Television often gives us quirky traditions that become a part of popular culture – and SBS is guilty of probably the two quirkiest on Australian TV – the Eurovision Song Contest in May, and every New Year’s Eve it presents Dinner For One.
Dinner For One was a comedy sketch regularly performed in British music halls since the 1920s and in the early 1960s a German TV producer caught a performance in the UK and decided to adapt the performance for a one-off TV special back home. The special, produced in black-and-white, was made in 1963 starring actors Freddie Frinton and May Warden – and is spoken entirely in English.
The sketch is based around an elderly woman Miss Sophie (Warden) hosting a dinner for her 90th birthday. Unfortunately Miss Sophie has outlived all of her male admirers, so it is up to her butler (Frinton) to impersonate each one at the dinner table – and on the insistence of Miss Sophie, the butler drinks a toast at every course and progressively becoming more drunk each time.
The program was not initially of much significance but when a local network NDR decided to slot it in for a New Year’s Eve screening in the early ’70s it became something of a favourite with Germans and consequently would appear on German TV every New Year’s Eve, receiving massive audience figures every year. Catchphrases from the program have become a regular part of the language in Germany.
Despite the program being made in English and being known across much of Europe (for instance, in Norway it is a long-running pre-Christmas tradition, shown on 23 December), it is virtually unknown in the English-speaking world – except for Australia where the multicultural SBS added the sketch to its own New Year’s Eve schedule in the late 1980s and has appeared every year since then.
Dinner For One. New Year’s Eve, Monday 31 December, 8.00pm, SBS.
Source: Dinner For One