01.10.14: Noël Coward - Site Index

Header Photo: Cover of the best book on Coward ever, The Treasures of Noel Coward: Star Quality, 2012. The book is a work of art with exquisite facsimile documents, a Dvd and a repro. Brief Encounters poster. More details at amazon.co.uk (direct link).
© Noel Coward Estate/Andre Deutsch Ltd

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01.10.14: Noël Coward - Personal Ramblings

Date of Birth
16 December 1899, Teddington, Middlesex, England, UK

Date of Death
26 March 1973, Blue Harbor, Jamaica (heart attack)

There will never be another Noel Coward. Trite I know but now, over 40 years after his death, his audience and fans miss him as much as ever. The sheer breadth of his talents as described below and the body of his work means there has been a void since that day in March 1973 he gracefully shuffled off this mortal coil. That void has never been filled. Who since has made you feel as tender as you felt watching Brief Encounter for the first time? What about a Blithe Spirit (can you imagine Coward writing it at that magical Italian village, Portmerion, on the Welsh coast?) Private Lives? Can you thing of a better example of British 'stiff upper lip' than Coward's in In Which We Serve? One man was responsible for this and so much more. One man. The Italian Job man who makes you laugh whenever you catch a re0run of that 60s classic.

There has never been another person in British culture who was the master of so many trades so how can one man replace him? He is Britain's answer to Jean Cocteau.

What rarified company.

© Paul Page, 2014

01.10.14: Noel Coward - Biography

noel coward
Noel Coward

Born in 1899, Noel Coward (born Noël Peirce Coward) was the boy genius of the West End stage in the Twenties and Thirties, during which he wrote and often acted in such classics as The Vortex (the play that secured his fame in 1924 at the age of 25), Hay Fever, Cavalcade, Bitter Sweet, Private Lives and Design For Living.

Many of these plays were adapted for the screen in the early Thirties in both Britain and Hollywood, in particular Private Lives (starring Norma Shearer and Robert Montgomery), Bitter Sweet (starring Anna Neagle under the direction of Herbert Wilcox) and Cavalcade (featuring Clive Brook, Una O'Connor and Diana Wynward), the latter winning the 1933 best picture Oscar, as well awards for direction (Frank Lloyd) and art direction (William Darling).

Yet despite the success of these productions, Coward, who held the cinema in disdain, seemed wary of appearing on screen hmself. In fact, before writing, producing, co-directing, scoring and acting in the 1942 War Classic In Which We Serve, he'd appeared in only two films. The first of these, a 1918 silent called Hearts of the World, directed by none other than DW Griffith, was a propaganda piece about the First World War, starring such luminaries as Lilian and Dorothy Gish and Erich Von Stroheim. The 19-year-old Coward appeared in a supporting role. The second, The Scoundrel, was made in Hollywood in 1935 after successful appearances on Broadway, and features Coward as a self-centred publicist who discovers that, having been killed in a plane crash he can only go to heaven if he can find someone to mourn him. A quirky supernatural comedy written, directed and produced by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur (who won an Oscar for the film's original story), it was well received by the critics but considered something of an arty oddity by the movie-going public.

When, in 1941, the producers Anthony Havelock-Allan and Filippo del Giudice offered him total artistic control of a film of his choosing, he couldn't resist and started to make what is in essense a 2nd World War propaganda film, In Which We Serve. Perfectly at ease with writing the script, Coward had reservations about directing a feature film, and sought an ideal technician to assist him. That turned out to be David Lean who is credited in the film as co-director. For the film, Coward received a special Oscar, 'For his outstanding production achievements in In Which We Serve.

Following the film's success both critically and commercially, Coward offered Lean access to all his works for filming. Lean chose This Happy Breed, another slice of propaganda. Based on Coward's 1943 West End hit, the film marked Lean's debut as a solo director, and was made in Technicolor. Though Coward had played the main character in the film, the almost Cockney Frank Gibbons himself, opposite Celia Johnson as his wife Ethel on stage and although he came from a lower middle-class background (his childhood years were spent in lodgings in Battersea), it was deemed that audiences wouldn't accept him as a salty South London geezer. Consequently, Robert Newton played the part.

This was a Noel Coward-Coneguild Production . (newly formed). Coward's involvement after submitting the screenplay was to score the finished product, which Muir Mathieson conducted, using the London Symphony Orchestra.

Lean then directed Coward's Blithe Spirit, an instant West End hit when it first appeared in 1941. Coward supplied the script. The film was shot in Technicolor at Denham.

Coward then wrote the screenplay for the final and ultimate colloboration with Lean, Brief Encounter. The split, by all accounts, was totally amicable.

Also, during World War II, Coward performed for troops on the major battlefronts, recalling his experiences in Middle East Diary (1945). He was also engaged by the British Secret Service MI5 in intelligence work.

Sometime after the War he lost his muse and his dramas, Peace in Our Time (1947), Quadrille (1952), Nude with Violin (1956), and Sail Away (1961)— were pale imitations of his earlier works. Recognising this, he started a new career as an entertainer and raconteur.

1960 saw him give one of his finest acting performance as a spy in the film Our Man in Havana, directed by the brilliant Carol Reed and written by Graham Greene.

Coward also wrote two volumes of autobiographical recollections, titled Present Indicative (1937) and Future Indefinite (1954). His other fictional works include two collections of short stories, To Step Aside (1939) and Star Quality (1951), and a novel, Pomp and Circumstance (1960), which portrayed British life on a South Seas island.

He was honored in recognition of his talents and service to his country when he was made a knight in 1970. He died on March 26, 1973, in Kingston, Jamaica.

01.11.14 - Trivia

noel coward brief encounter posters
Brief Encounter:
Worldwide Posters

Coward, homosexual, had a distaste for penetrative sex. Had a long-term relationship with Prince George, Duke of Kent.

In Jamaica, was a neighbour and friend of James Bond creator, Ian Fleming.

Was the president of The Actors' Orphanage

01.11.14 - Quotes

noel coward
Noel Coward

'I am not a heavy drinker. I can sometimes go for hours without touching a drop.'

'I don't believe in astrology. The only stars I can blame for my failures are those that walk about the stage.'

'I have a memory like an elephant. In fact, elephants often consult me.'

'I like long walks, especially when they are taken by people who annoy me.'

'I love criticism just so long as it's unqualified praise.'

'I'll go through life either first class or third, but never in second.'

'Extraordinary how potent cheap music is.'

'I've sometimes thought of marrying - and then I've thought again.'

'If you must have motivation, think of your paycheck on Friday.'

'It is discouraging how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit.'

'Just say the lines and don't trip over the furniture.'

'Let's drink to the spirit of gallantry and courage that made a strange Heaven out of unbelievable Hell, and let's drink to the hope that one day this country of ours, which we love so much, will find dignity and greatness and peace again.'

'Mona Lisa looks as if she has just been sick, or is about to be.'

'My body has certainly wandered a good deal, but I have an uneasy suspicion that my mind has not wandered enough.'

'Never mind, dear, we're all made the same, though some more than others.'

'People are wrong when they say opera is not what it used to be. It is what it used to be. That is what's wrong with it.'

'Someday I suspect, when Jesus has definitely got me for a sunbeam, my works may be adequately assessed.'

'Squash - that's not exercise, it's flagellation.'

'Success took me to her bosom like a maternal boa constrictor.'

'That strange feeling we had in the war. Have you found anything in your lives since to equal it in strength? A sort of splendid carelessness it was, holding us together.'

'The higher the building the lower the morals.'

'There's always something fishy about the French.'

'We have no reliable guarantee that the afterlife will be any less exasperating than this one, have we?'

'Wit ought to be a glorious treat like caviar; never spread it about like marmalade.'

'Work is much more fun than fun.

'Dance, dance, dance little lady, / Leave tomorrow behind'

'Time has convinced me of one thing: Television is for appearing on - not for looking at'

'Sunburn is very becoming, but only when it is even - one must be careful not to look like a mixed grill'

'I've over-educated myself in all the things I shouldn't have known at all'

'It was not Cafe Society, it was Nescafe Society'

'Never trust a man with short legs-his brains are too near his bottom'

'He's completely unspoiled by failure'

'But why, oh why, do the wrong people travel, / When the right people stay at home?'

'He sleeps and sleeps, and the days go by, ... I love him dearly and for ever, but this lack of drive in any direction is a bad augury for the future. I am willing and happy to look after him for the rest of my life, but he must do something. If only he would take up some occupation and stick to it. I know that he is unhappy inside but, alas, with his natural resilience these moments of self-revelation dissipate and on go the years, and he will be an elderly man who has achieved nothing at all'

'We're Regency Rakes / And each of us makes / A personal issue / Of adipose tissue'

'Certain women should be struck regularly, like gongs' (Private Lives, 1930)

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Noël Coward: Personal Ramblings >> Biography >> Trivia >> Quotes >> The Treasures of Noel Coward: Star Quality - Extensive Reviews & Scans >> Brief Encounter >> Brief Encounter Worldwide Posters >> In Which We Serve >> Noel Coward Posters available at Allposters.com >> Advertise here >> Noel Coward Books and Dvds available @ amazon.com >> British War Dvds

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