“The purpose of satire, it has been rightly said, is to strip off the veneer of comforting illusion and cosy half-truth. And our job, as I see it, is to put it back again” Michael Flanders, 1958
Michael Flanders and Donald Swann appeared to belong to an earlier age. In 1963, at the height of their success, the duo seemed Edwardian, an anachronism, a throwback to long dead music hall
Unless one counts their American contemporary Tom Lehrer (see posts passim) they were literally peerless. Fantastically erudite, popular and strange, the duo have been endlessly copied (most recently by Armstrong and Miller on their current BBC show) and hugely loved ever since their first revue, At The Drop Of A Hat, appeared in 1956

This song, Madeira M’Dear, is itself a parody of the Edwardian music hall style, inspired in legend by Flander’s small Edwardian hat which he’d been given for Christmas, and Swann’s musical decanter – which he’d been given the Christmas before

Madeira M’Dear features the most famous use of the grammatical form syllepsis (or semantic zeugma) in the canon

She was young! She was pure! She was new! She was nice!
She was fair! She was sweet seventeen!
He was old! He was vile and no stranger to vice!
He was base! He was bad! He was mean!
He had slyly inveigled her up to his flat
To view his collection of stamps,
And he said as he hastened to put out the cat,
The wine, his cigar and the lamps:

'Have some Madeira, m'dear!
You really have nothing to fear;
I'm not trying to tempt you-that wouldn't be right.
You shouldn't drink spirits at this time of night;
Have some Madeira, m'dear!
It's very much nicer than Beer;
I don't care for Sherry, one cannot drink Stout,
And Port is a wine I can well do without;
It's simply a case of Chacun a son GOUT!
Have some Madeira, m'dear!'

Unaware of the wiles of the snake in the grass,
Of the fate of the maiden who topes,
She lowered her standards by raising her glass,
Her courage, her eyes-and his hopes.
She sipped it, she drank it, she drained it, she did;
He quietly refilled it again
And he said as he secretly carved one more notch
On the butt of his gold-handled cane:

'Have some Madeira, m'dear!
I've got a small cask of it here,
And once it's been opened you know it won't keep.
Do finish it up-it will help you to sleep;
Have some Madeira, m'dear!
It's really an excellent year;
Now if it were Gin, you'd be wrong to say yes,
The evil Gin does would be hard to assess
(Besides, it's inclined to affect m' prowess!)
Have some Madeira, m'dear!'

Then there flashed through her mind what her mother had said
With her antepenultimate breath:
'Oh, my child, should you look on the wine when 'tis red
Be prepared for a fate worse than death!'
She let go her glass with a shrill little cry.
Crash, tinkle! it fell to the floor.
When he asked: 'What in heaven ... ?' she made no reply,
Up her mind and a dash for the door.

'Have some Madeira, m'dear!'
Rang out down the hall loud and clear.
A tremulous cry that was filled with despair,
As she paused to take breath in the cool midnight air;
'Have some Madeira, m'dear!'
The words seemed to ring in her ear
Until the next morning she woke up in bed,
With a smile on her lips and an ache in her head-
And a beard in her earhole that tickled and said:
'Have some Madeira, m'dear!


Philippa said...

I know every Flanders and Swann song by heart, I think. My parents were fans, and I grew up in a household of fluent F&S speak (example: "laying down the law about the habits of baboons" as family code for know-it-alls, from the song, "The Gnu"). I can't tell you how much I enjoyed seeing the photograph and reading about them again. Keep up the, um, unusual work you do. Whoever you are. Whatever you do.