Noel Coward Moments

I can take any amount of criticism...as long as I can consider it unqualified praise.

Noel Coward


Something about the 1920s and 30's has always appealed to me; a penchant no doubt fostered by watching too many old black and white films on late night TV. Notwithstanding the fact that the thirties was the decade that produced the most devastating depression of the 20th century, for the smart, moneyed crowd, life seemed to be a sophisticated romp from one beautiful city to the next. It was a time of great style, or so it seems to me -in the music, the clothes, and even the flamboyant, devil-may-care abandonment . However it was but a fleeting moment in history-a rest between two world worlds which was to end all too soon with the rising spectre of Germany,1939.

If one person could encapsulate the spirit of this era it may perhaps be the multi-faceted, songwriter, playwright, director, actor and singer... Noel Coward. He made his stage debut at the precocious age of 11 and began writing plays while he was still a teenager; 50 in all and he also composed hundreds of songs and theatre musicals, wrote short-stories, poetry and a three volume autobiography. . On top of all this he was a successful actor and musical performer. He was no slouch.


Noel Coward's Songs


Coward's debonair piano lounge singing style was lampooned in Monty Pythons Meaning of Life crudely, but effectively, as it summed up Coward's odd stylistic blend of casual sophistication and elegant but crisply pompous English formality:

Isn't it awfully nice to have a penis ?

Isn't it frightfully good to have a dong?

(Monty Python)


Such lines are reminiscent of songs like Don't Let's be Beastly to the Germans, penned in1943. Churchill reputedly loved the song and demanded encores but when it was played on British radio, listeners failed to detect the ironic tone -unfortunately it was taken rather too seriously and subsequently banned.


Coward wrote over 400 songs during his lifetime and according to the Noel Coward Society: “His influence continues to exist in every area of theatre, music and comedy. In the last decade his music has been performed by artists as diverse as the Pet Shop Boys, Paul McCartney, Elton John, Sting, Robbie Williams, Suede, Texas plus countless others. His musicals and plays are consistently revived on Broadway and in the West End and amateur companies queue to licence their Coward productions.”


This endurance signifies the broad appeal of his urbane and humorous style, peppered as it is with human insight. Coward had an unusually good command of the English language and indeed some of his lyrical phrases were absorbed into standard usage such as 'Mad Dogs and Englishman' and 'A Room with a view' .


Noël's lyrics are loved for their witty and effective use of complex rhyming schemes, where internal rhymes and rhythms are used to create incisive, mental pictures of the absurdity of the human condition in both usual and unlikely situations.

(Noel Coward Society)





Party Animal


Perhaps the song that best sums up Coward's worldly image, and the aura of stylish abandonment that he exuded through every pore is the 1938 ode to vacuous fun, I Went to a Marvellous Party:


Quite for no reason

I'm here for the Season

And high as a kite,

Living in error

With Maud at Cap Ferrat

Which couldn't be right.


Everyone's here and frightfully gay,

Nobody cares what people say,

Though the Riviera

Seems really much queerer

Than Rome at it's height,

Yesterday night-



I went to a marvelous party

With Nounou and Nada and Nell,

It was in the fresh air

And we went as we were

And we stayed as we were

Which was Hell.


A young-ish Noel Coward
A young-ish Noel Coward

Mad About the Boy


Coward's songs often seem effortless and light, yet  pathos can occasionally be detected, as in the admirers lament:


I'm mad about the boy

I know it's stupid to be mad about the boy

Can't help it

I'm mad about the boy

I'm so ashamed of it

Must admit the sleepness nights I've had about the boy

(1932)


Although the song was originally performed by a female singer, it's no secret that Coward himself was 'frightfully gay' and he did also create a version that references homosexuality more specifically. The listener can sense Coward's yearning for youth and beauty in the song and beyond that, private longings known only to him.

Sail Away


My own reaction to these songs was similar to that felt when I first encountered Gilbert and Sullivan so long ago -an appreciation and delight in the humour and cleverness of the lyrical compositions. Although I enjoy Noel Coward's songs for their own sake, the gem I would like to extract from his influence is the fearlessness he displayed in developing his own unique style. He was an individual from a very particular period in history that is now gone forever and it's difficult to imagine another one making an appearance. Coward is also an inspiration to those of us who would like to sing our own songs but are missing a singers voice-occasionally uniqueness can rival natural advantage.


I can't close this brief snippet without reference to one of my favourite songs from the Coward repertoire [apart from Don't Put Your Daughter on the stage Mrs. Worthington], the lesser known Sail Away which he co-wrote with Gertrude Lawrence and was created for his last fully written musical by the same title. When performed by Coward it has a dream-like, wistful air, with just a hint of despair and gels with my own literary preoccupation with escapism:


When the storm clouds are riding through a winter sky

Sail away, sail away

When the lovelight is fading in your sweetheart's eye

Sail away, sail away

When you feel your song is orchestrated wrong

Why should you prolong your stay?

When the wind and the weather blow your dreams sky high

Sail away, sail away, sail away



Noel Coward 1899-1973

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Comments 29 comments

yogi yryr profile image

yogi yryr 6 years ago

hi...........


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Hi..and thanks for that erudite comment.


Arthur Windermere profile image

Arthur Windermere 6 years ago

hi.......

hehehe

Interesting learning about Coward. I didn't know a great deal about him besides his being a playwright. Oh, and I have one amusing anecdote about him I heard on QI. When he was introduced to Kenneth More, he asked, "Do you take it up the [censored]?" More replied, "No, actually I don't." Coward answered, "Oh very well, we needn't quarrel about it."

Just reading over the lyrics, I'd bet Coward was a major influence on my personal favourite songwriter, Serge Gainsbourg.

Later alligator


ralwus 6 years ago

I enjoyed reading this and learned a bit more about the man. Rated up


Rod Marsden profile image

Rod Marsden 6 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia

I guess my favorite Noel Coward song would be Mad Dogs and Englishmen. My favorite Noel Coward play would be Blithe Spirit which I saw performed at college way back in the 1980s at Bathurst. It was staged lots of times before that and I am sure lots of times after as well. A fun romp with two very special ghosts and the man who was married to both of them.

There is an episode of 'Allo 'Allo where the German with the tank sings Mad About the Boy.

In the television show Goodnight Sweetheart where you have this fellow traveling back and forth from modern London to war torn London there's a great episode where you have this modern fellow sharing a bomb shelter with Noel Coward. It was a very funny episode.

Anyway, you did a nice job on Coward. I thought I would just throw a few of my own thoughts into the basket.


David Stone profile image

David Stone 6 years ago from New York City

Great stuff, Jane. Saw Blithe Spirit on Broadway last year with Angela Lansbury. It was intended at the time to be a lighthearted romp to take Britons' minds off the ravages of war. Lots of fun.

And you're right. Coward was perfect for that stage. I don't think he'd get any play at all in this century.


De Greek profile image

De Greek 6 years ago from UK

What a sympathetic view of a truly gifted person. I loved the quote at the beginning :-)


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 6 years ago from California

I didn't know anything about this guy, so this was just a treat! And I agree, the 20s and 30s were cool. I keep wondering when a wave of teenagers is going to adopt that style again, the style of dapper and debonair, instead of this endless cycle of resurrecting the 60s, 70s and 80s and calling it "retro" over and over. lol.

Anyway, a fun read and I learned something, so, very cool. He kind of made me think of Oscar Wilde a little as I read through this. Thanks. (Oh, and thanks to De Greek for turning me on to this hub.)


Petra Vlah profile image

Petra Vlah 6 years ago from Los Angeles

I also have to thank De Greek for putting a link on my hub about this article. Happy to have discovered a great artist through your very interesting hub. Thank you


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Hi Arthur, thanks for that anecdote.I can so see that exchange..lol..Kenneth Moore is so British *boys own annual* I'm sure he would have been appalled at that question. So you get QI too? Gotta love Stephen Fry.

Rawlus, it's lovely to see your face in here...thanks for the rating and comment!

Rod and David...appreciate the comments. Mad Dogs and Englishman is a legend! I've only seen the movie of Blithe Spirit...but I too, thought it was great fun. Margaret Rutherford is a classic...I bet she would have been great on stage...but then Angela Lansbury would have been great too. I wish I'd seen that episode of Goodnight Sweetheart..haha.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

De Greek...that is so nice of you to refer readers on to this hub! Thankyou! If I'd known that I would have put more effort into the hub..lol.

Shades, I loved your comment. I agree about the teenage style thing...maybe it's time they shifted the recycle knob to another setting. You're right about Oscar Wilde. too..he was the original *gay abandoned boy* and Coward continued the tradition.

Petra, nice to meet you and thanks for coming!


drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida

Well done, Jane. I think Noel would have seen your hub as "unqualified praise."


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Lol...yes I think he would drjb. Thanks!


Leafy Den profile image

Leafy Den 6 years ago from the heart

Jane,

What an interesting insight into the brilliant Noel Coward! We just saw Present Laughter with Simon Callow on stage a few years ago. It was fantastic. We always make a point to see Blithe Spirit whenever it is playing locally. I did not know that Noel Coward was so prolific with the music as well as the plays. Learned something new!

Thank you!

Best wishes,

Anne


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Hi Leafy, thanks for making the effort to stop by. Yes Coward wrote a heap of songs...I really would like to see one his plays on the stage one of these days. I should make the effort.

Cheers


epigramman profile image

epigramman 6 years ago

How cool is this hub????? Kool!!!!!!!!!

I have a vinyl recording of Mr. Coward live in Las Vegas which is one of my favorites next to the vinyl recording by Charles Manson ...Noel Coward had a brief appearance in the original THE ITALIAN JOB - did you see it?

Well Jane you are the hippest chick on these hubpages - although I prefer to call you a lady -or Dame Jane - you write like the Normandy Invasion and we all know who came out on top with that one!


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

'Dame Jane'....hahaha....that's my favourite comment ever Sir Epigramman! I've never seen The Italian Job, but I'll look out for Noel if I do.

I didn't know Charles Manson cut a record! What was it called... "the best of" or my greatest ravings" ? That must be a collectors item.


Joshua Kell profile image

Joshua Kell 6 years ago from Arizona

Cool hub. Thanks Jane.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Hey Josh...thanks.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa

I have always been rather ambivalent about Coward. Not too sure why. Maybe something about his superficial flippancy when people were dying all over the place because of beastly dictators? Or perhaps the too upper class pose? Anyway, I might be ambivalent about Coward but not about this Hub, which is really great!

Thanks for sharing your love of Coward.

Love and peace

Tony


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Haha Tony...I'm sure Coward had his insufferable moments. Thanks for commenting.


Green Lotus profile image

Green Lotus 6 years ago from Atlanta, GA

I really enjoyed this Jane and it's so true that "very particular period in history" along with the class acts that filled the stage and screen are now gone forever. I was and still am a big fan of that era and I lived it vicariously as a theater student in NY and as a performer. Although I'm not that old, I still feel akin to Coward and that marvelous era of high society, gin martinis white dinner jackets and Dinner at Eight.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Hi Green Lotus...if only life were a pink gin and witty conversation! Thanks for dropping in with a comment. It's lovely to see you here.


jon teitloff 6 years ago

Noel's nightshirt is up for sale on ebay! This is the nightshirt he was wearing when he died at Firefly in Jamaica in 1973. The seller has proof, i.e a photo of the shirt hanging in Noel's closet taken from the book; "Firefly; Noel Coward in Jamaica". The ebay # is 120601859461 and it is listed as, 'Sir Noel Coward's Death Shirt'. What a prize!!!


Micky Dee profile image

Micky Dee 6 years ago

This is beautiful. You are so descriptive. That does seem a magical time. I love the old art deco of that period. Thank you Ma'am!


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

I love art deco too...

Thanks for dropping by and making these comments Micky.


Docmo profile image

Docmo 5 years ago from UK

Just got back from watching Noel cowards' 'Private lives ' at the Royal Exchange in Manchester. It reminded me of his exquisite comic timing, grandiose and eloquent use of language and such sense of fun ' frightfully gay' indeed. This hub is such a delight! I love the 20's and 30's. too.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

That would have been great to see Docmo, I'm envious. He had a way with witty dialogue, for sure..;)Thanks very much for the comment.


Glyndwr 3 years ago

Evening,

I was wondering if anyone knows the song that talks about the Appian way., Rome. I'd love to know what it is called.

Also if the original cast of "A marvelous party" by Patricia Routledge is out on Cd.

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