Sir Noel Coward was the self-proclaimed laureate of his age.

(“Señorita Nina, from Arghhh-entina, despised the Tango, although she never was a girl to let a man go, she wouldn’t sacrifice her principles for sex.”)

Born in 1899, he considered himself one of the most important writers of the twentieth century.

He was known for his wit, flamboyance, and what Time magazine called “a combination of cheek & chic, pose and poise”.

“Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun. The Japanese don’t care.. the Chinese…”

Coward’s homosexuality was an open secret for most of London society but being gay was a crime, and Coward avoided Oscar Wilde’s fate by not publicly addressing his sexuality until later in life.

His first great scriptwriting success came with his 1924 play, ‘The Vortex’, about a sexually voracious mother and her cocaine-addicted son – played by Coward himself.

The play’s success on both sides of the Atlantic led to a string of new productions in the 30s & 40s, which were adapted for television in the 1950s.

Coward mixed in high society circles in the UK, including with members of the royal family and in America, with Hollywood royalty, affording him and his friends security & protection.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Coward volunteered, running the British propaganda office in Paris.

After the war he developed a new cabaret act, singing songs about the bourgeoisie and their decadent lifestyle.

One of the most popular songs in his stage act was “I Went to a Marvellous Party” written in 1938.

“I went to a marvellous party, with Nunu and Nana and Nell. It was in the fresh air and we went as we were and we stayed as we were, which was hell.”

“Will it ever cloy, this odd diversity of misery and joy.”

His most famous song, ‘Mad About the Boy’ was originally written in 1932 and came with straight or gay lyrics.

“And all because I’m mad about the boy.”

It was Dinah Washington’s 1952 cover that gained an enduring fan base and which has seen multiple resurrections since it featured in a 1992 Levi’s ad, ensuring the song is Coward’s most enduring piece of work.

“I’m so ashamed of it but must admit the sleepless nights I’ve had, about the boy.”

In the 1950s and 60s, following a successful residency in Las Vegas he appeared in many TV shows and films, including ‘Around the World in 80 Days’, ‘Our Man in Havana’…

“Move along.”

..and as the crime boss, Mr Bridger in Michael Caine’s 1969 classic, ‘The Italian Job’, which was to be his last acting role.

“You’ve been put up to this, haven’t you! You’ve been bribed to upset my natural rhythm and ruin my health.”

Coward was knighted that year and was also elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

He died from heart failure at his home in Jamaica on 26 March 1973 – survived by his partner of over 30 years, Graham Payn.

Well, that’s all from us for this week.

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