for One, also known as The 90th Birthday, was a popular British vaudeville sketch that gained world fame after being recorded for German television in 1963, with English dialogue following a brief introduction in German. While they were at it, the same actors also made a version for Swiss television, with only a few modifications.note
This short comical play subsequently became the most frequently repeated TV program ever, according to the Guinness Book of Records. The 18-minute black-and-white 1963 TV recording, featuring British comedians Freddie Frinton and May Warden, has become an integral component of the New Year's Eve television schedule of several countries. This has a very great deal to do with the extremely physical nature of the comedy - similar to the international success of Mr. Bean. Ironically, the one country where the sketch remains largely unknown is the United Kingdom. Frinton is almost forgotten in his homeland, although he can be seen in a very brief uncredited cameo on a DVD episode of The Arthur Haynes Show.
The sketch presents the 90th birthday of elderly upper-class Englishwoman Miss Sophie, who hosts a dinner every year for her close friends Mr. Pommeroy, Mr. Winterbottom, Sir Toby and Admiral von Schneider to celebrate the occasion. The problem is that given Miss Sophie's considerable age, she has outlived all of her friends, and so butler James makes his way around the table, impersonating each of the guests in turn. Unfortunately for him, this means participating in each toast of the four-course dinner...
Dinner for One provides examples of:
- The Alcoholic: Sir Toby was a heavy drinker, which is why James still pours him a double shot of every alcohol.
- Alcohol Hic: Inevitable, since James has to make a toast for Miss Sophie's dead friends between every course.
- Ascended Fanboy: An odd Real Life subversion is Sonja Göth, who was part of the live studio audience when the sketch was recorded for German television. She was laughing so loudly and so hysterically that she became a celebrity in her own right.
- As Long as It Sounds Foreign: Freddie Frinton despised the Germans. Thus, he refused to say Admiral von Schneider's one word, "Prost!" ("Cheers!"). They found a compromise by having Frinton say the same word in Norwegian: "Skol!"
- Catchphrase:James: The same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?
Miss Sophie: The same procedure as every year, James.
- Drinking on Duty: Necessarily because it's James' job to simulate the presence of Miss Sophie's four late friends including their drinking habits, especially Sir Toby's.
- Drunken Master: Implied - the drunker James gets, the easier does he manage to avoid the inevitable stumble over the tiger's head.
- Drunken SongMiss Sophie: Sir Toby...
James: [sings] Sugar in the morning...
- Foreign Remake: There are even several dialect remakes of Dinner for One by now.
- George Lucas Altered Version: In 1999 the NDR produced a colored version of the sketch, which was not too well received by fans of the original black and white version.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar:
- Everyone assumes that the sketch ends with James and Miss Sophie going upstairs to have sex, especially with James' wink at the end. The families of the actors have firmly denied this.
- At one point, James drinks from a vase of flowers instead of a glass, and then groans "I'll kill that cat". Said cat probably marked his or her territory there.
- Kaiserreich: Implied by heel-clicking Admiral von Schneider (although the one word he ever says is Norwegian, see As Long as It Sounds Foreign).
- Large Ham: Sir Toby. And Mr. Winterbottom, the more he gets drunk.
- New Year Has Come: As noticed it is shown every New Year's Eve in several countries. Viewers get the impression that the sketch takes place on New Year's Eve because "Mr. Pommeroy" says "Happy New Year" every time it's his toast. Actually, this is a reference to the fact that it's Miss Sophie's birthday.
- No Indoor Voice: Sir Toby."CHEERIO SOPHIE ME GAL!"
- Old Retainer: James has evidently worked for Miss Sophie for years, considering he knew all her friends well enough to impersonate them even though they have been dead for a long time now.
- Oop North: Mr Winterbottom 'speaks' in a guttural Yorkshire dialect.
- Running Gag:
- James pausing to talk to an imaginary Sir Toby every time he charges his glass - presumably because Sir Toby used to want a bit more wine.
- Every time James walks from the table to the kitchen, he trips over the head of a tiger skin lying on the floor. There are only three exceptions to this.
- The first time (when he has just served the white wine) he narrowly misses the head, much to his own surprise. Instead, he trips over it on his way back to the table.
- The second time (after serving the champagne), he steps over it Silly Walk-style.
- The third time (after serving the port), he jumps with both feet over it.
- Sir Toby is probably named after Sir Toby Belch from William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. Sir Toby Belch is described as "a force for vitality, noise and good cheer". Dinner For One's Sir Toby had a loud voice and enjoyed alcohol the most out of all the guests.
- Admiral von Schneider is possibly inspired by Prince Phillip's grandfather, Admiral Louis von Battenberg, a German prince who made a career in the British Navy.
- Soundtrack Dissonance: The further the sketch progresses into utter chaos, the less "Charmaine" fits. Nevertheless, it continues until the curtain falls.
- This Is Gonna Suck: When Miss Sophie announces the fourth toast, James, who by now can barely stand, mumbles a defeated "Oh no...".
- Vocal Dissonance: Mr Pommeroy has (or rather, had) a wimpy high-pitched voice.
- The Von Trope Family: Admiral von Schneider, though he is (read: was) probably of Norwegian aristocracy rather than German.
- They Wasted a Perfectly Good Sandwich: Downplayed with Miss Sophie, who can be seen eating while James is busy serving the drinks, but considering the short time it's unlikely she finished her plate. Averted for James, who drinks for four (five if you consider Sir Toby always wants his cup filled to the brim).