The same procedure as every year

Tonight millions of people in Germany, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway will watch an obscure British comedy routine from 1963. Dinner for One has inexplicably become perhaps the most repeated TV broadcast in history.

Dinner for One is a very simple comedy sketch. A butler serves birthday dinner for an old lady and her four friends. However, those four friends are all long dead, so the butler fills in for each of them. At the beginning of each course he asks “the same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?” – to which she replies “the same procedure as every year.” He toasts her health four times over (once for each imaginary friend). And there are four courses, meaning the butler downs four glasses each of sherry, white wine, champagne, and port.

Of course, he begins very proper and formal and gradually gets more and more drunk, erupting into pure physical comedy as the sketch goes on, and ending on a great punchline. You can watch the whole 15-minute sketch here, beginning at 2:25.

The sketch first appeared on German television in 1963, but it wasn’t until 1972 that it screened around New Year’s Eve. And it has appeared in Germany every year since. It has become an annual tradition, so popular that it is estimated that fully half of the German population watch it each year. The catchphrase – in English – would be recognised by anyone in the country. They even issued a commemorative stamp a couple of years ago!

The popularity of Dinner for One has spread up to Scandinavia, down to Austria, and all over the place… except the United Kingdom, where it’s still pretty obscure. If you turn on German TV today you’ll see it played on repeat across the day, and it’s also screened in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and elsewhere. All this makes it potentially the single most re-run TV broadcast ever.

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