Sir Noël Peirce Coward (16 December 1899 Ė 26 March 1973) was a British playwright, actor, and songwriter most active in the twenties and thirties. Known for comedies featuring the upper class, usually with himself as star and director, and musicals.
In World War II, he talked Winston Churchill into making him an agent for British intelligence, and proved to be surprisingly good at it; his reputation as a comic celebrity helped loosen a lot of lips of the enemy. In the fifties he had a resurgence as a singer, singing his own comic songs.
He was also an actor, mostly on stage, but with several film roles, including a memorable turn as the criminal mastermind Mr Bridger in the original The Italian Job. He gave director David Lean his big break, asking the then-editor to co-direct his war film In Which We Serve.
The other thing that's inevitably going to come up at some point is that he was as camp as a row of tents, and although he refused to discuss his private life while he was alive, nobody was much surprised when his authorized biographer confirmed after his death that he was gay. His partner from the mid-Forties onwards was the actor Graham Payn, who appears alongside him in The Italian Job (1969). He was close friends with several notable women including Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, The Queen Mothernote and Gertrude Lawrence.
Works by Noël Coward include:
- Blithe Spirit
- Brief Encounter
- Easy Virtue
- This Happy Breed
- In Which We Serve
- Private Lives
- Hay Fever
- Design for Living
Other works by Noël Coward provide examples of:
- Bestiality Is Depraved: One of the Old India Hands mentioned in "I Wonder What Happened To Him":He got chucked out of the club in Bombay,for, apart from his mess bills exceeding his pay,he took to... "pig-sticking" note ... in quite the wrong way.I wonder what happened to him?
- Childhood Brain Damage: Another old India hand from "I Wonder What Happened To Him", Munro, was "mentally dim", the reason quoted as being "dropped on his head by his ayah" at age two.
- Drowning Our Romantic Sorrows: Tom and George empty a decanter of brandy this way in "Design for Living".
- Land Poor: Coward tackled the topic in "The Stately Homes of England".The stately homes of England, how beautiful they standTo prove the upper classes maintain the upper handThough the fact that they have to be rebuiltAnd frequently mortgaged to the hiltIs inclined to take the giltOff the gingerbread and certainly damps the funOf the eldest sonStill we won't be beaten, we'll scrimp and scrape and saveThe playing fields of Eton have made us frightfully braveAnd although the Van Dycks have to go and we've pawned the Bechstein GrandWe'll stand by the stately homes of England
- Listing Cities: "There Are Bad Times Just Around The Corner" is full of the names of cities, counties and other geographical features.
- List Song: "I've Been to a Marvellous Party" and "Mad Dogs and Englishmen", among others.
- Stage Mom: "(Don't Put Your Daughter On The Stage,) Mrs. Worthington" is addressed to a stage mother whose aspirations are greater than her daughter's potential.
- Parody: "There Are Bad Times Just Around The Corner" is a very deliberate piss-take on the "morale-boosting" songs of World War Two, directly referencing, among others, "The White Cliffs of Dover" and "Pack Up Your Troubles In Your Old Kit-Bag".
- Stiff Upper Lip: "There Are Bad Times Just Around The Corner" subverts it with a vengeance.
- Upper-Class Twit: The four lords from "The Stately Homes of England":Apart from this our education lacks co-ordination.
Noël Coward in fiction:
- Appears as a recurring character in the last two seasons of Goodnight Sweetheart, set in the 1940s.
- The Eighth Doctor Adventures novel Mad Dogs and Englishmen (named after one of Coward's songs) features time-travelling Noël Coward.
- Joe Cocker's album and concert movie Mad Dogs and Englishmen was named after a Coward song of the same name, yet it's never covered at all.
- Eric Idle's performance of The Penis Song in Monty Python's The Meaning of Life is a parody of Coward.
- The Red Dwarf episode "Meltdown" features an abandoned museum occupied by robot duplicates of famous historical figures, including Coward.
- The character Beverly Carlton in The Man Who Came to Dinner is a No Celebrities Were Harmed version of Coward.
- Likewise Eric Dare from the little-known Cole Porter musical Jubilee.
- Apparently Lucifer from The Sandman (1989) and, well, Lucifer is a fan.
- Coward is a character in Robert Wise's musical Star!, played by Daniel Massey, which depicts his friendship with Gertrude Lawrence (played by Julie Andrews).