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Family Album
This page provides a more detailed look at a person or issue of significance in the life of Noël Coward.
Date: 15th June, 2000
Ivor Novello 1893 - 1951
 
This 'Family Album' piece 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, publ. Hutchinson.

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 began.

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 carping notices.

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.


Norman Hast September 1940

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