Obituary: Claudia Flanders

Stephen Bradshaw
Monday 24 August 1998 23:02 BST

CLAUDIA FLANDERS spent more than 20 years working for disabled people after the death in 1975 of her husband, Michael Flanders, the singer- songwriter and one half of the musical partnership Flanders and Swann.

In 1987, she formed a new organisation, Tripscope, which provides free phone advice to disabled people planning trips anywhere around the world. Despite the silent doubts of many friends, Tripscope thrived, thanks partly to Claudia Flanders's tireless fund-raising efforts. At the charity's 10th anniversary celebrations last year, she recalled the words of her husband: "Nobody is interested in how you got here, but, for a disabled person, that you got here at all is an achievement."

Born in the United States in 1933 to the writer Hope Hale Davis and the journalist Claud Cockburn, she was brought up in New England by her mother and stepfather, Robert Gorham Davis, a professor of Columbia University. She graduated from Smith College, and in the 1950s worked at Radio Free Greece and at the United Nations.

She met Michael Flanders just as his partnership with Donald Swann was starting to attract international attention. After their marriage in New York in 1959, Claudia and Michael toured the world with Flanders and Swann's shows At the Drop of a Hat and At the Drop of Another Hat. Claudia was technical manager and creative consultant. "I only produce the show; Claudia has the hard job - producing me," Michael was often quoted as saying.

Since a severe attack of polio while serving in the RNVR during 1943, Michael Flanders had been confined permanently to a wheelchair. Claudia built on the experience she gained accompanying her husband on the Flanders and Swann tours and became an expert herself in making transport accessible to disabled people. She remained close to Swann after her husband's death and held countless musical parties at which Swann would accompany distinguished performers of Flanders and Swann songs.

She became involved in a number of charities, including Cruse, the bereavement organisation, and the disability rights group Outset. Alf (now Lord) Morris, who was then minister for disabled people, appointed Claudia Flanders to the committee set up to investigate access for disabled people and then the Committee on Restrictions against Disabled People. She created the post of adviser on disability to the National Bus Company in the 1970s and for many years served on the national Joint Committee on Mobility for Disabled People and the Department of Transport Advisory Committee on Disability. She was also a strong supporter of the Paddington Phab (Physically Handicapped and Able-Bodied) Club, which brings together children with and without disabilities.

A member of the Association of Charitable Funds and a Justice of the Peace, she was appointed OBE in 1981 for her services to disabled people.

Flanders nurtured and supported people, often disabled people struggling to overcome everyday problems, with a spontaneous warmth and understanding. She never talked down to anyone, and enabled each individual to appreciate that they were special, even if difficult officials appeared not to realise.

With her openness and emotional generosity, Flanders was a nat- ural hostess who managed to make everyone, whatever their abilities, feel valued. She was also an accomplished clarinettist and linguist.

Claudia Cockburn, charity worker: born New York 11 February 1933; OBE 1981; married 1959 Michael Flanders (died 1975; two daughters); died London 25 June 1998.

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