I promised whatho and my Mum that I would write up my evening of Flanders & Swann footage at the BFI Southbank last Tuesday, so here it belatedly is.
Flanders (with the beard and the wheelchair) and Swann (with the specs and the piano) performed their songs on stage in the 1950s and 1960s, covering topics as diverse as the first and second laws of thermodynamics, the habits of climbing plants and the life of Charles de Gaulle. Their biggest hit was probably 'The Hippopotamus Song', and yes, you do know it: 'Mud, mud, glorious mud'?
The duo has such a cult following among people of my age and younger - see Armstrong & Miller's riotously offensive pastiche - that I was surprised by how elderly most of the audience was - so old, in some cases, that they had trouble working out where their seats were. But we were all sitting comfortably for the introduction by Donald Swann's daughter and the keeper of the Flanders & Swann Archive.
The programme consisted of recently-discovered footage from a 1967 performance on Broadway and a film shot for American television prior to their first US tour. It was originally shown before Christmas, but was so popular that it sold out and many punters, including this one, were turned away. The repeat showing packed out the largest of the three cinemas.
I knew all the songs off by heart, but it was wonderful to see them being performed instead of just hearing them. Michael smirks and whizzes about in his chair, Donald grins and gurns and assaults the piano, and they bounce off each other with palpable chemistry. Flanders's expression during 'P** P* B*lly B*m Dr*wers' was particularly delightful.
We lapped it up. The whole audience was in stitches throughout, singing along and applauding, all but rolling in the aisles.
What is it that makes these two and their gently satirical songs so timelessly appealing? Nostalgia for a bygone age? The continuing relevance, conversely, of jokes about the price of bus tickets and blokes who come to fix your house?
A Song of Patriotic Prejudice:
Foreigners - Armstrong & Miller:
Finally, because it's lovely, The Gasman Cometh performed in Lego: