I'm a fan of Flanders and Swann. Most people never heard of them-- I know from the reaction when I mention them. They were a music hall duo, somewhat out of time-- their career overlapped with that of the Beatles, indeed they shared a producer!
I first became aware of them when I heard "The Gnu Song" on radio. This is an absurd comic ditty which contains perhaps the most deliciously English couplet ever:
I had taken furnished lodgings down at Rustington-on-Sea
Whence I travelled on to Ashton-under-Lyne...
Actually, I tell a lie. I had encountered one of the lyrics before this, in an anthology of comic verse. "Have Some Madeira, M'Dear?" is the story of an old roué trying to seduce an innocent girl, and it's a masterpiece of intricate wordplay, perhaps one of the most ingeniously crafted lyrics ever. Indeed, it's one for the textbooks, since it is one of the most famous usages of a particular rhetorical device (which it uses not only once but several times).
One of their few serious songs, "Slow Train", is almost unbearably melancholy. (I don't provide links as my connection is sluggish right now and it would be more trouble than it's worth.)
Well, the modern-day British comedy duo Armstrong and Miller have a pair of characters based on Flanders and Swann, named Brabbins and Fyffe. The skit is astonishingly well-observed and it leaves me wondering how many people watching actually get the joke.
I feel rather bashful blogging about this, because most of the humour in Brabbins and Fyffe is filthy. Not usually my thing, and it's rather a shame for the innocence of Flanders and Swann to be lampooned in such a way. (Then again, Flanders and Swann could sometimes be naughty themselves, as with "Have Some Madeira, M'Dear"). And yet...it does make me laugh. A lot.
The least filthy Brabbins and Fyffe song is also their best-- "When You're Gay". I almost know the lyrics to this off by heart by now, it's so well-written and well-observed. Everything about it is perfect, from the leisurely delivery of the first words to the way the singer leans forward in his wheelchair when delivering a particularly arch line. "You can drench yourself in sequins and party till it hurts", indeed.