A post-election message from our English birthday boy

A post-election message from our English birthday boy


norman lebrecht

December 16, 2019

Noel Coward would have been 120 today.


  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    Coward was one of the world’s biggest bores. Cold and strangely humorless. Mutton dressed up as lamb.

    • Peter says:

      Subjectivity dressed up as objectivity.
      You may find him a bore, Sue. Many others didn’t.

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        Of course!! I just added my 2 cents’ worth. I never understood his over-rated, unfunny camp. “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” – mildly amusing and reminiscent of the colonies, with its unflattering, suggestive epithets for the locals. Now isn’t that just political correctness???

        • V. Lind says:

          You seem to have a very limited appreciation of his work. Several of his plays will live forever — Blithe Spirit, Present Laughter, Private Lives, Hay Fever, The Astonished Heart among many others. Still Life is a favourite of mine — I saw a wonderful version in Toronto many years ago, before I had ever seen the film of Brief Encounter. I am not particularly partial to the latter, but I appreciate its quality.

          Lots of the songs are wonderful, and he wrote some very memorable short stories. He was also a good actor, notably in Our Man in Havana and In Which We Serve (part of his not insubstantial contribution to the war effort).

          The man was a polymath. Out of his vast body of work, of which is appears you know very little, there is much that has positively affected the English theatre ever since, his songs continue to be sung, and his wit lives on more happily in many minds than yours. He was knighted, won an honorary Academy Award, was given a slot in Poet’s Corner at the Abbey (attended by the Queen Mother, who considered him a friend) and had a historic London theatre renamed for him. He had, as has often been said, “a talent to amuse.”

          As his many admirers seem to be people of much greater stature than thee or, for that matter, me, I feel his legacy is safe from petty carpers. Maybe if you were to read a fraction of his voluminous output, your mind might expand — though there seems little evidence of having seen you learn from argument or evidence around here in the last few years. You probably think the Ukrainian phone call was perfect.

          Oh, and by the way, there is little to offend the colonials in “Mad Dogs and Englishmen.” In the song it is the latter who are the object of his mild-mannered teasing. The colonials barely get a look-in — having, as it were, used their heads and got out of the sun. You might want to check out a few other songs from his massive repertoire. But it is perhaps asking a lot for someone who thinks “alternative facts” are a reasonable proposition to understand satire.

          • Sharon says:

            If I recall, he wrote a very sympathetic story about an Asian male prostitute on a fictional East Asian island, who was coerced into prostitution and whose customers were western sex tourists

    • V. Lind says:

      You really are a ridiculous woman. And in this case utterly ignorant.

    • RICHARD CRAIG says:

      Sue Sonata Form you are talking the greatest load of crap,he was a genius

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        Dated. Kitsch. Unfunny. Patronizing to the colonies. Soooooo last century – actually, the one before that.

    • Maria says:

      Humorless? American spelling? Ha, ha!

    • JBB says:

      He’s occasionally witty, but too clever by half.

      I would certainly classify him as a boor in terms of his personality.

    • Ainslie says:

      Then you should find him a kindred spirit.

    • Sharon says:

      Actually, Sue. Although I am very fond of Coward, if you are referring to his later life, you kind of have a point, unfortunately. A very heavy smoker and a constant drinker, although probably not an alcoholic, he started having serious health problems from his sixties and could not kneel when he was knighted.
      He was terrified of aging and had some plastic surgery that almost killed him.

      He was also terrified of being a has been although he had a revival in the late fifties and early sixties, especially among college students who were attracted to his songs from the nineteen twenties and thirties which poked fun of the double standard and conventional sexual morality.

      Most of his later work was not as good as his earlier work with the possible exception of the play that were the vignettes in the hotel suite ; I forget the name but it was in the early seventies, an idea that Neil Simon borrowed.

      And yeah, he was in a lot of physical pain and was not very humorous perhaps the last 15 years of his life. His partner, whose name I forget (they had long stopped being romantically involved although they still lived together) implied in his memoirs that he and others in the household sometimes walked on eggshells around him

  • Noel Coward was doing Eric Idle songs before Eric Idle was doing Noel Coward songs.

  • BrianB says:

    Brexit vote? I prefer the Martin Luther King quote.“Free at last, Free at last, Thank God almighty we are free at last.” Go ahead, give the thumbs down, I revel in it. 😉

  • Jo H says:

    I’d love to know what he’d write in a song about Trump.

  • Sharon says:

    They say that he never had any formal music training and of course there was nothing particularly sophisticated or interesting about his musical arrangements; he was a writer and lyricist.

    Actually what I like best about him is what he is least known for, his short stories. From a literary style point of view they were not particularly interesting and thematically not all of them were great but some were very heartfelt and way ahead of their time, for ex. writing about homosexuality both in covert and relatively overt ways, and getting it published, before almost anyone else was doing so, at least in England.

    I understand that he turned to writing short stories when he had a flop or downturn in his life and he frequently wrote about issues that were important to him at the time, for example, orphans when he was involved in Actors’ Orphanage (a charity) and stories about aging when he was getting older.

    Ironically, a lot, not all, of his stories were written from a woman’s point of view and he did it very effectively.

    One story that still stays with me is a very early one, Traveler’s Joy, a play on the title of a popular play at the time NOT written by him, about an aging actor who has a one night stand with a physically challenged i.e. handicapped woman. It is one of the most compassionate pieces, both in fiction and non fiction, that I have ever read.