Michael Flanders

Michael Flanders
Born 1 March 1922(1922-03-01)
London, England
Died 14 April 1975(1975-04-14) (aged 53)
Betws-y-Coed, Wales
Cause of death Intracranial berry aneurysm
Occupation Actor, broadcaster, writer and performer
Known for Flanders and Swann
Spouse Claudia Cockburn
Children Stephanie Flanders
Laura Flanders

Michael Henry Flanders OBE, (1 March 1922 – 14 April 1975) was an English actor, broadcaster, and writer and performer of comic songs. He is best known to the general public for his partnership with Donald Swann performing as the duo Flanders and Swann.


Life and career

Michael Flanders was born in London on 1 March 1922. The son of an actor and a professional violinist, Flanders' ambition from an early age was to work in the theatre. He attended Westminster School (where he first met Donald Swann) and read History at Christ Church, Oxford from 1940.

While at Oxford, Flanders started work as a professional actor, but then left Oxford to join the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve. The ship on which he was serving, HMS Marne, was torpedoed off the coast of Africa, west of Gibraltar, in November 1942. Flanders survived the attack. Later he was promoted to sub-lieutenant but contracted poliomyelitis at sea, and spent the rest of his life from 1943 onwards in a wheelchair.

Unable to return to Christ Church to continue his studies, he found work as a radio broadcaster. A chance meeting with Swann in 1948 led to the start of their professional partnership. They began writing songs for West-End producer Laurier Lister, Swann writing the music and Flanders writing the words. Their songs were performed by artists such as Ian Wallace and Joyce Grenfell. They subsequently wrote two two-man revues, At The Drop Of A Hat and At The Drop of Another Hat, which they performed all over the world until their partnership ended in 1967.

Their more famous songs included "The Hippopotamus" ("Mud, mud, glorious mud") and "First and Second Law", in which they put to music the laws of thermodynamics. One of their most enduring numbers is the ever-so-mildly risqué "Have Some Madeira, M'Dear". Their songs celebrated transportation ("Slow Train", "The Last Tram", "A Transport of Delight," the last-named a tribute to the London double-decker omnibus), animal life ("The Wart-Hog", "The Gnu", "The Elephant", and many others), common inconveniences in "The Gas-Man Cometh", "Motor Perpetuo" (about parking a car), "Song of Reproduction" (about hi-fidelity phonographs), and even classical music, with an irreverent "Guide to Britten" and a setting of lyrics by Flanders to the finale of Mozart's Horn Concerto No. 4 ("Ill Wind"). Some of his songs were also political commentary, such as "20 Tons Of TNT" and "The War Of 14-18" (a translation of Georges Brassens' "La guerre").

Outside his partnership with Swann, Flanders was a versatile librettist, actor and broadcaster. He wrote the words for comic operas such as Three's Company and Christmas Story, and a children's cantata Captain Noah and his Floating Zoo. He appeared on stage in The Soldier's Tale and Ten Years Hard, and in two films, Doctor in Distress (1963) and The Raging Moon (1971). He also made many appearances on radio and television, and received an OBE in 1964.

His narration for Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf remained a staple of EMI's classical output for many years. Within the last few months of his life he also provided English-language narration and voicework for the French export children's animation Barbapapa.

Flanders died suddenly of a ruptured intracranial berry aneurysm on 14 April 1975 while on holiday at Betws-y-Coed, Wales. He was survived by his wife Claudia Cockburn (daughter of journalist Claud Cockburn and Hope Hale Davis), whom he had married in 1959, and their daughters Laura and Stephanie.

Flanders' ashes were scattered in the grounds of Chiswick House in west-central London, a place where he very often liked to sit in the afternoon during the final years of his life.

On 30 June 2007, a documentary about Flanders and his work, presented by his daughter Stephanie Flanders, aired on BBC Radio 4's The Archive Hour, called Flanders on Flanders.[1]


Flanders & Swann

  • 1957 - Excerpts from At The Drop of a Hat (EP)
  • 1957 - More Excerpts from At The Drop of a Hat (EP)
  • 1957 - More out of the Hat! (EP)
  • 1959 - Little Drummer Boy/The Storke Carol (EP)
  • 1960 - At The Drop of a Hat (produced by George Martin)
  • 1961 - The Bestiary of Flanders & Swann (EP)
  • 1964 - At The Drop of Another Hat (produced by George Martin)
  • 1964 - Favourites from At The Drop of Another Hat (EP)
  • 1964 - More out of the New Hat (EP)
  • 1966 - EMI Comedy Classics (Hat and Another Hat on two cassettes)
  • 1967 - The Bestiary of Flanders & Swann (produced by George Martin)
  • 1975 - And Then We Wrote...
  • 1977 - Tried by the Centre Court
  • 1994 - The Complete Flanders & Swann (first three albums in a boxed set)
  • 1994 - A Transport of Delight: The Best of Flanders & Swann
  • 1997 - More out of the Drop of a Hat - Again! (double cassette)
  • 1999 - The Flanders and Swann Collection
  • 2000 - A Drop of Hilarity from Flanders & Swann
  • 2007 - Hat Trick: Flanders & Swann Collector's Edition

Other works

  • 1953 - Three's Company (Michael Flanders & Anthony Hopkins)
  • 1954 - The Soldier's Tale (Michael Flanders & Sergei Prokofiev)
  • 1959 - The Christmas Story (Michael Flanders & the Mike Sammes Singers)
  • 1960 - Peter and the Wolf (Prokofiev, Michael Flanders narrator)
  • 1962 - Touches of Sweet Harmony (Michael Flanders, reader)
  • 1962 - Mark's Gospel (Michael Flanders, reader)
  • 1963 - The Comedy of Errors (Michael Flanders, actor)
  • 1963 - Elizabeth the Great (Michael Flanders, actor)
  • 1972 - Captain Noah & His Floating Zoo (Michael Flanders & Joseph Horovitz)


  1. ^ Flanders, Stephanie (2007-06-29). "Re-discovering my father". BBC. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/6253824.stm. Retrieved 26 November 2007. 


External links

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