European New Year’s Eve TV staple Dinner for One to get prequel treatment

Based on a British variety sketch, comedy is traditionally shown at new year across swathes of mainland Europe

A British music hall sketch that has sunk into obscurity in its country of origin but is an indispensable New Year’s Eve ritual in swathes of continental Europe will be given a new lease of life, after the German production powerhouse UFA announced this week it would start filming a six-part prequel next year.

Originally scripted by the variety playwright Lauri Wylie and first performed in English music halls in the 1920s, Dinner for One was recorded as a black-and-white film for German television in the early 60s, it has been a staple of New Year’s Eve television schedules in countries also including Austria, Switzerland, Denmark, Finland and Sweden for at least 50 years.

The sketch – performed in English – revolves around an evidently wealthy older woman, Miss Sophie (played by May Warden), celebrating her 90th birthday by hosting a dinner party for a group of male admirers – all extravagantly monikered and, it seems, long dead.

Butler James (Freddie Frinton) rises to the challenge of raising a toast on behalf of each of Miss Sophie’s departed friends, impersonating them with increasing gusto as the alcohol flows over several courses.

UFA’s planned prequel series, Dinner for Five, based on a 2002 crime caper by the German author Michael Koglin, is set 51 years before the famous birthday party, in the year 1921, at a country house near Eastbourne, East Sussex.

Five men vie for the attention of the unmarried and emancipated Miss Sophie, aged 39: Admiral Von Schneider, a Prussian militarist, the adventurer Sir Toby, the French bon vivant Mr Pommeroy, Mr Winterbottom, “an Englishman and colonialist”, and the son of the estate’s butler, James.

“As a child, I always asked myself why the four men don’t sit at the table and what they may have looked like,” said the producer and scriptwriter Tommy Wosch as the commissioning of the series was announced on Thursday. “Of course, it would be a dream to produce a New Year’s Eve classic for the entire family.”

Even without the support of a prequel, Dinner for One’s success as a cultural export continues unabated, its catchphrase “same procedure as every year” now received as much as a comment on its own ritualised function as Miss Sophie’s birthday traditions.

This year, the sketch will be screened no fewer than 18 times on various television channels over New Year’s Eve, with the first broadcast going out at 3.30pm and the last at 5.30am on New Year’s Day.

Four airings will be dubbed in German dialects, including Low German or Plattdeutsch, Colognian or Kölsch, and two variations of Hessian.


Philip Oltermann in Hamburg

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Covid in Europe: how countries are tackling second wave
A roundup of the measures affecting mask-wearing, schools and more across mainland Europe

Europe correspondents

15, Oct, 2020 @7:02 PM

Article image
As Covid cases rise again, how are countries in Europe reacting?
Tighter measures are being imposed, but they vary across the continent

European correspondents

23, Sep, 2020 @2:39 PM

Article image
EU tells six countries to lift Covid border restrictions
Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Hungary and Sweden put on notice over curbs to free movement

Daniel Boffey in Brussels

23, Feb, 2021 @4:40 PM

Article image
European elections 2019: Tories unlikely to deliver on Brexit, says Farage – as it happened
Across EU, voters boost Greens and far right to leave centrist groups diminished

Patrick Greenfield, Sam Jones , Alison Rourke, Mattha Busby, Jennifer Rankin and Kevin Rawlinson

27, May, 2019 @9:17 PM

Article image
Across Europe, distrust of mainstream political parties is on the rise
The far right is gaining support in some corners of Europe, but more marked is the rejection by voters of the political establishment

Jon Henley, Helena Bengtsson and Caelainn Barr

25, May, 2016 @5:00 AM

Article image
Immigration: Far-right fringe exploits European coalitions

Mainstream European parties appear paralysed by populism, unable or unwilling to temper the rise of the far-right

Ian Traynor

15, Nov, 2010 @5:42 PM

Article image
The week where decades happened: how the west finally woke up to Putin
From Germany’s shock military spending rise to sanctions unity, leaders have come together over the war in Ukraine

Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor

04, Mar, 2022 @2:12 PM

Article image
Covid vaccine acceptance rising across Europe but falling in parts of Asia
Exclusive: double-digit increases recorded in eight European countries since mid-November

Jon Henley Europe correspondent

22, Jan, 2021 @6:00 AM

Article image
My childhood Christmas by Conchita Wurst, Carlos Acosta, Oti Mabuse and more
Forget turkey, crackers and carols. Oti Mabuse has a barbecue on the beach, Alma hits the sauna, Sofie Hagen hunts for a marzipan pig and Conchita Wurst hides from Krampus the horned monster

Interviews by Chris Wiegand

04, Dec, 2017 @9:00 AM

Article image
Frexit, Nexit or Oexit? Who will be next to leave the EU
After the UK backed withdrawing from the EU, politicians elsewhere are calling for referendums in their own countries

Kate Lyons and Gordon Darroch

27, Jun, 2016 @7:30 AM