Donald Swann

Biography

Born: 1923   Died: 1994   Country: England  
A musical comedy duo most active in Britain during the 1950s and 60s, Michael Flanders (b. 1922) and Donald Swann (b. 1923) first met each other as schoolboys at Westminster in 1936. In 1939 the two collaborated on part of a musical revue titled "Go For It," with Swann contributing piano and Flanders, an aspiring actor, appearing onstage. They then served in the war -- Flanders in the Navy, and Swann as an ambulance driver-during which Flanders Read more contracted polio. It was to deprive him of a lung and leave him confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. They reconvened after the war, contributing to a successful Gilbert and Sullivan parody, "Oranges and Lemons." A string of similar revues followed, and by 1956 they were being asked to appear solo and lecture upon the craft of songwriting. The combination of these tasks led to the two developing their signature style-a long, droll narration by Flanders which would lead to the performance of a song by the pair. By 1959 the two had started their own performances in London's West End, titled "At the Drop of the Hat." Running the gamut from drily delivered advice on interior decoration to playful songs about the animal kingdom, the show was an immediate hit. Shows were sold out for the next two years, and after over 700 performances they were recorded live by George Martin. The resulting album, also titled "At the Drop of a Hat," more broadly established their reputation. Capitalizing on this, the duo toured the world over the next several years. More albums, including "At the Drop of Another Hat" and "The Bestiary of Flanders and Swann" followed. The two affected wry indifference to their fame, with Flanders commenting: "That two grown men can make a modest living by such means you may feel is an apt reflection on the decadence of the times in which we live." Eventually Flanders went on to appear as voice talent for the BBC in a number of documentaries and quiz shows, while Swann worked actively as a composer. They reunited for a final tour and a TV special in 1967, at which point they amicably decided to quit while they were ahead. Flanders died in 1975, and Swann in 1994. Posthumous releases in 1990s of their entire body of work, a documentary featured on PBS, and covers of their songs by John Lithgow on his album "Singing in the Bathtub" have all contributed to a continuing interest in the duo. Read less