None of us like that feeling of being left out, especially in the midst of all the New Year celebrations. So here's a chance to join in by sharing the experience of the Germans, Swedes, Danes, and god knows who else, as they watch, as they do every New Year's Eve, this ancient comedy sketch - Dinner for One:
I remember reading about this:
Every New Year's Eve, half of all Germans plunk down in front of their televisions to watch a 1963 English comedy sketch called Dinner for One. Walk into any bar in Bavaria and shout the film's refrain: "The same procedure as last year, madam?" The whole crowd will shout back in automatic, if stilted, English: "The same procedure as every year, James." Even though Dinner for One is, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, the most frequently repeated TV program ever, it has never been aired in the United Kingdom or the United States, and most of the English-speaking world is ignorant of its existence. When Der Spiegel probed the mystery last New Year's, it found that the BBC had not only never contemplated broadcasting this veddy British nugget in the United Kingdom, the BBC's spokesperson had never even heard of it.
but I'd never till this year actually watched the thing. It's certainly a bravura performance from old stager Freddie Frinton, though the actress playing Miss Sophie - May Warden - annoyingly insists on pronouncing her main line "The same procedure as every year, James", stressing year as well as every. Well, it annoyed me. ["Let's try that again, shall we, May dear? - only this time "every year". Get it? Every year. Stress on "every".Not "every year", or "every year". "Every year". I mean, if it's too much for you, I can always give Dame Sybil Thorndike a ring..."] And, at the end, the implication of upstairs naughtiness to come, far from being the subtle suggestion that I'd expected, could hardly be signalled more blatantly.
Still, it's strangely watchable. (What, I wonder, do the Germans make of Mr. Winterbottom's Yorkshire accent?) And there is a certain pleasure in viewing again, when we already know what's going to happen - though I'm not sure where that leaves most theories of humour, which tend to stress the unexpected element as being crucial to getting the laugh.
After seeing it a couple of times it's now lodged in my mind as a kind of archetype. I'm already wondering if I hadn't perhaps seen it before, in an earlier, more innocent, life.