Flanders and Swann

This March is the 50th anniversary of the Beeching Report. Dr Richard Beeching, later elevated to the peerage, wrote a lengthy report on the profitability of British Railways (or lack thereof) and concluded that most of the rail network made no net contribution towards any profits that could potentially be made. He duly recommended removing about half of the route mileage and rather more than half the stations. The Tories implemented the report with unusual haste for any Government; Labour largely opposed it up until the moment when they saw the overall profit/ loss account of the nation and duly decided to continue.

This cross-party enthusiasm for Beeching left very little opportunity for the pro-rail remnants of the population to express any form of opposition except by attempting to prove “undue hardship” at closure inquiries. An examination of the railways which survived on this basis (prime examples include Middlesborough to Whitby, Inverness to Wick & Thurso and Kyle of Lochalsh, Glasgow to Mallaig and Plymouth to Gunnislake) show that in order to demonstrate that closing the local railway would cause undue hardship it was necessary to show that the area was devoid of alternative roads. As a result the minor rural dead loss railways going nowhere which deserved to be axed all survived, while the middling routes serving notable market towns found that the market towns were also served by roads, enabling easy closure of the railways.

The Government then proceeded to spend vast amounts of public money building roads to replace these railways which needed closing down because the Government didn’t have any public money available to spend on keeping them running.


Much is likely to be written – and, indeed, said – about the Beeching Report. Most of it will be unfavourable and criticise various closures on a variety of grounds. One or two daring ones may even suggest that, since road usage is falling and rail usage is increasing, there could possibly be a business case for re-opening one or two lines. That is, up until the point on the trackbed where a road takes over the alignment and thereby renders any form of further extension, at any point in the future, utterly out of the question. But rather than outright technical debate on the merit of car-based societies versus rail-based ones (which, since we seem to be slowly sleepwalking from the former back to the latter, would be worth having), a lot of whimsy about steam trains is likely to fill the national press.

In the process the whimsy will focus on quoting two men who, back in the 1960s, wrote a song about the Beeching closures.

The Slow Train

Michael Flanders and Donald Swann wrote this song for their show, At the Drop of Another Hat, in 1963; in common with most of their pieces, Flanders wrote the words and Swann wrote the music. (There were odd exceptions where one or the other wrote both words and music; periodically they also performed songs by a friend called Sydney Cartwright, which have a distinctively individual tang and which were cut from the initial commercial releases.)

Most of these songs are entirely comic on some level or another, possibly with political undertones. Slow Train is a wistful retrospective and entirely not intended to be comic on any level. It regrets the passing of all these wonderful station names of the 19th century railways – even if some of the best, like Redbrook-on-Wye, had already gone. Flanders is told as having drawn the station names from the Guardian report on the closures (explaining why Armley Moor, Arram, Formby and Four Crosses came out as two station names rather than four – the Guardian presumably printed them as paragraphs rather than lists and lost a few commas along the way) and concentrated entirely on the “England stations for closure” list.

Flanders and Swann are always presented by such articles as being part of the national culture, but having met a few people who have never heard of them despite good quality upbringings (and who have subsequently become fans) this author will now move on into a Public Service Introduction for the Uninitiated.

Flanders and Swann

Flanders was born in London on the 1st of March 1922; Swann was born over 18 months later on 30th September 1923 in Llanelli. They met at Westminster School in the City of Westminster (now forced to play second-fiddle to the less politically important London) and in 1940 produced a revue called “Go To It”. Then they split up and went to university – both at Christ Church College, Oxford. Foreign affairs intervened and Flanders found himself in the Navy; Swann registered as a Conscientious Objector and ended up driving ambulances.

Swann seems to have managed to broaden his mind in the process, but mind-broadening was made rather more tricky for Flanders when his ship was torpedoed. The military spent the Second World War assuming that anyone who seemed a bit bashed after being blown up was shamming and preferred to send them back into action without further question – something which did for what was left of Spike Milligan’s sanity. Flanders merely contracted polio and with the help of the military’s most efficient medical support was condemned to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair with one lung out of use. This is a condition which inhibits study at Christ Church – at least, so Christ Church thought – and Flanders was left trying to become an actor in a world where being disabled was something of a hindrance.

The pair got together again after the war was over and began writing songs together occasionally. The doyenne of these was a little number called “In the D’Oyly Cart” – for three people. It was eventually worked into another revue and sung by three people – none of whom were Flanders or Swann.

Revues were a kind of performance which has largely vanished today – perhaps the closest is a “selected highlights” stage-based feature of the sort that one occasionally sees at the BBC Proms. A string of performers in costume would perform little acts on a stage with some form of backdrop for scenery. Skits and songs made up the little acts and the audience expected to laugh at the result. The ones that Flanders and Swann were in, once they had found some people to let them go professional, were organised by Laurie Lister. The sort of length of the skits can be guessed from the fact that the shows, which ran in a London theatre for one “season” and were then re-written and improved for the next year, tended to have titles based around the word “airs” – e.g. “Airs on a Shoestring” and “Fresh Airs”.

At the time these were not recorded professionally, though odds and ends found their way through tape recorders onto reel-to-reel tapes. Most were merely retained on paper and a selection emerged later in the album And Then We Wrote, done as a celebratory recording for the BBC and released on LP after Flanders’s death. The album is naturally led by  “In the D’Oyly Cart” .

 “In the D’Oyly Cart”  is an interesting piece, since it can seem a bit critical of the way in which the operettas of William Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan were being performed at this time. Yet it clearly acknowledges the debt owed by Flanders and Swann to Gilbert and Sullivan – those leaders of the English language musical satire:

And while the House of Peers witholds its legislative hand

And noble statesmen do not itch to interfere in matters which they do not understand…

(from the song “When Britain Really Ruled the Waves” in the opera Iolanthe)

It’s a common debt; one of the most notable contemporaries of Flanders and Swann, Tom Lehrer (who has also found that the passing years have little harmed his reputation), also makes periodic references to Gilbert and Sullivan – ranging from pinching the tune of “I am the Very Model of a Modern Major General” whenever seems appropriate to adapting the folk song “Clementine” into a quite remarkable parody of Sullivan’s musical style. Lehrer intersperses such references with comments such as:

It is staggering to think that when Mozart was my age he had been dead for a year.

…which was accompanied by similar periodic borrowings of Mozart ideas ( “Clementine” comes to mind again). These have not quite reached the heights of Flanders and Swann usages of Mozart themes.

The first of these was for one of their “Bottom Five”. The Bottom Five represented some very bad popular songs; they couldn’t get anything in the hit parade of course, Flanders frequently boasted, but they could write songs using popular themes from previous musicians and foreign phrases which for no obvious reason didn’t do nearly as well as those written by other artists.

The Mozart example was called “Eine Kleine Nachtmusick” and used the tune of the first movement of the famous piece of the same name. Other examples included “Jaguar” (which was about a car at the time, but became part of the Bestiary with a few alterations to the lyrics), the gloriously upbeat “Death Wish” (which apparently Tolkein rather liked) and the wonderful “Happy Song” – the third of the trio that made it into the commercial recording of At the Drop of a Hat.

One which saw little evolution was “Satellite Moon”. The only change was to the last line. The original was then potentially a little shocking; nowadays it’s too boring to be funny. And so “The girl in my arms… is a boy” became “The girl in my arms is Mabel Figworthy and if she says ‘Oh really?’ once more I’m going to break her neck!”

Between whiles they created a rather tragic song for the London Trams called “Last of the Line”, which were eliminated as part of the campaign to modernise the nation by moving to rubber tyres and diesel engines rather than rails and electricity. It finishes with the lines:

Until one day we drive you through the Milky Way,

Goodbye Old Tram

They won’t get us to drive their ruddy trolleybus!

Goodbye Old Tram…

Instead of driving the trolleybus, they wrote a song about omnibuses which was used to kick off proceedings when they eventually went solo.

Revues went out of fashion in the late 1950s; Flanders saw no obvious reason for this, but it was probably part of the general change in national humour from the world where that great radio sitcom Much Binding in the Marsh was regarded as actually being funny to the one where Tony Hancock’s trials and tribulations were the height of humour. Revues were perhaps too simple in their appearance and the insults too lightweight, even if the Lord Chamberlain did rather enjoy the satire.

At the Drop of a Hat

So Flanders and Swann cut the scenery, the costume (except what Moss Bros. very kindly leant them) and even the cast, which made things very much easier and they found also cheaper. On New Year’s Eve 1956 they performed to a full New Lindsay Theatre (there was nothing else on), which had a 150 seat auditorium and nothing to show an audience for three weeks.

Three weeks later, Flanders and Swann moved on to the Fortune Theatre and its 350 seats. There George Martin, of Parlophone and Beatles fame, arranged a mono recording of the show and released it as a Long-Playing record – much cut down and with several songs missing from the original 1957 performance. Two years later, with the pair at the height of their fame, Martin came back for the better-known 1959 stereo recording – with exactly the same songs, but quite differently presented. Flanders talks more, the Hippopotamus song has its second chorus in Russian and the interior designer can still remember why he hung a Northumbrian spoke-shaver’s coracle up on the wall. Two years of singing also seems to have done a great deal for the health of Flanders’s remaining lung; several notes (particularly the last “mud”) are held for considerably longer. The 1959 recording, being more polished and in stereo, has become the definitive version.

Apart from “Transport of Delight” (the aforementioned omnibus song), the Hippopotamus and “Design for Living”, other notable songs in this collection include the “Song of the Weather” (which Joyce Grenfell sang once she’d arranged an alternative last line), “Misalliance” (which can be read as a tragic love song until old enough to recognise that it’s clearly satire) and the notorious “Madeira M’Dear” (which is clearly entirely about cake and has the unusual accolade for a non-classical piece of having its own Wikipedia article).

As wall as the main Hat recordings, an additional string of albums all entitled something like More out of the Hat came out in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Meanwhile Flanders and Swann went from strength to strength. They went on world tours and were followed by a recording device which committed several of their foreign variations for posterity on scratchy bits of tape. The Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, is reputed to have asked Flanders how to keep the House of Commons sitting quietly for two hours (to which Flanders responded “Try singing to them”). The Royal Family came to one performance and joined in on singing about “Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud”. Though when Princess Margaret was asked about her favourite performer she responded with “Tom Lehrer”, disgracefully failing to support British talent and showing a distinct preference for much clearer and crueller satire.

Flanders and Swann did not actually sing all of their own songs – the animal ones were at the time mostly being done by Ian Wallace (“an artist we very much admire – we have several of his paintings at home”) as were a few odds and ends like “The Income Tax Collector”. However, with the success of the 1959 album, it was decided that the animal songs (minus the already well-known Gnu, Hippopotamus and Kokoraki) should be committed to disc for the Bestiary with a studio recording and this was released in 1961. A few odds and ends about armadillos, ostriches and wom-poms were also recorded in various parts of the world on an individual basis.

During the touring period the pair were commissioned (unusually) to write a song for the American Bookseller’s Association. The result is “Vendor Librorum Floreat” – a pleasing song to the tune of “Widecombe Fair”. Flanders and Swann fans who go through the compact disc collection in disc order from the EMI “Complete Flanders and Swann” and then the “Hat Trick Flanders and Swann” will encounter this song last of all; the final piece of their music released on CD.

At the Drop of Another Hat

This emerged in 1963 once Flanders and Swann had done with touring and returned to London. It opens with “The Gas Man Cometh” – a rather fun feature which feels instantly familiar, even if it isn’t. Then we proceed through songs about deserts (translated as we go along) to that king of Mozart rip-offs – “Ill Wind”.

“Ill Wind” is to the tune of the first movement of Mozart’s fourth Horn Concerto (in E flat). A squiggly bit in the middle has disappeared in translation; otherwise the adaptation is very close to the original, which adds greatly to the song’s charm. It is hard to listen to the original piece without murmurs of “started to play it/ in spite of the neighbour who begged me to stop” drifting innocently through the mind, but unlike certain adaptations of popular classical themes by unscrupulous advertising firms this doesn’t particularly jar.

Other notable songs on this album include a satire on General de Gaulle, ruler of France (“All Gall”), that entertaining song on the curious places that things get dumped out in the country (“Bedstead Men”) and a notorious feature on patriotism (“A Song of Patriotic Prejudice”). It is also this album which features “Slow Train”, following on from Flanders’s speech about flying.

It has actually been calculated that it’s safer to fly than it is to cross the road. Mind you, I gave that up years ago where I live, in Kensington, near the air terminal, they have these airline buses whizzing about, you know. I think the drivers have instructions to keep the statistics favourable.

Tom Lehrer spent this period writing and singing about the Bomb; Flanders and Swann touched on this as well. “Twenty Tons of TNT” refers to the statistic that at that time for every one of the three billion people on the planet there was a nuclear arsenal with a power equivalent to twenty tons of TNT (a similarly unpleasant high explosive used in the First World War to accidentally blow up the factories where it was being produced). It is depressing to think about whether the equivalent level per head of population (currently a little over seven billion) is now higher or lower. “Twenty Tons” was released on a separate disk with “The War of 14-18” as a B-side; nowadays the pairing, which are not exactly usual Flanders and Swann fare, can be found on the Bestiary CD in the so-called “Complete Collection”.

A trip to the USA in 1967 saw another quality recording of the pair being made – a version of both major Hat shows was preserved in colour on video tape. This was broadcast once and then allowed to slip into disgraceful obscurity, from which a few clips have been rescued for Youtube. (Unlike Tom Lehrer, Flanders and Swann’s entire output cannot be found on Youtube and readers of this article are therefore expected to buy the CD collection rather than demand that more tracks be uploaded to the Internet.)


Being part of a performing duo does not necessarily oblige a performer to only work for the other person in that duo; both Flanders and Swann left us a great deal more than just their joint stage work. Flanders was a perfectly competent actor; he was in no state to play James Bond (even allowing for the rather cruel newspaper which did a cartoon of Roger Moore in a wheelchair for his last Bond outing) but could easily do the sort of part where the character was naturally sat down anyway. This primarily meant radio, but there is the slightly odd (and all too brief) moment in Doctor in Distress where audience members are left to gaze at a character and mutter “Is that Michael Flanders?” having not seen him in colour before – complete with his familiar little grin and mannerisms. (The record cases were inclined towards monochrome and it would of course be heresy to produce a new colour one.)

Flanders also co-wrote such jolly little pieces as the cantata Captain Noah and His Floating Zoo, with its cheery notes about

It looks like rain – I should have brought my brolly.

just before almost everyone gets drowned by rising floods, explained by a previous song announcing that the Lord was going to:

make it rain and rain and rain and rain and rain.

Swann, meanwhile, wrote quite a bit of music for one Professor Tolkein – mostly settings for his poems and songs, one of which found its way into Hat shows. This isn’t that one – it is “Bilbo’s Last Song”, performed by a composer sounding rather older than his F&S appearances:

He was also an occasional jazz pianist, writer of choral and sacred music, and composer of an opera. Long before regularly writing music for Flanders songs, he wrote the music for a Sydney Carter musical play called Lucy & the Hunter way back in 1951. There seems to have been slightly less of this during the Hat years.

And Then We Wrote

After At the Drop of Another Hat was over there were apparently thoughts about a third show called “Hat Trick”. Instead the pair were not reunited until they came together with some old friends for And Then We Wrote, one of a collection of albums gathering up pieces not in the main Hat recordings. The others were Bestiary and Tried by the Centre Court; the former sticks to animal songs while the latter is a rather mixed bag of the best tape-based recordings and cutting-room-floor bits from the commercial recordings. EMI broke Tried by the Centre Court up across the three disks of the Complete Collection, but it can be reassembled with the help of some software off the Internet by anyone with bags of time who really cares about the purity of the LPs. It represents the first time that a Sydney Carter song performed by Flanders and Swann, “The Youth of the Heart”, made it to a commercial release.

And Then We Wrote, recorded for broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Christmas Eve 1974, has a faintly luvvie quality to it as the old friends get back together again, but it also shines with enjoyment and variety. We see the songs being performed as many were intended in their high-budget format; we get the chuckling female voices that Swann can beat for humour levels but not for authenticity and we get that little change from it always being Flanders and Swann doing the performing. It’s a good album and the Lord Chamberlain’s Regulations at the end have an additional richness for the additional voices in “The Public May Leave”.

Flanders died suddenly the following year in North Wales, ending the possibility of further new studio productions. Swann wrote down the music for the Hat songs and they were now published.

Later Years

Donald Swann became more of a straight classical pianist after that, with periodic new compositions. He died in London in 1994; a neat mirror, with one being born in Wales and the other in London while one died in London and the other in Wales.

Interest circulated around the pair still. EMI brought out a “Complete Collection” on CD in 1991, which apologises for the (not immediately apparent) poor technical quality of several songs. At the same time, it was obvious that there was still a great deal of their repertoire unavailable on CD or, indeed, at all – And Then We Wrote remained determinedly out of print and if there were some recordings on tape from the front row of shows for Tried by the Centre Court then there was obviously the potential for more stuff to be out there.

A search of the tapes made of the shows after Swann’s death turned up various interesting results, including some pieces from their days at Oxford; the resulting cluster of songs and sketches were released in 2007 as the “Hat Trick Flanders and Swann Collector’s Edition”. Flanders amused himself spoofing nightly news bulletins with a skit that has outlived most, if not all, of the original bulletins; Swann, meanwhile, did a straight version of his setting of “Je Suis Le Tenebreux” (which it is widely agreed is rather spoilt by translation). Also to be found in this bundle of stuff is a song about the girls of St Trinians School – of all the people to encounter in what initially seems from this distance like a high-brow form of show.  With some polishing, gathering together and arranging, these additional songs appeared around And Then We Wrote and the original release of At the Drop of a Hat. In the process we get to see how Flanders and Swann developed over the years.

The collection results in some duplication (“Pillar to Post” appears twice and “Grandma” three times in various formats – this is a Flanders Grandma, not the one that a school choir sang about in 1980) but along the way a couple of the songs only referenced in And Then We Wrote actually get to appear in full. “Survival of the Phew” was written off as “rather long and boring” but is still nice to have at length, while “Rain on the Plage” is a magnificently soft tune catching the mood of sitting in a cafe watching the rain drum down outside.

That would appear to be it for now; one song (“Motor Perputuo”) has been referenced online but no viable recording seems to have been rooted out for CD (the other three songs on that link are all on the Hat Trick collection). A Christmas album – The Christmas Story – is also still lacking from the available repertoire. And, of course, there’s the US television programme.

But there’s still enough to appreciate these two men, one piano, a few friends and hours of gentle satire, miles away from their contemporaries singing about pigeons in the park (Tom Lehrer) or laying into Harold Macmillan upon realising that Macmillan had decided to come and be satirised in person (Peter Cook).

It’s a shame in some ways that they’re often only mentioned in connection with one song, but they have to be remembered for something and “Slow Train” represents a good way of introducing people to their existence. Though there are of course three other songs through which people are likely to encounter Flanders and Swann for the first time – “Transport of Delight”, “Gas Man Cometh” and the doyenne of the animal songs…


(This author “discovered” a fellow fan through reference to “A Song of Patriotice Prejudice” and subsequently partook in an impromptu singing of “Gas Man Cometh” at a party. More recently, after too many lemonades, the aforementioned fellow fan and said author could be found singing “Satellite Moon” in a restaurant to the mild consternation of the uninitiated parts of the party…)


Albums on CD (EMI)

The Complete Collection:

Disk 1: At the Drop of a Hat (1959 stereo recording) (tracks 1-12/ 17) with 4 items from Tried by the Centre Court inserted between “Madeira” and “Hippopotamus” (tracks 13-16). Tracks are:

  1. A Transport of Delight
  2. Song of Reproduction
  3. The Gnu Song
  4. Design for Living
  5. Je Suis Les Tenebreux
  6. Songs for our time – Philological Waltz/ Satellite Moon/ Happy Song
  7. A song of the Weather
  8. The Reluctant Cannibal
  9. Greensleeves
  10. Misalliance
  11. Kokoraki
  12. Madeira, M’Dear?
  13. Too Many Cookers
  14. Vanessa
  15. Tried by the Centre Court
  16. The Youth of the Heart
  17. The Hippopotamus Song (Russian chorus)

Disk 2: At the Drop of Another Hat (1964) (tracks 1-13/ 17) with 3 items from Tried by the Centre Court inserted between “Patriotic Prejudice” and “Hippo Encore” (tracks 14-16). Tracks are:

  1. The Gas Man Cometh
  2. Sounding Brass
  3. Los Olividados
  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 Prejudice
  14. Built up area
  15. In the Bath
  16. Sea Fever
  17. Hippo Encore

Disk 3: The Bestiary of Flanders and Swann (1961) (tracks 1-15) with the remainder of Tried by the Centre Court on the end (tracks 16-23), followed by the single Twenty Tons of TNT (tracks 24-25). Tracks are:

  1. The Warthog
  2. The Sea Horse
  3. The Chameleon
  4. The Whale (Mopy Dick)
  5. The Sloth
  6. The Rhinoceros
  7. Twosome – Kang and Jag (Kangeroo Tango and Jaguar) (animal jaguar)
  8. Dead Ducks
  9. The Elephant
  10. The Armadillo
  11. The Spider
  12. Threesome – The Duck-Billed Platypus/ The Humming Bird/ The Portuguese Man-O’-War
  13. The Wild Boar
  14. The Ostrich
  15. The Wompom
  16. Twice Shy
  17. Commonwealth Fair
  18. P** p* B**** B** D******
  19. Paris
  20. Eine Kleine Nachtmusik Cha Cha Cha
  21. The Hundred Song
  22. Food for Thought
  23. Bed
  24. Twenty Tons of TNT
  25. The War of 14-18

Hat Trick:

Disk 1: At the Drop of a Hat (1957 mono recording) (tracks 1-15) with items from various More out of the Hat albums appended on the end (16-22). Tracks are:

  1. Introduction
  2. A Transport of Delight
  3. Song of Reproduction
  4. A Gnu
  5. Design for Living
  6. Je Suis le Tenebreux
  7. Songs for our time – Philological Waltz/ Satellite Moon/ Happy Song
  8. A Song of the Weather
  9. The Reluctant Cannibal
  10. Greensleeves
  11. Misalliance
  12. Kokorari
  13. Madeira, M’Dear
  14. Hippopotamus
  15. The Public May Leave
  16. In the Bath
  17. Wom Pom
  18. Vanessa
  19. The Youth of the Heart
  20. Tried by the Centre Court
  21. Too Many Cookers
  22. Grandma

Disk 2: “Hats around the world” – a collection of songs recorded abroad with a mix of alternative versions of old favourites and unfamiliar songs. Tracks are:

  1. Play-in
  2. The Warthog
  3. Topical Song (Harold Macmillan)
  4. The Whale
  5. The Elephant
  6. Hippopotamus (French chorus)
  7. Grandma
  8. Miranda
  9. Kokoraki
  10. Madeira M’Dear
  11. Down Below
  12. The 100 Song
  13. The Great New Gardiner Expressway
  14. Good Literature
  15. A Gnu
  16. Say Who You Are
  17. A Transport of Delight
  18. Sing a Song of Fivepence
  19. Russia is Red, Dilly Dilly
  20. The Great New Sydney Opera House
  21. Commonwealth Fair
  22. Happy Song
  23. The Lord Chamberlain’s Regulations – Smoking is Permitted/ The Safety Curtain/ The Public May Leave (& Play-out) (Flanders & Swann only)
  24. Hippo Encore

Disk 3: And Then We Wrote (1973) (tracks 1-13) plus additional tracks appended on the end (tracks 14-21). Tracks are:

  1. In the D’Oyly Cart
  2. Prehistoric Complaint
  3. The Album
  4. There’s a Hole in my Budget
  5. The Seven Ages of Woman (including “Grandma” in context)
  6. Fragments – It’s a Dog’s Life/ Survival of the Phew (excerpt)/ Beau Brummell
  7. Pillar to Post
  8. Guide to Britten
  9. Excelsior
  10. Rain on the Plage (excerpt)
  11. Last of the Line
  12. Rockall
  13. The Lord Chamberlain’s Regulations – Smoking is Permitted/ The Safety Curtain/ The Public May Leave (full cast version)
  14. Play-in
  15. Haymarket Introduction
  16. The Sloth
  17. Take Me Back to Byker
  18. Nursery Rhymes – Nicky & Neddy/ Currency Reform/ Pop Goes the Weasel
  19. The Ostrich
  20. Bring Back the Birch
  21. The Armadillo

Disk 4: “Hats Off” – largely fuzzy but still intelligible (and intelligent) recordings from the dim and distant past. Tracks are:

  1. For the Forces (news bulletin)
  2. Je Suis le Tenebreux
  3. Prehistoric Complaint
  4. Surly Girls
  5. Strike
  6. Private View
  7. The Valley
  8. Survival of the Phew (full)
  9. Pillar to Post
  10. I Couldn’t Care Less
  11. Trunk Call
  12. A Word on My Ear
  13. Ballad For the Rich
  14. Airs on a Shoestring
  15. Guide to Britten (full cast)
  16. Brave New Worldling
  17. The Man From Aix-Les-Bains
  18. Overture: More Strings to Our Bow
  19. Miss Fraser’s Dresses
  20. Bi-Party Line
  21. Rain on the Plage (full)
  22. Interim Report
  23. Capital Charge
  24. You (Satellite Moon) (original)
  25. Anyone Will Do
  26. Death Wish
  27. Jaguar (car)
  28. The 100 Song
  29. Vendor Librorum Floreat


Original Tried By Centre Court track listing:

  1. Twice Shy
  2. Commonwealth Fair
  3. P** p* B**** B** D******
  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


Post mildly tweaked in February 2017, with removal of a dead link and addition of track listing.

Updated more heavily in December 2019, to correct “Sydney Cartwright” and include the summaries of other stuff that they did.

10 thoughts on “Flanders and Swann

  1. Robert Samuels June 3, 2019 / 16:25

    Many thanks! Especially for the track listings. Took me ages to work out that “the song about trams” was called “Last of the Line”.

  2. Robert Lockridge October 3, 2019 / 17:58

    Donald Swann clearly says “Sydney CARTER” not Cartwright. Aside from that, I love the history presented here I had not seen before. A friend of mine knew of Swann as a jazz pianist and not part of F&S. I never knew he was a jazz pianist!

    • Leon Berger October 12, 2019 / 23:21

      Swann was well-versed in many musical styles. In the late ’80s he teemed up with Jazz trumpeter for a series of jazz concerts – largely his own musical output re-arranged in a jazz style. One of these concerts was recorded live (topped up with a few studio tracks) and released on CD as SWANN IN JAZZ – [Spirit of Jazz label SOJ-CD020695]. Now out of print, but copies still pop up on eBay. More details on: http://www.donaldswann.co.uk/DS-CDs.html

      • Leon Berger October 13, 2019 / 00:40

        I omitted to say that the jazz trumpeter was Digby Fairweather

      • thegawain December 12, 2019 / 19:03

        Thanks for the comments.

        Have found a moment to add an extra little block – “Elsewhere”, having fallen over some more of their independent work and wanted to reference it – and have corrected Carter’s name at the same time.

  3. Leon Berger October 8, 2019 / 15:12

    When selecting the tracks for the HAT-TRICK box set, i originally had enough material for 7 discs but, of course, had to whittle it down. The loss I mourn most is a demo of 4 songs from the film Dr Dolittle (that F&S had been commissioned to write) with Donald on the piano, Rex Harrison singing and Michael doing animal impressions. However the Harrison Estate wanted to charge too much to make it viable. The idea was to release all the extant footage of F&S at the same time – an hour of AT THE DROP OF A HAT and a complete 2-hours of AT THE DROP OF ANOTHER HAT plus approx 12 minutes from the 1963 Royal Variety Performance. However trying to ascertain the copyright of this Anglo-American material was again proving too expensive and EMI wouldn’t stump up. ‘Motor Perpetuo’ is included in that footage!

    Leon Berger
    Archivist & Administrator: The Flanders & Swann Estates

    • thegawain March 10, 2020 / 17:12

      Not that I condone uploading copyrighted material (though it would be nice to buy it legit again) but this is an interesting reminder that we miss some of the performance when hearing them on vinyl/ cassette/ CD/ MP3 download – Flanders flicking through the diet book, or Swann’s expressions of concentration or at Flanders’s insults, or the little hints of acting here and there as a reminder that they were once revue artists. It’s a stage show which happened to get recorded for LP, not a radio programme which was done on stage with a studio audience. Nowadays they’d be uploading promotional clips to Youtube.
      The Tolkein song is an unexpected feature, plus another version of Hole in My Budget with Flanders doing Wilson pipe impressions…
      (Apologies for tantalising readers who find this link after the video has, quite legitimately, been suppressed.)

  4. Luke March 12, 2020 / 23:16

    Videos like this, are a double edged sword; on the one hand, they’re pretty blatant copyright violations (note that the uploader didn’t even remove the copyright message at the beginning of the video), but on the other hand if it wasn’t for uploading videos like this then things like this performance would be completely lost to future generations if whoever held the original copyright didn’t re-release it in a DVD or digital format. As it is, all material that only exists on VHS is on borrowed time, since it’s been 4 years since the last VHS player has been built; who knows how long those players will last, or the tapes themselves?

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