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Home Chat - January 2000
Click on the month you wish to view
January (this page), February March

This page contains articles from the draft and January issues of HOME CHAT the newsletter of The Noel Coward Society. Click here to find out how to join the Society.
Articles: Management Committee, Our Salute to Noël,
Centenary Conference, A Gift from Australia,
From HOME CHAT - Draft Issue November 1999 & 1st Issue January 2000
The Management Committee
(see Membership for more)
Any Society needs a management committee to guide it. In the early stages especially, it needs enthusiasts who can bring their experience wisdom knowledge and contacts to help it grow. Then, as it grows and matures, 1 am sure the committee will change to include others from the Society, or to represent specific aspects of our appreciation of Coward.
To be our first Chairman we have Michael Imison. Michael is the Centenary Co-Ordinator for the Noël Coward Estate. In real life, he was the worldwide agent for all non-musical rights in the Coward works, including plays films and books. His successor in that role, Alan Brodic, also joins us. As every professional production has to go through him, we will be in easy contact with all that goes on in that particular arena.
Close contact to the amateur drama world is kept because we co-opted Vivien Goodwin from Samuel French's onto the Committee. We also have the world of music represented by Caroline Underwood from ChappellWarners (publishers of the Coward music).
Joel Kaplan, Professor of Drama and Theatre Arts from the University of Birmingham (who are the recipients of the Coward papers) is with us.
Philip Hoare, who is no doubt known to us all, as the latest (and best) biographer of Coward joins us. The world of publishing is also represented by Michael. Earley, the publishing director of Methuen.
Joan Hirst, successor to Lorne Lorraine as Coward's London Secretary, has kindly agreed to join us, She, of course, gives us a direct link to the man himself.
Barry Day, who we all know for his excellently detailed work on The Complete Lyrics, is joining the committee. He lives in the USA, but frequently visits London, So he not only brings us his enthusiasm and knowledge, but his contact with all that happens in New York.
With Barry Day and Michael Earley, we are lucky to not only have two Coward enthusiasts, but also two senior businessmen, to help make sure we run a businesslike organisation. We are also joined by a third, Robert Gardiner, a successful businessman and a confidant and friend of Graham Payn.
Finally, but by no means least, we have Graham. Martin, an accountant who specialises in theatre and entertainment people and issues.
With myself, Gareth Pike, as Secretary and general factotum, that completes what I am very proud to say, is a well balanced and professional team.

Gareth Pike


Our Salute to Noël on his 100th
We couldn't let the actual centenary date pass unmarked in theatreland in London. So with the co-operation and support of the Noël Coward Centenary Committee, we gathered around the statue of The Master at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Our Honorary Vice President, Miss Judy Campbell, spoke of her remembrance of Noël in their wartime tour in 1942 with Present Laughter, This Happy Breed and Blithe Spirit. She remembered a kind man who helped her, not only in her roles in the plays, but also in touring the hospitals full of war wounded.
She also told us of the time she picnicked with Noël and Winifred Ashton (Clemence Dane) in Hyde Park. As they were eating a sailor came by, Noël invited him to join them, and they all listened to the sailor's story. At the time, Noël was writing In Which We Serve, and some of the sailor's story probably made it into the film.
At my request, she then read Noël's poem "I'm here for a Short Visit Only", which ends "I'd like to think I was missed a bit"
Unfortunately, our Honorary President, Sir John Mills, had been struck down by 'flu on the day before. However, he had very kindly telephoned me with his apologies and sent a message which Michael Imison read. Michael also had messages from our other Vice President, Sheridan Morley, from our Patron Graham Payn, and from two of the Vice Presidents of the Centenary, Dame Maggie Smith and Sir Derek Jacobi. Finally, Michael read us a message of good wishes he had received from the Patron of the Centenary, HM Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother. He then invited the star of A Song at Twilight, Vanessa Redgrave to lay some flowers in Noël's arms. The flowers were red carnations; because Graham Payn had assured us that those were the flowers that Noël would appreciate. And as Vanessa Redgrave noted, the card read: You are missed - far more than 'a bit'.

Vanessa Redgrave then spoke lovingly of the kind man she knew as Noël Coward. She told us that of all the famous people who visited her parents, it was only Noël who would make a point of sitting with the children and having a proper conversation, because he was interested and cared. She also tantalisingly told us that later in life he had given her some very wise advice about her life in theatre, which she will keep secret!
We then all retired to an informal reception upstairs, for a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and a Christmas mince pie. This reception also marked the publication of the book "Firefly" by Victor Gollancz (see separate article). Amongst our guests was Chris Salewicz the author.

We did manage to get the press there, both television and the papers. Of course they wanted to interview Vanessa Redgrave and Judy Campbell. Certainly, I spotted that there were some wonderful pictures of Vanessa laying the flowers on the statue in the following day's Times and Telegraph. We'll publish a photo or two in the first edition of our Conversation Piece magazine.

I hope that next year we can repeat the little ceremony, although it may be a smaller occasion, as it will not be the celebration of the centenary. It would be nice if we can organise a simultaneous ceremony at the Gershwin Theatre in New York for some flowers at the matching statue there.

Gareth Pike


The Centenary Conference at Birmingham University
(See Centenary Conference Programme for contributors)
On 1st and 2nd November 1999, the University of Birmingham, Department of Drama and Theatre Arts, held a Centenary Conference on Noël Coward. It was chaired by Professor Joel Kaplan (a member of our executive committee). Not only was it an excellent and interesting conference, but also it marked two other points of significance.
First and foremost, it was the public declaration that the Noël Coward papers, currently in Switzerland and London, will eventually be passed to the University for permanent safe keeping. This was marked, at the end of the first day, by the presentation of Edmund Kean's sword.
Michael told the story: At an otherwise run-of-the mill matinee towards the end of the run (Tonight at 8:30), cast and audience alike were startled to see an elderly gentleman standing on his seat, applauding loudly and shouting "Bravo!" during the curtain calls. It was Sir Seymour Hicks, who then went round to see Noël and said, "The time has come for me to give you Edmund Kean's sword. I've often wondered who it should be handed on to - now I know." And next morning the sword, with Kean's signature inscribed on the scabbard, was delivered to Noël at Gerald Road. The sword had been handed down via Irving, who had been given it by an old character actor from Kean's company out of gratitude for being given work by Irving when he was destitute. Irving, in turn, gave it to William Terris, his handsome young leading man, who was stabbed to death when entering the Adelphi stage door on 16 December 1897 (two years to the day before Noël was born), whereupon it became the property of his daughter Ellaline, the pretty, smiling star of musical comedy, and her husband, Seymour Hicks, who jointly decided that Noël was worthy of it.
The other event of that afternoon was that I announced the official launch of the Society. I am pleased to say that a number of people in the audience that day are now members. One of them was Valerie Langfield. Valerie later wrote a review of the first day for the email network, Marvellous Party. With her permission, I am reprinting that review here (very marginally edited for this new presentation):
Valerie's Report: Quick comments: excellently organised, despite my earlier (and unfounded) reservations; and it ran strictly to time, which was much appreciated by all! Nine papers, which was very intensive in hindsight, but certainly didn't seem so at the time. All the papers were very well presented, and that's something I also appreciated, having in the past been on the receiving end of some papers whose content may have been good, but whose poor presentation obstructed my understanding. Not so here, though.

Some are easier to summarise than others - that is emphatically not a reflection of quality, merely of the nature of talk. So, my apologies if I have misrepresented any speakers. It certainly seems invidious to summarise such good material so drastically.
David Edgar spoke about Coward's use of subtexts and coded text, and the interplay of insiders versus outsiders - and how the audience is treated as another insider, adding an additional level to the game. He was pretty scathing about the 'political' plays, as if the political message NC was trying to get across got in the way of his usual manner. He spoke about NC's game-playing and described 'Hay Fever' as both describing the game that the characters play, and as itself a game; and how it turns a common comedy-format (children obstructed by parents) upside-down; how 'Design for Living' plays out all the possible pair combinations, before concluding with the final triangle.
Peter Holland spoke about the significance of class to NC and in his plays; of NC's national pride being the equivalent of a religious faith; and, that class distinctions are as alive and kicking as they were in NC's time.

Michael Coveney spoke about the different ways of 'doing' NC, with special reference to Glasgow theatre (and Susan or Gareth please remind me which theatre this was - I guess he was referring to the Citizens Theatre - Gareth). This was a most enjoyable paper, given by someone plainly very knowledgeable, and utterly impossible to summarise.
Philip Hoare spoke - against a backdrop of various slide/photographs - of NC's masks, of how 'Brief Encounter' was a mask for his own brief encounters, of how he basically wrote his own image; of his use of language as a defensive weapon.
Alan Sinfield described how NC eschewed a camp style; how he needed to appear masculine to give the appearance of conformity, with dissidence thus being viewed as a more 'feminine' trait (and challenges to the system thus being achieved by appearing effeminate), and how as a result his style was adopted by straight men; Sinfield spoke too of the two levels of code - the one ordinary, titillating, for the 'ordinary' man in the street (my quotes) and the gay code.
Jean Chothia confirmed NC's manipulating intelligence, and spoke of his energy coming from the activity in the dialogue; his ability to tap into our ability to recognise misconceptions, substitutions. How NC always wins audiences to his side - and never bores them!

Frances Gray compared the 'journey' made by Coward dialogue with, for example, a dance by Astaire. (I can't do justice to this paper.)
John Stokes talked about Yvonne Printemps, who starred in 'Conversation Piece'. She worked with Maurice Chevalier, and spoke very little English (but everyone else's French improved dramatically...) Fascinating, coloured by recordings of her singing, and by various slides.
Peter Raby spoke about Saki and his admiration for Wilde, how Saki's character Reginald was descended from Algernon Moncrieff - showing youth triumphant; and he related Act 3 of Easy Virtue to Act 2 of Lady Windermere's Fan [must get out my Collected Works of OW]. He also described how NC gave an assured portrait of a particular kind of Englishness, and how he reached out further than Wilde or Saki in acknowledging the reality of sex (where Saki avoids the battles), and in his use of dialogue, which strives much less for its effect and is consequently much more subtle.
This is a necessarily brief and, I realise, superficial report, and I have not attempted to get across the range, depth and interest of all the papers. I hope nevertheless I have managed to make others who perforce could not attend really jealous.) In subsequent conferences (may this be but the first), I'd very much like to hear more on the music and on the musicals, a highly fruitful area. I for one found the occasion extremely stimulating and exciting. Many, many thanks to all involved!

Valerie Langfield

The Evening & Day 2
The evening session was opened by a talk by Sheridan Morley, reflecting on the writing of his biography, and memories of NC, liberally sprinkled with anecdotes and stories. This was followed by a short "cabaret" performance of NC songs by Peter Greenwell. Peter was NC's last accompanist, with many personal memories of the man himself as well as a performance style that whilst his own, probably reflects a more accurate representation of NC in cabaret than any other performer today.

Day Two was mainly devoted to two workshop sessions. One focussed on the director's view of Coward plays, with Philip Franks (director of Private Lives at The Royal National Theatre, London); Christopher Newton (artistic director of the Shaw Festival, Canada) and Sue Wilson of the BBC. The second workshop was with actors, namely Corin Redgrave (straight from his London performance in A Song at Twilight) and Malcolm Sinclair (from the London Production of Hay Fever). Both sessions were enormously enjoyable, especially as they allowed the audience to participate, argue and learn.

Overall, the Conference was excellent. I'm not sure how, but we need to repeat it with new material, new speakers etc. It was particularly good to see so many young students attending, as they have a study of NC as an option on their drama course at Birmingham.

Gareth Pike

A Gift from Australia
This photograph was given to the Noël Coward Appreciation Society of South Australia. They, in turn, passed it to us as a gift to mark the Centenary. Thank you very much, South Australia.

Unfortunately, they have been unable to trace the name of the owner of the original other than the fact that he was believed to have been "somebody's father or uncle". It is clearly labelled "Noël Coward at the Woodside Army Camp (near Adelaide) - 9th December 1940". Julian Rady of South Australia is researching Coward's wartime tour of Australia, and he sent us the photo with a note that Coward sang the "extra" verse of Mrs Worthington at the concert.

Apparently, NC had asked that there should only be troops at the concert, but a group of society ladies had gatecrashed the performance. Bob Caldicott, a junior employee with the ABC at the time was at the Woodside Concert. He recalled (in his book "I'm Speaking to You") that Coward continued "Some of you may have heard my record 'Don't Put Your Daughter on the Stage, Mrs Worthington.' I'm afraid the record company would not allow me to record all my admonitions to Mrs Worthington, so I thought you might like to hear them now!" And we did.

Now, of course, that extra verse has been published with its final lines: Christ!/ Mrs Worthington/ Don't put your daughter on the stage! When Julian has finished his researches, I hope he will let us publish them, with the full story.

Gareth Pike


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