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Theatre / Dinner for One

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"Same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?" "The same procedure as every year, James."

Dinner for One, also known as The 90th Birthday, is a popular British vaudeville sketch that gained world fame after being recorded for West 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 Guinness World 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, with the notable exception of Norway where it is broadcast on December 23rd (with Christmas celebrated the 24th). This has a very great deal to do with the extremely physical nature of the comedy - similar to the international hit Mr. Bean. Ironically, the one country where the sketch remains largely unknown is the United Kingdom, where it first aired nationally on Sky Arts in 2018. 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 Sophie's butler James makes his way around the table, impersonating each of the guests in turn. Unfortunately for him, this also means drinking for each toast of the four-course dinner...

"By the way, the same tropes as last year, Miss Sophie?"
"The same tropes as every year, James."

  • The Alcoholic: Sir Toby was a heavy drinker, which is why James still pours him a double shot of every alcohol.
  • Alcohol Hic: Inevitable after a while, 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!") (until he finally says it as Mr. Pommeroy's dessert toast). They found a compromise by having Frinton say the same word in Norwegian: "Skøl!"
  • Bizarre Belching: After downing all the champagne (the third toast), James lets out a pretty unusual belch that sounds like a guttural, drawn-out 'bye'.
  • Can't Hold His Liquor: Mr Winterbottom. Technically speaking, he didn't really drink that much, but judging by James' playing, it only took him three toasts to ham up seriously and four to get an Alcohol Hic (unless it's actually James hiccing "out-of-character").
  • 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.
    • In a way, Admiral von Schneider's heel-clicking. The first two times James performs it, he accidentally ends up hurting his ankle and hobbling around briefly. By the third toast, his co-ordination is so impaired he swings his whole leg instead... and misses, so he doesn't hurt his ankle this time. And on the fourth toast, he no longer even bothers to try the heel clicking.
  • Drunken Song
    Miss 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.
    • Not to mention, that when they went back and fixed up an incredibly minor grammatical mistake note , it caused as many complaints from viewers as when it wasn't shown. It seems to have become accepted in the years since, though.
  • The Ghost: Miss Sophie's old friends. We get a sense of what they must have been like through James' imitation of their toasts.
  • 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 (or rather, got) drunk.
  • Minimalist Cast: One of the world's most famous "two-handers", with only Sophie and James (and, in some versions, a narrator) appearing on stage.
  • New Year Has Come: As noted 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.
  • Non Sequitur: When it comes to Mr Winterbottom's third toast of the evening (James' twelfth):
James: "I now declare this bazaar open. And so forth."
  • 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.
  • Only One Name: The MC goes so far as to say Miss Sophie's family name won't be divulged for privacy reasons. As James' superior (both socially & being his employer), it is customary for her to address him by his given name.
  • Oop North: Mr Winterbottom 'speaks' in a guttural Yorkshire dialect.
    "By goom, you look yoonger than ever, loov. (Beat) Yoonger than ever. (Beat) Hehehehehehehehehehe..."
  • Prequel: There is a German-made sketch called Dinner for Five which is about Miss Sophie's 60th birthday, that is, what her birthdays were like when her four friends were still alive.
  • 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 buffet, he trips over the head of a tiger skin lying on the floor, which happens 10 times in the skit. 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.
  • Shout-Out:
    • 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 food.note  Averted for James, who drinks for four (five if you consider Sir Toby always wants his cup filled to the brim).

Alternative Title(s): Dinner For One