Monday, June 12, 2017

I Can't Help It. This is Funny.

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 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.


  1. Somehow I'm not too keen to try watching it.
    A Dublin-born businessman received an OA (Australian equivalent to knighthood) this week apparently for "entrepreneurial skills and promoting marriage equality"-quite bizarre, considering that there's been no constitutional decision about this here.
    But, speaking of Irish Australians,I was curious to knew a bit about Eileen Joyce, having seen the room she endowed the university here with and seen some of her rare harpsichords etc
    She was ENORMOUSLY successful in her day! mostly living in England-as popularity goes she'd have been the Newton-John or Minogue of the WWII to 50s era- mostly classical though.
    How far back the 'Irish' was I couldn't make out(one reference said her mother was born on Ireland, another said Melbourne), but there's little doubt about the Church's role in her early education:a Josephite Sister in her primary days and a Loreto in her secondary days-sponsored by the archbishop-were her early influences. As she was buried in an Anglican Church in Britain, it's hard to tell how the relationship with the catholic church panned out. The first marriage didn't last; he died in the war AFTER a divorce-rare for Catholics in those days-and she seems to have lived with her second partner for many years before marrying him-she always claimed they were married, buy that the records were destroyed during the war.
    Definitely a Marriage Tribunal's nightmare

    1. I had never even heard of Eileen Joyce. She certainly has an extensive Wikipedia record!