- 1893 - 1951
- This article was written in
1940. The year, in the middle of WW2 when he had written Ladies
Into Action and the year after one of his greatest successes
The Dancing Years. He was a close friend of Noel Coward
who greatly admired him. This lightweight article from the September
1940 edition of 'Theatre World' entitled Introducing Ivor
Novello is interesting in that it says very little of any
import but reflects the mannered prose style of theatre magazines
of the time.
- For a more substantive look
at Novello try the following biographies: Ivor Novello - A
biography by James Harding, 1987, publ.Whallen ISBN 0-491-03385-0,
Ivor Novello by Peter Noble with a forward by Noel Coward,
1951, publ. The Falcon Press and Ivor -The Story of an Achievement
- A Biography of Ivor Novello by W. Macqueen-Pope, 1951,
There have been two Ivor Novellos. One, a gifted dilettante,
was, it seemed, born lucky. Quite effortlessly he achieved a
large success at a very early age. Inheriting a musical mother's
gifts, he could, when most young men are accustoming themselves
to an office routine, sit down and write a song, " Keep
the Home Fires Burning,- which brought him in many thousands
of pounds.Then, without any struggle at all, he obtained a commission
to do the music for a show at the Gaiety. Imagine it, the Gaiety!
At that time the leading musical comedy theatre of the world
and, until Ivor stormed its portals, the close preserve of established
purveyors of light music like Monckton, Rubens, and Talbot.
Losing the manuscript of Theodore & Co. in a taxi-cab one
day, he was able, with his usual inspired facility, to write
a complete new score in the short time available before rehearsals
The next few years were prosperous and happy. Ivor Novello enjoyed
himself. And since enjoyment has to be paid for, and the profits
on his first successful song had long been spent, he used easily,
and when he felt inclined, to turn out catchy tunes for musical
comedies and revues. A list of his output at this time makes
impressive reading. One would guess that he was a paragon of
industry. Not content with his numerous successes as a composer,
he took up an acting career, and then went in for a spell of
filming. If one hadn't his own word for it, one would find it
extremely difficult to believe that he was very lazy.
Yet lazy he was, and extravagantly generous. There came a time
when his financial resources had dwindled dangerously, and there
seemed to be no immediate prospect of the usual easy musical
success to recoup them. Luckily he had just recently embarked
on another career: that of playwriting. When he had a moment
to spare he and Constance Collier used to get together, and between
them they concocted that melodramatic thriller of the Parisian
underworld, The Rat. When The Rat was put on Ivor was overdrawn
at the bank. It was fortunate that the play was an immediate
and resounding success.
We now come to the other Ivor Novello, the industrous and practical
man of the theatre. He made his appearance at about the same
time as The Rat, just over 15 years ago, and he has crowded into
this period an extraordinary amount of serious hard work.
At school he founded a dramatic club, which still exists. He
wrote all the plays, and took the leading parts. A large part
of the money he earned so easily as a composer was spent on playgoing.
He went to the theatre practically every night of his life. And
he went for pleasure. He managed to enjoy something in every
play he saw, either an individual performance or some small detail
of production. He believes that this spirit taught him more about
what the public wants than going to find fault.
The first play he wrote on his own was The Truth Game. The road
to its success was strewn with disappointments and alarms. All
sorts of rumours were rampant as to what was going on behind
the scenes at rehearsals. People lost faith in the play, largely
perhaps because Ivor Novello is the sort of dramatist who leaves
such a lot to the time when the production is actually taking
shape in the theatre, where he usually has his happiest flashes
of inspiration. The harassed author of The Truth Game
became dispirited ; he was affected,, naturally, by the doubts
of others. Mr. Graham Browne finally took over the production,
putting new life into everybody, and almost making Ivor Novello
weep with gratitude, when he exclaimed at one of his rehearsals,
"But this is a lovely play !"
Later, the public endorsed his opinion. The Truth Game
ran for months and months, being the first of a series of "sure-fire"
Novello successes. There was Symphony in Two Flats, in
which use was once more made of the old-time popular mixture
of melodrama and comic relief though in this instance a novel
twist was provided by keeping the two quite separate, almost,
in fact, in two different plays. Then there was Proscenium,
the play dealing with show life which Novello had been meaning
to write for years, Murder in Mayfair, which deserved
to be a success for its title alone, and then Glamorous Night,
with which Ivor Novello realised his dream of appearing at Drury
Lane in a big musical play written and composed by, himself.
Ivor Novello has sometimes been taken to account rather harshly
in the press, chiefly by critical gentlemen who seerri to think
that an author is wasting his talents who doesn't attempt to
insert some sort of 'message' into his work. Novello, of course,
has his serious side. But he doesn't at the moment feel that
the theatre is the most suitable place in which to exhibit it.
He has built up his own audiences, and because he always keeps
faith with them he is very little affected by unfriendly and
Although his aims in the theatre are far from highbrow, he takes
very seriously his job of amusing the public. He would far rather
make people laugh, an art which he understands to perfection,
than attempt to deliver some ponderous -message which might fail
to get over at all, and in failing, throw a lot of hard-working
actors and actresses out of their jobs.
He works every day, writing at incredible speed. He once told
me that the first rule for an aspiring playwright is " to
get something down on paper. I don't want to suggest that he
is slipshod in his methods. He isn't. The rough drafts of his
plays, usually completed in a very few weeks, are typed. Then
he sets seriously to work on them. This last stage may take months.
Personally, he is one of the most popular people on the stage,
not only with his public, but with his fellow artists. Although
possessed of a quick intelligence and keen wit, which might be
turned to deadly account among his acquaitances he has never
been known to say a wounding thing about anybody.
Hast September 1940