Anyone born before or during the 1950s should be able recall the musical duo known as Flanders and Swann. The pair, who became a household name in the 50s, often appeared on television and radio, or wireless as it was then called, singing light hearted songs and ditties. Usually attired in dinner suits and bow ties, they would appear sitting around a grand piano, the bearded Michael Flanders in a wheelchair, and the bespectacled Donald Swann at the keyboard. Some of their well known songs include ‘The Gas Man Cometh’, ‘The Gnu Song’ and ‘The Hippopotamus’, with its memorable chorus, ‘Mud Mud, glorious mud’. These songs always brought a smile to the faces of adults and children alike. But how many Llanelli people know that the composer and pianist, Donald Swann hailed from this town?
Donald Ibrahim Swan was born at Coleshill Terrace, Llanelli, on the 30th September 1923. He was the eldest son of Herbert William Swann, a medical practitioner. His mother was Naguime Sultan, a nurse. Both had escaped from Russia in 1919 following the revolution.
Although Donald Swann was born in the town, little is recorded about him locally until September 1979, when it was reported the he was making a return visit to the town of his birth as guest of The Llanelli District Music and Drama Club. By this time his famous partner Michael Flanders had passed away. A new two man team were to present a night of “unusual entertainment in words and music”. His new co-star was the BBC radio and television personality John Amis and the show was planned for the beginning of the following year.
On March 15th 1980, The Llanelli Star published the following advertisement….
‘The Llanelli Entertainment Centre, Theatre 1. Wednesday 19th March 7:30 pm - John Amis and Donald Swann Entertain - Tickets £2’.
Amis and Swann played to a packed Theatre 1, and in a subsequent interview Swann told the Star “I don’t suppose many people realise that I was born in Wales, I left the area with my parents when I was two and a half years old, so I can’t remember much, but I have made frequent visits to the town since to visit my godparents, Dr. T.R. Davies, who was the doctor my father worked under. This is certainly the first time I have appeared on stage in Llanelli. It’s good to see that this place has been made into a theatre and I am delighted to appear here”.
(Dr T. R. Davies was probably the doctor that attended to the casualties of the 1911 Railway Riots). Llanelli Community Heritage is planning to commemorate Donald Swann’s connection to the town with a prestigious Blue Plaque. A number of sites are under consideration for its location. Donald Swann died 23 March 1994.