Family and friends as well as fans of the legendary entertainer and disability campaigner Michael Flanders who died in 1975 have celebrated his life and legacy in Ealing, Acton and Chiswick during the recent Chiswick Book Festival.
As part of a duo with Donald Swann, Flanders is known for comic songs he wrote and performed with in shows such as At The Drop of A Hat. He was one of the few performers to be seen on stage in a wheelchair.
Ealing Civic Society celebrated Flanders with one of its green plaques at his former home at 63 Esmond Road in Bedford Park. Flander’s daughters, the journalists Laura and Stephanie Flanders, unveiled the plaque where he lived from 1971-75. They and their mother Claudia lived in the family home for several years afterwards, and the girls attended nearby Southfield Primary School.
A special afternoon tea was served in the garden by the current owners, Caroline and Richard Williams and their daughter Amelia. Guests included the family; Ealing Civic Society committee members; neighbours who knew Michael and Claudia; Michael’s biographer and archivist Leon Berger; and Peter Sergeant, of the Flanders & Swann tribute act, Smith & Sergeant.
The unveiling was introduced by the Society’s chair Ann Chapman, who said this was the Society’s 16th plaque.
The first, a bronze pavement plaque, was unveiled in February 2005 to commemorate the first branch of Waitrose, which opened in 1904 at 263 High Street Acton W3.
Ms Chapman said: “The Society’s original plan was to install a green ceramic plaque with white lettering on the façade of the premises, but following difficulties in contacting the building’s owners to obtain consent, the Council’s Conservation Officer suggested the installation of a brass pavement plaque and the Council’s consent was sought and given. From this developed the Society’s idea to initiate their own “Green Plaque” scheme to celebrate notable residents of the Borough and the properties related to them.
“They decided that the plaques would be the same size and shape as the English Heritage Blue Plaques but green in colour with white lettering and a white circle at the outer edge. The Flanders plaque is their 16th and they have commemorated a wide variety of people including Ealing’s architect and Borough Engineer Charles Jones, artists, musicians and even Winnie the Pooh, a Farnell Bear from their factory in Acton.”
Later in the evening following the unveiling, the Chiswick Book Festival hosted an event, Celebrating Michael Flanders (& Swann), chaired by Festival director Torin Douglas and attended by Donald Swann’s widow Alison Smith.
The event took place at the ActOne Cinema in Acton High Street, not far from the Michael Flanders Centre for day care in Acton which was opened by his wife Claudia in his memory.
Laura and Stephanie Flanders discussed their life with their father and his impact on comedy and the world of disability. Cambridge historian and Comedy Chronicles writer Graham McCann talked about their career and showed clips of some of their best-known songs, including Patriotic Prejudice, There’s a hole in my budget and the Hippopotamus Song.
Mr McCann told the packed audience: “Michael Flanders and Donald Swann have had a lasting impact not just on British comedy and music, but on just about every other major point in British entertainment over the last sixty years.”
Flanders wife Claudia also founded the charity Tripscope to champion better transport and access for the disabled and Laura Flanders – who travelled with her parents around the world when her father was performing – said her mother should also be remembered with an Ealing Civic Society plaque.