Flanders & Swann's "In the D'Oyly Cart" (1974)

Michael Flanders and Donald Swann were British songwriters and performers from the 1950s and '60s. Many have likened their rapier parodies, clever lyrics and instantly-memorable tunes to Gilbert and Sullivan. However, unlike the immortal pair, they wrote no operas, just detached songs. Flanders and Swann had their own stage show for many years, which was immensely popular.

Their one obvious G&S parody, "In the D'Oyly Cart"—it was misspelled "D'Oyley" on the album cover, although "Cart" was deliberate—was first performed in the revue Oranges and Lemons (1948-49) with Max Adrian as Jack Point, Rose Hill as Yum-Yum and Diana Churchill as Patience. It was their first joint song. It was revived in Penny Plain (1951-52) with Moyra Fraser replacing Diana Churchill as Patience. (Thanks to Leon Berger, administrator of the Flanders and Swann estates, for this information.)

Chris Webster took up the recording history:

Flanders and Swann, before becoming performers themselves, wrote songs for revue shows, and occasionally for specific singers (e.g., Ian Wallace, for whom they wrote perhaps their most famous song, "The Hippopotamus"). After they split up (mainly because Swann wanted to pursue other musical interests), they were still on friendly terms, and after having made two live albums (At the Drop of A Hat and At the Drop of Another Hat) and one studio album (The Bestiary of Flanders & Swann) — all for EMI — a fourth album was compiled using private recordings from their shows that did not appear on the original two albums.

This was then followed by And Then We Wrote, which was basically a BBC Radio 4 programme (broadcast 24 December 1974) in which Michael and Donald told a musical history of themselves, singing a number of their own songs, and with the aid of other singers to re-enact the songs that were written for the early revue shows before they started to perform their own songs. 'In the D'Oyley Cart' is the first track on the album and is introduced by the two chaps with much the same detail as I have included here. I think I am right in remembering that when Swann introduces this, he adds "Cart spelt without the 'e'', but does not comment on the inclusion of the 'e' in 'D'Oyley', so this may be a spelling mistake on the album sleeve. [It is; see above. —ed.]

The album is called And Then We Wrote… : A Review of Revues by Michael Flanders and Donald Swann. It was released in 1975 in mono only, on EMI catalogue number EMCM 3088, and was released by arrangement with BBC Records. [It is, unfortunately, an extremely rare recording today, but as of 2007 is available on CD. —ed.]

The song itself is a parody of former D'Oyly Carte artists, who long for emancipation from the rote business and gestures so long associated with the Company. It is very funny, but unfortunately, the cleverness of it does not fully come across except when heard with the music. Here, at any rate, are the lyrics. It was sung by a trio made up as Yum-Yum, Jack Point, and Patience, which you have to know to follow some of the allusions.

"I've been a little maid from school
     Since I was just a tiny tot."
"With Jack Point's gags I've played the fool
     Till I'm the only point they've got."
"I've toured through all the English-speaking nations
     And can no longer play my part in Patience."

For one man in his time
     Plays the same old part…
Can you wonder then that I'm
     A little tired of D'Oyly Carte?

Three little Savoyards are we, tra-la-la-la, tra-la-la-la,
Started in 1893, tra-la-la-la-la-la.
With Gilbert and Sullivan we've toured from dump to dump, tra-la-la-la
And Sullivan and Gilbert can take a running jump
(From year to year and dump to dump
Can go and take a running jump).
Three little Savoyards are we, tra-la-la-la, tra-la-la-la,
Started in 1893, tra-la-la-la-la-la.

"Dear little town of Nanki-Poo"
     (Smile, turn, pace to the right),
"Canst thou believe my heart is true?"
     Terrible house tonight!)
"One that with tender passion fired"
     (Turn, pace, hand over heart)…
Woe to the day that we were hired
     By D'Oyly Carte!
Why is it so admired,
This business first inspired
By former artists long retired
     From D'Oyly Carte?

Anything new is disallowed
     (Turn, pace, wait for the pause);
Blasphemous change would shock the crowd
     Following in their scores!
Novel approach is not required
     (Bounce, boing, out of the part);
We've done our best,
But we need a rest
     From D'Oyly Carte.

But the copyright's expiring in a year or two, no more,
And then at last we'll have the chance to settle this old score.
We'll buy back Covent Garden, and have the operas rewritten
With new words by J.B. Priestley and new tunes by Benjy Britten.
Till the end of this light operatic coma,
We're going off to sing in "Oklahoma"!

Leon Berger pointed out that, in the original manuscript, Flanders & Swann allowed an alternate ending, marked "New Coda":

Till at last we reach this happy state
We're going off to sing in "Kiss Me Kate"!

The musical underlay includes a snatch of Porter's "Always true to you in my fashion" in place of the Oklahoma! gag. This version was not recorded.

Issue History
1974 BBC Radio Broadcast [unnumbered] Broadcast Radio 4 on 24 December 1974
1975 EMI Mono LP EMCM-3088 First track on the album And Then We Wrote… : A Review of Revues by Michael Flanders and Donald Swann
2007 EMI CD B000UVP6O4 4-CD set containing pretty much every surviving F&S track that exists. "In the D'Oyly Cart" is the first track on the third disc.