The Original Flanders and Swann
Flanders and Swann were a British comedy duo. Actor and singer Michael Flanders OBE (1922–1975) and composer, pianist and lyricist Donald Swann (1923–1994) collaborated in writing and performing comic songs.
They first worked together at a school revue in 1939 and wrote more than a hundred comic songs together.
Meeting up to write comic songs following the war, their most successful hit, The Hippopotamus was written the first afternoon they reconvened.
Initially writing songs for other people (e.g., Joyce Grenfell and Ian Wallace), they began to perform them at Dartington, and in 1956 at the New Lindsey Theatre Notting Hill (now a car park) they opened At the Drop of A Hat. Within four weeks it transferred to the Fortune Theatre in the West End, and ran for two years before they toured the world.
This included a run at the Edinburgh Festival (At the Drop of a Kilt) and at the Booth Theatre on Broadway. At the Drop of Another Hat followed initially at the Haymarket Theatre, with live recordings of both shows released both produced by Sir George Martin.
With over 2000 live performances and the most successful musical comedy songs of a generation Flanders and Swann occupy a very special place.
Little known facts about Flanders an Swann
- Michael was the first wheelchair user to perform with the Royal Shakespeare Company.
- Donald was the most prolific arranger of music in the 21st Century including setting all the poetry of JRR Tolkein to music.
- Michael married Claudia Cockburn who was also awarded and OBE for disability activism; she was the daughter of journalist Claud Cockburn who wrote 'believe nothing until it is officially denied'. Claud was a cousin of Evelyn Waugh.
- Donald was the only Welsh Cossack Michael had ever met: Donald could speak multiple languages including Greek, Russian, Welsh and Latin.
- Flanders and Swann were at school with Sir Peter Ustinov and politician Tony Benn.
Michael Flanders always said their songs were not performed enough
In 2001 Tim FitzHigham and Duncan Walsh Atkins took to the stage in Sussex to raise money for a small cottage hospital. The evening was extraordinary: Flanders and Swann - At the Drop of a Hippopotamus was born and the hospital brought a new plaster cutter.
Massive UK tours, music festivals, performances for Royalty, Charities, Corporate organisations and an album of their live show all followed and sold out.
People had missed seeing the work of Flanders and Swann live. Michael, Donald and the hippo were still much loved and Tim and Duncan played to the largest Flanders and Swann audiences since Flanders and Swann to celebrate.
Following this, the lifelong fans of Flanders and Swann (the Gnu Song is the first thing Tim can remember apart from swallowing paint) Tim and Duncan were honoured to be asked to play an intimate show in Donald Swann's House (in Battersea, naturally), where Duncan played the songs on Swann's piano and Tim drank madeira from Micheal's famous decanter.
2006 saw the launch of Tim, Duncan and the hippo at the Edinburgh festival where it's been a firm fixture ever since. 2008 saw the show tour Europe to sell out audiences and following this a bespoke corporate version of the show was created.
Multi-national companies, High Sheriffs, and Peers of the Realm followed, and a night at the Royal Albert Hall. Tim and Duncan appeared several times on radio including more than one on BBC Radio 2's Friday Night is Music Night, and tens of thousands of hits on YouTube.
90th Anniversary shows to celebrate the births of both Flanders and Swann, rarities from the archives and a very special 50th Anniversary tour of South Australia proved Flanders and Swann were still much loved down under when the show won awards there too.
With generous support from the estates of Michael Flanders and Donald Swann, At the Drop of a Hippopotamus continues to go from strength to strength. As Michael was the first to suggest, their songs were - and are - not sung nearly enough. At the Drop of a Hippopotamus is an attempt to redress this, and an attempt by Duncan's wife to re-dress him, in a smart suit.
With 16 live UK tours, seasons of the show all over the world, 11 seasons at the Edinburgh Festival and the largest selling Flanders and Swann album (other than the originals...naturally) what started as the boys' attempt to keep the Hippopotamus wallowing and buy a plaster cutter in Sussex has become a global phenomenon.
Tim and Duncan love doing Flanders and Swann, and if you'd like the show to come to you, or have an event you'd like us to perform at, please do get in touch, we'd love to hear from you.
The show is produced by Infinite Number of Monkeys and acclaimed West End production house SFTW, by arrangement with the estates of Flanders and Swann, and in association with PBJ Management.
*On the few occasions Duncan can't find his suit, Tim has been joined by Jordan Clarke, Simon Townley and Alex Silverman.