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Wednesday, December 31, 1997 Published at 19:21 GMT

Special Report

Germans follow same procedure every year
image: [ Butler James (Freddie Frinton) toasts Sophie (May Warden) in Dinner for One ]
Butler James (Freddie Frinton) toasts Sophie (May Warden) in Dinner for One

What will be the most talked about programme on German television this New Year's Eve? Perhaps the premiere of a blockbusting film or a top entertainment show featuring one of the country's top stars?

In fact, what Germans patiently wait every twelve months for is a programme in English, filmed in black and white and featuring a British end-of-the-pier comic who died in 1968.

And it has been the same for the last 34 years.

Early in the evening of every December 31, before they start the serious business of celebrating in earnest, Germans gather around TV sets in restaurants, bars and homes and are soon convulsed with laughter at a 20 minute sketch called "Dinner For One". It stars Freddie Frinton, a music hall comedian originally from Grimsby, whose trade mark was playing a stage drunk with the catchphrase was "Good Evening Occifer".

For many Germans, seeing the old year out would be incomplete if it was missing from the screens.

And for the real aficionados, the sketch is often available at least half a dozen times before midnight as different regional television stations screen it at different times.

The whole thing started when some German TV executives saw Frinton perform "Dinner for One" in one of his favourite environments - on stage in Blackpool.
[ image: Frinton eyes up yet another drink on the dinner table]
Frinton eyes up yet another drink on the dinner table

In 1963 he travelled to Germany where the sketch was filmed in English although an urbane television announcer explains briefly at the start in German what the viewer is about to see.

Frinton, who gained late stardom in Britain opposite Thora Hird in the television sitcom "Meet The Wife", plays a butler who is serving dinner for his aged mistress Miss Sophie on her 90th birthday.

Although her four closest friends are long dead, places are set for all of them. Food, and particularly drink, arrives for each absentee and as the meal progresses Frinton polishes off the latter with enthusiasm, gradually getting more inebriated.

No-one can explain the programme's phenomenal success though several social scientists are said to have tried. Real fans hold "Dinner For One" dinners, serving the same food and acting out the sketch as they watch.

The punchline, when Frinton asks Miss Sophie "The same procedure as last year?" as he serves the dinner inviting the answer "The same procedure as every year", is a favourite exchange between German fans of the programme year in and year out.
[ image:
"The same procedure as last year?"

The last time it is used in the sketch is when the pair are half way up the stairs in a situation which was risqué even for the mid-sixties.

So well known is the programme that last year a German opposition front bench spokesman on finance accused a Parliamentary opponent of running up a deficit by accusing him of adopting "the same procedure as every year" to the delight of everyone in the chamber.

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