I spent yesterday evening at the BFI (or National Film Theatre as the sign
outside still says – very confusing!) watching some very rare and only
recently discovered film footage of two of my musical heroes Flanders &
When you consider the last of their two man shows happened when I was only
5 it is a tribute to the material that they wrote together than it has stood
the test of time and still captivates people to this day. It is also
interesting to note that although the show was a revue staged in front of a
live audience and therefore had a visual element to it, very little footage of
the shows actually exists and therefore people have come to know Flanders
& Swann as an audio only experience. So it was nice to have the pictures
put back again!
The two films that were shown were both made for the American market. One
was shot on Broadway in 1967 – ten days after the final theatre performance.
It is the second part of this which has been seen over the years and has been
released as a VHS called “The only Flanders and Swann video”. It was broadcast
on TV in the UK a few years ago and to my surprise at the time was in colour.
A short snippet was shown yesterday to put the film we did see into context
but if you want to see some clips from the second half then they are here. The first half of the
show was in black and white. Leon Berger, Flanders & Swann archivist who
introduced the films, explained that for years they had searched in America
only to eventually find the film in the UK where it had been broadcast. I
think they are still hopeful that a colour copy will surface someday.
The other movie was recorded in the UK but they were pretending that it was
recorded in America. Flanders and Swann were quite reticent about allowing the
show to be recorded as they thought it would prevent people from coming to the
theatre. However they were convinced in 1962 to allow a recording to be made
as a promo for a trip to America. This was the second movie that was shown
last night. Apparently they were eventually “shafted” by their agent and the
film was broadcast on TV in the UK as part of a series called the “Festival of
the Performing Arts”.
Seeing them life size on the big screen was an eye opening experience.
There were so many things that surprised me. Donald was a lot more animated
than you would have expected from having listened to the audio recordings – at
one point he was standing on his piano stool whilst singing! Also Michael’s
facial expressions and body language was a treat especially during Donald’s
Greek song Kokoraki. My favourite bit of the whole evening was when Michael
leaned over and twisted the knob on Donald’s piano stool pretending to turn
down the volume.
There were many songs that were performed across both films (The Ostrich
being the only song I remember repeating and even then there were differences
in the performances 6 years apart!). Highlights were a mournful Slow Train,
the wonderful Sea Fever (a song I heard for the first time in Donald Swann’s
music room in Battersea performed by the equally wonderful Stefan Bednarczyk)
and the obligatory sing along of the Hippopotamus! I was amazed that there
were outbreaks of spontaneous applause at the end of some of the songs – odd
considering we were watching a film (and maybe a tribute to the continuing
power of these songs!)
I found myself laughing at things I had heard dozens of times, it was good
to see Michael doing some of his monologues – By Air, Los Olivados and Tried
by the Centre Court and how he moved around the stage despite the confines of
The films were first screened back in December and the tickets sold out to
BFI members only so realising they had under-estimated the continuing appeal
of Flanders and Swann they arranged another screening in a larger theatre.
Once again the event was very popular and judging by the age range of the
audience I would say that their popularity will continue onto future
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