More of a turn-up was their mini-revival this week, when Jonathan Gibson, the youngest-ever winner of Mastermind, chose their whimsical ditties as his specialist subject.
Flanders and Who? his friends must have asked when he postulated the idea. I doubt if there’s another 24-year-old in the land from whose lips their names might have dropped.
But Gibson’s eagerness to take on board that which has been handed down to him is the exception to what is becoming a rule in today’s social culture – namely, to deride those who have gone before them as out of touch and out of time. “OK, Boomer,” they will say dismissively at anyone they identify as having been born during the baby-boom years between the war and the end of the 1950s.
No one is suggesting, of course, that silly songs about hippopotami, gasmen and gnus, performed in dinner jackets at the pianoforte, constitute a fount of wisdom to be passed through the generations – though at least Flanders and Swann are one of the few once-popular acts not to be considered politically incorrect by present standards.
But that’s not the point. In choosing to embrace the culture of two generations past, Gibson was – unconsciously, perhaps – cocking a snook at the creeping tide of ageism in society.
Examples of prejudice against older people are mounting almost by the week. If this were any other demographic there would be an outcry, yet these victims appear to be fair game – even among those who consider it their mission to promote “socially progressive” views.
The latest case concerned a 78-year-old customer refused service at his local pub because he didn’t have a mobile phone to register his details. It prompted Age UK to warn that half of those aged 65 to 74, and the majority of those older still, risked discrimination because they don’t use a smartphone.
An earlier report suggested a third of people over 50 believe they will face age discrimination if they apply for a job. This, despite the fact that every other type of prejudice is supposed to have been legislated out of the jobs market.
It’s a trend positively encouraged in parts of the media. Last autumn, the broadcaster Libby Purves complained that the BBC’s obsession with webcams and social media had managed to turn even Radio 4 into an enclave of ageism.
But this flawed logic ignores a number of incontrovertible truths, the most fundamental of which is that with age comes experience – wisdom, even – and those who choose to overlook it do so at their cost.
The second is that youth alone does not confer dynamism on anyone; it takes a certain combination of talents – as Jonathan Gibson, for all his bookishness, has come closest to demonstrating.
Part of the problem is the insistence by politicians and pressure groups on using social media as the default platform on which to conduct the national debate – which has the effect of drowning out softer, more mature voices in the general noise. No wonder a SunLife Insurance survey recently found that more than a third of over-50s felt neglected or invisible in society.
At heart, it’s the same argument as the more vocal one about “gender stereotyping” in toys: blue for boys, pink for girls. The marketing industry has been excoriated for the way it promotes such merchandise.
But where is the backlash against “anti-ageing” products or the fixation among fashion, sports and business concerns with using young faces to portray their industries?
All those areas were cited by respondents to the SunLife survey, with Nike, Next and Adidas singled out for criticism. Their imagery, it was said, went out of its way to be diverse in gender and race – but not in age.
A Flanders and Swann revival on Mastermind isn’t going to change any of this but Jonathan Gibson performed an accidental service to us all by reminding us just how unusual it has become for someone of his age to recognise that the creative legacy of his elders can be an asset, not an embarrassment.
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