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 …

The Ark From Raiders of the Lost Ark Just Showed Up on Antiques Roadshow

John Rhys-Davies and Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981).
John Rhys-Davies and Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981).
Lucasfilm, Ltd.

For any memorabilia collector looking to mimic Indiana Jones’ search for the Ark of the Covenant in 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark, they’re largely out of luck. The screen-used ark in the movie, which was said to contain the Ten Commandments and was pursued by both Indy and Nazis in the film, is safe and sound in storage at Skywalker Ranch.

But someone has a prototype, and it just showed up on the PBS series Antiques Roadshow.

A segment filmed at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, California, saw a man arrive with what he claims is an early version of the ark prop that was brought home by his father, a pyrotechnician who worked at Industrial Light and Magic, the George Lucas company that did the effects for Raiders of the Lost Ark. The prop, which was made primarily of glued-together picture frames, was used to house the family blankets rather than any religious iconography.

Appraiser James Supp believes the prototype could sell for anywhere between $80,000 to $120,000, though he didn’t rule out a sale price of $250,000 at auction.

Indiana Jones collectors have previously spared little expense in chasing memorabilia from the franchise. One of the many fedoras worn by Harrison Ford sold for $425,000 in 2018. A whip used by Ford in the first three films sold for $35,000 in 1999.

Ford, 77, is still involved in a fifth Indiana Jones film set for release in 2021, though Steven Spielberg is no longer directing it. Ford vs. Ferrari director James Mangold is reportedly in discussions to take his place.

[h/t MovieWeb]

Think You’ve Got What It Takes to Be the Next Jeopardy! GOAT? You Can Now Take the Test Whenever You Want

You might want to brush up on colorful terms before taking the Jeopardy! Anytime Test.
You might want to brush up on colorful terms before taking the Jeopardy! Anytime Test.
Jeopardy!, YouTube

Up until now, qualifying to compete on Jeopardy! wasn’t just about acing the entrance exam—it was also about being available to take the test in the first place, since Jeopardy! usually only offers it at specific times once or twice a year. Earlier this month, however, the classic trivia game show released the Jeopardy! Anytime Test, a version you can take whenever it fits your schedule.

The format hasn’t changed at all; you still have 15 seconds to answer each of the 50 questions, and your answers should not be typed in question form. Although you can complete the test at any time, you can’t complete it multiple times in a short period—just like the original test, you’re only allowed to take an Anytime Test once a year. Having said that, if you took the regular test when it was available in January, you are eligible to submit the Anytime Test, too. According to the website, Jeopardy! will use whichever score is higher.

In other words, rather than replacing the regularly scheduled tests, the Jeopardy! creators are giving you one extra chance to qualify per year. This round of the Anytime Test closes in late April 2020, and they’ll presumably release another one sometime soon after that for anyone who didn’t catch the first round.

If you begin the Anytime Test and aren’t able to finish it, your answers won’t be saved, but you will be able to start fresh later with a new set of questions. You should probably try to avoid letting that happen more than once—Jeopardy! warns that participants “are only allowed a limited number of attempts,” yet doesn’t specify what that number is.

For those of you who would like a little practice before you try your hand at the test, you can study nearly 400,000 past Jeopardy! clues in the J! Archive.

For everyone else, register for the Anytime Test here.

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