The sketch presents the 90th birthday of elderly upper-class Englishwoman Miss Sophie, who hosts a celebration dinner every year for her friends Mr Pommeroy, Mr Winterbottom, Sir Toby, and Admiral von Schneider. (The plot has nothing to do with New Year's Eve. There is a "Happy new year" toast, but this is purely a reference to Miss Sophie's birthday.) The problem is that due to Miss Sophie's considerable age, she has outlived all of her friends, and so her equally aged manservant James makes his way around the table, impersonating each of the guests in turn. Miss Sophie decides on appropriate drinks to accompany the menu: Mulligatawny soup (Miss Sophie orders dry sherry), North Sea haddock (with white wine), chicken (with champagne), and fruit for dessert (with port) served by James, who finds himself raising (and emptying) his glass four times per course. That takes its toll, increasingly noticeable in James's growing difficulty in pouring the drinks, telling wine glasses from vases...Written by
While both the actors in the sketch and dialogue are in English, the UK remains one of the few countries in Europe where the sketch is totally unknown. It's never been shown on TV in Britain. See more »
After James burps, Miss Sophie takes hold of her chair's armrests probably in anticipation of James almost tipping her chair backwards. See more »
Several versions of this sketch were recorded/broadcast or released on DVD/video:
the original B&W version with an audience as produced by Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR) in 1963. 18 minutes
a changed B&W version where an english spelling error in the intro narration was digitally removed. Shown on German TV since the end of the 90s.
a changed B&W version without the audience sound. Shown by Danish TV who also omit the introductory narration, bringing the sketch to a 14 minutes runtime
a computer colorized version produced by the NDR in 1999. Due to massive protest from fans this version is almost never shown
an alternative B&W version as produced by Swiss TV. This version has no intro narration and misses some gags. This version can be recognized by the much simpler set decoration (no table cloth, smaller/simpler pictures on the walls, much smaller stairs). Released on DVD in Germany. 11 minutes.
This title is relatively unknown in Australia, but as someone who has studied comedy for 40 years and taught gifted students about it as a form of expression, communication and development of the comic conventions and constructs used in various forms of 'standard' literature, I consider that this film can be considered as one that stands out in its own field as a latter-day 'standard' of classic comic form and execution.
In some ways it falls into the same category as films from the great Silent Era in Hollywood (e.g. the works of Sennett and Chaplin), the W C Fields' "The Great Chase" and Eric Syke's "The Plank" - but it also equates in some ways with Oscar Wilde's comedy (e.g. "The Importance of Being Ernest") - all are great examples of mixing visual activity, remarkable energy, the innuendo and the written and/or spoken word.
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