Michael Flanders and Donald Ibrahim Swann are perhaps the most famous music hall performers ever. The wrote and performed comic songs and dialogues on stages throughout the world and their songs are still popular today.

Flanders, born on March 1st 1922, was the son of Peter Henry and Rosa Beime who was a professional musician. Swann's father was Russian and his mother Transcaspian and they had met serving for the Red Cross in WWI and he was born in 1923 in Wales. Both boys went to Westminster School where they began their life long friendship.

The worked together there on a revue called 'Go For It' and after Westminster both attended Christ Church College, Oxford. However at Christ Church their paths diverged and after university came the war. Flanders joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve service but succumbed to Polio in 1943 and was confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Swann, a committed Christian and Pacifist joined the Ambulance service and served in Greece and Palestine.

The duo got back together after the war and having written and performed in a few more provincial revues decided to continue in this vein, having been met with such approval from their audiences. Flanders, who originally wanted to be an actor, wrote the words and Swann the music. They completed the writing of their first independent revue, 'At the Drop of a Hat', in 1956 and its first performance was given on News Years Eve of that year at the New Lindsey, a small theatre in Notting Hill.

The revue was a huge success and after only three weeks it was moved to the much larger Fortune Theatre in the West End. It ran here for 759 performances and in 1960 it transferred to Broadway. The duo toured the world with their astonishingly popular revue often translating all their material for their foreign audience.

In 1963 the pair's second revue opened at the Haymarket Theatre. 'At the Drop of Another Hat' was a huge success again resulting in a few international tours and another slot on Broadway. Flanders' introduction to the show was:

I must say, wandering around, [..] things have come to a pretty underpass here in England while we've been away. It's small wonder to us that Satire squats hoof-in-mouth under every bush. The purpose of Satire, it has been rightly said, is to strip off the veneer of comforting illusion and cosy half-truth - and our job, as I see it, is to put it back again. - Michael Flanders

They decided to stop performing in revues and both branched out into other areas. Flanders pursued his acting career and Swann appeared on Radio and TV. However Flanders died suddenly of a brain haemorrhage on 15th April 1975 whilst holidaying in Wales. Swann died on 24th March 1994 after a two year battle with Cancer.

Their unique brand of comedy still delights many all over the world today. Their songs utilise witty puns and wonderful word play. The songs were perhaps some of the least political and controversial of the era. They talked about everyday problems,
On Saturday and Sunday they do no work at all,
So 'Twas on a Monday morning the Gas man came to call!
- The Gas Man Cometh
The Gas Man Cometh is a great example of the circular songs, another being The Weather Song. Their songs are wonderful to sing along too and with rousing choruses like the Hippopotamus song,
Mud, Mud, glorious mud
Nothing quite like it for cooling the blood
So follow me, follow
Down to the hollow
And there let us wallow in glorious mud
- Hippopotamus Song
and Madiera M'Dear,
Have some Madeira, M'dear
It's very much nicer than beer
I don't care for sherry, one cannot drink stout
and port is a wine I can well do without
It's simply a case of Chaqu'un à son gout
Have some Madeira, M'dear!'
- Madeira M'Dear
they hit the spot every time. These are all best performed round a grand piano amongst friends late in a merry musical evening.

Flanders and Swann were, above all, marvellous manipulators of the English language. They used words and English's idiosyncrasies to great effect, as in the Gnu Song.

I'm a Gnu
A g-nother gnu
I wish I could g-nash my teeth at you
- The Gnu Song
Modern parallels of their comic style can perhaps been drawn with "Weird Al" Yankovic but they have more originality in the their music. The whole argument that Napster revived the musical revue is for another node.


Great Neb's Picks

If you liked this then...


Discography

At the Drop of a Hat

  1. Introduction
  2. A Transport of Delight
  3. Song of Reproduction
  4. The Gnu Song
  5. Design For Living
  6. Je Suis Le Ténébreux
  7. Songs For Our Time:
  8. A Song of the Weather
  9. The Reluctant Cannibal
  10. Greensleeves
  11. Misalliance
  12. Madeira M'Dear
  13. The Hippopotamus
This album has some of their real classics, The Gnu Song and The Hippopotamus. Every one will make you giggle and it remains no surprise that the pair enjoyed such success.

At the Drop of Another Hat

  1. The Gas Man Cometh
  2. Sounding Brass
  3. Los Olivados
  4. In the desert
  5. Ill Wind
  6. First And Second Law
  7. All Gall
  8. Horoscope
  9. Friendly Duet
  10. Bedstead Men
  11. By Air
  12. Slow Train
  13. A Song Of Patriotic Predjudice
  14. Hippo Encore

The Bestiary

  1. The Warthog
  2. The Sea Horse
  3. The Chameleon
  4. The Whale (Mopy Dick)
  5. The Sloth
  6. The Rhinoceros
  7. Twosome - Kang & Jag
  8. Dead Ducks
  9. The Elephant
  10. The Armadillo
  11. The Spider
  12. Threesome - Duck-Billed Platypus/The Humming Bird/The Portugese Man-O'-War
  13. The Wild Boar
  14. The Ostrich
  15. The Wompom

Tried by the Centre Court

  1. Twice Shy
  2. Commonwealth Fair
  3. Pee Po Belly Bum Drawers
  4. Too Many Cookers
  5. Vanessa
  6. Tried By The Centre Court
  7. Paris
  8. Eine Kleine Nachtmusik Cha Cha Cha
  9. The Hundred Song
  10. Built Up Area
  11. In The Bath
  12. Sea Fever
  13. The Youth Of The Heart
  14. Food For Thought
  15. Bed

And Then We Wrote...

  1. Introduction
  2. In The D'Oyly Cart
  3. Prehistoric Complaint
  4. The Album
  5. There's A Hole In My Budget
  6. Seven Ages Of Woman
  7. Fragments
  8. Pillar To Post
  9. Guide To Britten
  10. Excelsior
  11. Rain On The Plage
  12. Last Of The Line
  13. Rockall
  14. The Lord Chamberlain's Regulations

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.