24 minutes of edited highlights with musical accompaniment.

The following notes by John Knowles introduce the edited highlights:

The edited home movies cover four-years of that golden period from 1929 to 1932. They are introduced by a compilation of Coward images accompanied by the song that confirms - despite what might be thought the essential gregarious nature of this ultimate house party guest - Noël’s deep-rooted contentment with his own company. I Travel Alone.

There follows four sets of film clips. The first, sadly rather decayed at the start, is footage shot by Noël and his friend and travelling companion Jeffrey Holmesdale (Lord Amherst) referred to as Jeffrey Amherst during a six-month journey that started late in 1929. Like all holiday films it is really best enjoyed by those who were there and can recall all that happened so the best we can do is to try and imagine that we are Noël looking down the eyepiece at these scenes and wonder why it was so important for him to record them.

Following the success of two of Noël’s finest productions - the review, This Year Of Grace and the musical, Bitter Sweet - he took up again the Far Eastern journey he had started and had to abandon due to illness in 1926.

Leaving a jubilant theatrical New York that rang with his name he journeyed via Chicago to Hawaii where he set sail for Yokohama in Japan and there, waited three days for Jeffrey Amherst to join him for the start of the six-month jaunt that was to inspire some of Noël’s best of work. Including the play Private Lives, conceived in the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo (designed by Frank Lloyd Wright) as he waited for Jeffrey and written later in four days in the Cathay Hotel (later the Peace Hotel) in Shanghai during a bout of flu. The song ‘Mad Dogs and Englishmen’ accompanies this section, composed in a week long trip by car to Saigon without the aid of pen or paper. Philip Hoare professes, ‘Don’t Put Your Daughter On The Stage Mrs. Worthington’ was inspired by a fancy-dress competition dominated by planters’ wives and their indulged offspring on the boat home to Marseilles. He also wrote and gave up on an attempt at a novel called ‘Julian Kane’. It was during this trip in Singapore, during a month when Jeffrey endured the horrors of amoebic dysentery, that Noël saw by chance a travelling theatre group, ‘The Quaints’ and met for the first time two actors he was to work with in the future - John Mills and Betty Hare - and talked his way into playing ‘Stanhope’ in R.C. Sherriff’s Journey’s End a play that may well have inspired him to write an angry vilification of war called Post Mortem drafted towards the end of the trip.

We also see footage aboard HMS Suffolk. Noël had talked his way onto the ship after meeting three of its officers in Shanghai. Noël and Jeffrey had a cabin each and use of the captain’s bathroom. And although against the rules Noël was allowed to film. This was the first opportunity Noël had to see and admire the discipline of the navy - the running of a ship at first hand – it impressed and led to more ‘grey funnel’ trips and his final homage to the navy In Which We Serve.  The music here is a personal favourite from the often-misguided modern versions of Noël’s songs, (I may be alone in liking this) ‘Sail Away’ by the Pet Shop Boys.

Later we get a fleeting look of Coward’s younger brother Erik during his period on a tea plantation near Colombo, Ceylon – to be a tea planter had been a long held ambition of his tragically short life – an ambition that had been largely bought for him by Noël.  Noël met Cole and Linda Porter in the hotel he and Jeffrey were staying at in Colombo. It was there after watching some of Cole’s own home movie footage one evening that Noël said “Jack (Wilson – who we meet later) says I shall never need a projector, as none of my films ever come out!” How wrong he was.

The second set of clips show Noël and numerous guests at his country home, Goldenhurst on his return to England. Footage includes theatre stars that Coward buffs will be able to name and a few that are named and were listed by the BBC.

Watch out for Noël’s father Arthur, mowing the Kentish turf – he clearly waits for his cue - he was by this time persona non grata as far as Violet, Noël’s mother, was concerned due to his unhelpful ways and, she claims, ‘dalliances with other women’ – Noël acted as referee in the daily quarrels that also included Aunts Vida and Ida and later an unwell brother Erik who all lived at Goldenhurst. In addition there was Noël’s ever present close companion and personal manager John (Jack) Wilson. It is no wonder Noël was able to construct such wonderful quarrelsome exchanges in his best work.

The third set of clips show New York in 1931 - and certainly give a more realistic view of the city in the thirties than the recent remake of King Kong. Charlie Chaplin’s film ‘City Lights’ had just been released and the then 11 year prohibition of alcohol had certainly raised creativity in terms of how to get people’s attention with the lights on Broadway’s Great White Way – look out for an opportunist Canadian dancer’s name in lights – she calls herself Carrie De Booze!

Finally a film of extracts from the third of Noël’s revues Words and Music and the first where he assumed all the roles of creator, producer and director leaving a rather bewildered Charles B. Cochran to act in the unaccustomed and reduced role of theatre manager.

Here I have assembled the clips that Noël intended to use as an introduction for the footage he took of the show - but never quite got round to putting together - and added extracts from the back and front stage film he shot of the production. The footage was probably shot in Manchester when his desire to capture it on film would have been at its height but it could have been shot later in London before it became clear that the show was not going to run for the two years Noël had intended. No complete original cast recording was made of the show so these clips are accompanied by a selection of music used in the show and recorded by the New Mayfair Orchestra directed by Ray Noble shortly after the revue’s run. The tunes do not match the action but they give a good feel of the show.  Watch out for the dropped baby in the Creche Ballet item and John the Baptists’s head sculpted in blancmange and carried on a charger!

 


 
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