As we enter another year on the Gregorian Calendar, I was reminded of a slightly eccentric tradition from Germany and other European nations. Now, Germany introduced us Brits to the Christmas Tree, which on reflection is a pretty odd idea, with more than a little pagan influence about it. Putting a full sized Douglas Fir in your living room is a pretty bizarre idea, whichever way you look at it, let alone decorating it. In more recent decades the Germans still haven’t let us down. Where UK television prides itself on the Queen’s Speech, German television have been repeating a archaic black and white comedy sketch for the last fifty years. As odd as it seems, this has become an expected tradition. Apparently their festive viewing wouldn’t be the same without it. The television recording in question is Dinner for One or The 90th Birthday (German: Der 90. Geburtstag)
I first became aware of it last year, when a colleague commented on the agenda for some student assessments. “Same procedure as every year, James”, he said. I had to ask, “who’s James?”, and he explained the reference to me. This is the catchphrase uttered throughout the sketch, and is also the final comedic pay off. Ironically, for a sketch by a British writer, originated in England and performed in English, the sketch is largely unknown in Britain and other English speaking countries, although social media is making it better known than it was. A major tradition in Germany, where half the population watch it every year, its charms have spread to other lands. As Wikipedia informs me, the sketch is also regularly broadcast and enjoyed in “Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Faroe Islands and Austria; on New Year’s Eve 2003 alone, the sketch was broadcast 19 times (on various channels). As of 2005, the sketch had been repeated more than 230 times. It is known in other countries as well, including Switzerland, Luxembourg, Netherlands and South Africa” (of all other places).
An admittedly farcical but highly amusing piece of comedy from, Dinner for One revolves around the birthday dinner of upper class Englishwoman Miss Sophie. Miss Sophie’s male suitors have all died, but the table is set for them, with Miss Sophie’s butler James serving all four imaginary male guests, and drinking their alcohol as he does so, getting progressively more drunk, while failing to avoid tripping over a tiger skin rug. The reiterated instruction throughout is, “the same procedure as every year, James!”, which is repeated to rather more lewd and hilarious effect at the end.
So, as a treat for any of you who have never seen it, here is Dinner for One, filmed in 1963, but written by Lauri Wylie as early as the 1920s, and performed by May Warden and Freddie Frinton. Also, let me take this opportunity to wish you a very Happy New Year (unless you’re reading this at any other time, in which case, do keep up!)
May all your procedures for this year be the best ones and do your very best!