How An Obscure British Comedy Sketch Became The World’s Most Repeated TV Program

iStock / Norddeutscher Rundfunk
iStock / Norddeutscher Rundfunk

The Simpsons cemented its title as America’s longest-running primetime scripted series with the announcement of seasons 29 and 30. For a time, Baywatch was the world’s most syndicated program, sold to 148 countries and a weekly global audience of over a billion people. And in 1983, up to 125 million people (an unprecedented 77 percent audience share) watched "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen," the last ever episode of M*A*S*H. But when it comes to the single most repeated program in history, that title is claimed by none of television’s biggest names, but by an obscure British comedy sketch, filmed in 1963 with a cast of two, that has gained a cult audience all over the world.

The two stars in question were British comedian Freddie Frinton and 72-year-old actress May Warden. Frinton first made a name for himself in the music halls and variety shows of wartime Britain, and after World War II added a sketch to his show entitled "Dinner For One."

In the sketch he plays James, a butler, employed by Miss Sophie, played by Warden, an upper class woman who is celebrating her 90th birthday with a fine banquet. Sadly, Miss Sophie has long outlived her four closest friends—Sir Toby, Admiral von Schneider, Mr. Pommeroy and Mr. Winterbottom—but places are set at her dinner table regardless, with James valiantly stepping in to impersonate each one.

As each of the four courses are served—with Miss Sophie explaining each time that the pair will follow the “same procedure as every year” —James tops up the four missing guests’ glasses, toasts Miss Sophie’s health, and downs them all. And needless to say, by the end of the meal (and after four glasses of sherry, four glasses of white wine, four glasses of champagne, and four glasses of port) James is slightly the worse for wear. At the end of the sketch, as they're going up to Miss Sophie’s bedroom, James asks, “Same procedure as last year?” and Miss Sophie replies, “Same procedure as every year.” James responds, “Well, I’ll do my very best,”—a very risqué move at the time.

"Dinner For One" was originally written in the 1920s by English author and scriptwriter Lauri Wylie, but it proved so popular with his audiences that Frinton eventually bought the rights to it and continued to perform it as part of his show for the next seven years. Then, during a tour of English seaside resorts in 1962, a German entertainer and television star named Peter Frankenfeld happened to see Frinton and Warden performing the sketch in Blackpool and asked if they would like to reproduce it as part of his TV show, Guten Abend. The following year, the pair travelled to Germany and filmed it in English—though under the German title "Der 90 Geburtstag," or “The 90th Birthday”— in front of a live studio audience; by then, the pair were so used to the material that it took just one take to get a flawless recording.

But how did such an unassuming sketch become the Guinness World Records’ most repeated TV show ever?

Well, besides proving immediately popular with Frankenfeld’s audience, part of the skit’s success lies in Frinton’s expert physical comedy (which needs no subtitles and so works across the language boundary) and partly in its short running time, which for many years made it the perfect short to fill time between broadcasts. After being used sporadically as little more than a time-filler over the next decade, in 1972, German television network Norddeutscher Rundfunk decided to schedule it at 6 p.m. on New Year’s Eve. The viewers loved it, and a now annual tradition was established.

"Dinner For One" has been shown every New Year’s Eve in Germany since, and has established itself as such a traditional part of the country’s New Year celebrations that Miss Sophie’s catchphrase is now familiar to practically all native German speakers: In 1996, an opposition finance minister even accused his opponent of adopting “the same procedure as every year” in the German parliament.

More recently, others countries have gotten in on the tradition, and "Dinner For One" has now established itself as a New Year’s tradition in the likes of Denmark, Austria, and Sweden; as a pre-Christmas tradition in Norway, where it’s broadcast annually on December 23; and has amassed a cult following in countries as far afield as Estonia and South Africa. "Dinner For One" has since racked up more than 200 individual broadcasts (it was reportedly shown 19 times on different German networks on New Year’s Eve 2003 alone), easily taking the title as the world’s most-repeated television program. Although ironically, for such a quintessentially British sketch, it has yet to be shown in its entirety on British television …

Billie Lourd Shares What (Very Little) She Can About Star Wars: Episode IX

Frazer Harrison, Getty Images
Frazer Harrison, Getty Images

​Nearly nothing is known about the final film in the latest Star Wars series, except that J.J. Abrams, who helmed The Force Awakens, will be returning as director, and many of the cast members from both Abrams's earlier effort and The Last Jedi will be reprising their roles. Even the late Carrie Fisher, who sadly passed away on December 27, 2016, will be included in Episode IX, through unused footage from the previous two films.

Though all the stars of the upcoming film are sworn to secrecy about it, Fisher's daughter, Billie Lourd, is spilling what she can. Lourd, who played the minor role of Lieutenant Connix in the last two films, teased what it was like being back on set.

"I gotta watch myself because the Star Wars PD is going to come get me, but it is incredible. I’ve read the script and I’ve been on set," Lourd told ​Entertainment Tonight. "I was on set for, like, three weeks back in September, and it is going to be magical. I can’t say much more, but I’m so excited about it and so grateful to be a part of it. Star Wars is my heart. I love it."

A lot of things are riding on Episode IX, especially considering how divided fans were over The Last Jedi. Though with Abrams back in the director's chair, it seems likely that the new film will be a return to form. The as-yet-untitled film hits theaters on December 20, 2019.

A 24-Hour Pee-wee's Playhouse Marathon is Coming to IFC on Thanksgiving Day

Shout! Factory
Shout! Factory

Today's secret word is: AHHHH! If the thought of talking politics with your drunk uncle this Thanksgiving is too much for you to bear, might we suggest that you stay right there on the couch and watch 24 hours of Pee-wee's Playhouse instead?

In the spirit of holiday marathons, IFC has announced that it's bringing the not-just-for-kids cult classic Saturday morning TV series back to the small screen this Turkey Day—more than 30 years after it made its original debut.

Pee-wee, Chairry, Conky, Miss Yvonne, Jambi, Cowboy Curtis, Reba the Mail Lady, Clocky, The King of Cartoons, and the rest of the gang will all be there when the network kicks off a full 24 hours of all-Pee-wee programming.

"For over 30 years, the enormously popular Pee-wee Herman and innovative television series Pee-wee’s Playhouse—created by and starring Paul Reubens—has captured a special place in the hearts of millions of viewers, young and old," IFC wrote in a press release. "Since its initial premiere on CBS in 1986, this multiple Emmy-winning children’s program became Saturday morning appointment viewing for kids in the '80s and '90s and has been a staple in the pop culture zeitgeist ever since."

In addition to embedding itself in the hearts and minds of its viewers over its five-year run, Pee-wee's Playhouse garnered unprecedented critical acclaim, earning 15 Emmy Awards and the 1987 Television Critics Association Award for Outstanding Achievement in Children's Programming. In 2010, Reubens brought the character back for a stage show that began in Los Angeles before migrating to Broadway (where it regularly sold out).

In addition to being a launching pad for soon-to-be-stars like Phil Hartman, Laurence Fishburne, S. Epatha Merkerson, and Natasha Lyonne, Reubens hired some serious talent behind-the-scenes, too. Five years before he wrote and directed Boyz n the Hood—for which he earned two Oscar nominations—John Singleton was a P.A. on the Playhouse set. Around the same time he formed White Zombie, Rob Zombie held the same title.

The marathon, which will include a special screening of Christmas at Pee-wee’s Playhouse, will kick off at 6 a.m. on November 22 (Thanksgiving morning) and run for 24 hours straight. Beginning on November 24, IFC will be bringing Pee-wee's Playhouse back to "its rightful home on Saturday mornings" with weekly airings of the series.

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