Last Friday a German student of ours at OISE Oxford brought up the topic of ‘Dinner For One’ during our weekly students’ lunch. Initially I wondered whether he was asking our opinion on eating out alone but after a few moments a vague memory of this black and white short film came to mind.
The reason for this is that despite being originally written by a British author and the dialogue being entirely in English, ‘Dinner For One’ has not been aired on British TV for over 30 years and as such is not the New Years Eve staple here that it has come to be in other countries.
Also known as ‘The 90th Birthday’, or by its corresponding German title, ‘Der 90. Geburtstag’, ‘Dinner for One’ is a two-hander comedy sketch written by British author Lauri Wylie for the theatre in the 1920s. German television station Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR) later recorded an 18 minute-long performance of the piece in 1963 which went on to become one of the most frequently repeated TV programmes of all time. It has become somewhat of an institution in Germany with as much as half of the population tuning in to watch it every New Years Eve.
The film features a 90-year old upper-class Englishwoman, Miss Sophie, who is enjoying a celebratory birthday meal with 4 imaginary (presumably deceased) friends, following "the same procedure as every year" (the film's catchphrase). Meanwhile the butler serving the meal takes it upon himself to keep up the charade, consuming the 4 friends’ drinks as they toast Miss Sophie's birthday and becoming increasingly drunk with every course. The main source of hilarity is a tiger-skin rug with a large head which the butler trips over each time he goes to fetch the next course.
Now, I don’t mean to be a party pooper but from a British point of view, I can't say I'm convinced that this is the best we have to offer by means of comedy. In fact I find its popularity rather mystifying. But don’t take my word for it, see for yourself by clicking the image below!
OISE Oxford, April 2014.