Remembering Graham Payn - thoughts from those who have written to us.

I was privileged to have met Mr Payn once, when he was visiting Joan Hirst at Denville Hall, and I was already talking with her in the bar, as I usually did after our many committee meetings there. Mr Payn had that rare combination of elegance and informality in his manner and Miss Hirst's face lit up with joy when she saw him. A charming and interesting man, just as Miss Hirst was a delightful and fascinating woman, so passionately a guardian of all that related to Sir Noel.

Robert Ashby, The Actors' Charitable Trust

- Barry Day

Graham Payn, lifelong friend of Noël Coward, and sole remaining Executor of Coward’s Estate, died in Les Avants near Montreux, Switzerland on 2nd November 2005 at the age of 87.

Payn, who was born in South Africa on 25th April 1918, was brought to England as a young boy by his opera singer mother. There, he found early success as a boy soprano. It was at an audition for Coward’s 1932 revue, Words and Music where he first met the man himself. Even the world-weary Coward had never before seen a 13-year old sing ‘Nearer My God To Thee’ while doing a tap dance and his stunned reaction was reported to be simply, ‘We’ve got to have that kid in the show!”. It would be the first of his many Coward shows.

During the war years Payn, who was by now a professional singer and dancer specialising in West End revues, was signed by Coward for his own post-war revue, Sigh No More, where he achieved great success with ‘Matelot’, a song that was associated with him for the rest of his life.  The show had another lasting legacy, as Coward’s nickname for his new found friend, ‘Little Lad’ was derived from another song which featured in the same revue.  Following his personal success in Words and Music, Payn was welcomed into the Coward ‘family’, which included Cole Lesley, who was Coward’s personal assistant, Lorne Loraine, his secretary, the designer Gladys Calthrop and actress Joyce Carey. Payn was to survive his friends by many years.

The post war years brought continuing success for Payn as he appeared in many more Coward shows including Pacific 1860 with Mary Martin in 1946, which reopened the bomb damaged Drury Lane Theatre, Ace of Clubs in 1950 and After the Ball, Coward’s musical version of Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan in 1954.

Although he was now enjoying a degree of professional success, Payn was not an ambitious man and commented that, ‘Funnily enough, it mattered more to Noël than it did to me. He longed for me to be a success’. He was now playing the parts Coward was now too old to play, and felt that his friend’s constant desire to push him into the spotlight was an unconscious desire for reincarnation.

In 1965, after playing a supporting parts in the 1960 production of Waiting in the Wings and the 1965 production of Present Laughter, Payn retired to play what would become his permanent casting - supporting actor to ‘The Master’.

When Coward died peacefully in at his home in Jamaica in March 1973, both Payn and Cole Lesley were with him. Much of his Jamaican property was handed over to the Jamaican Government but Payn and Lesley returned to his Swiss chalet from where Lesley administered the Coward Estate with his customary efficiency. When Lesley died in 1980, Payn took on the role of Executor, a role he had never anticipated and always felt himself ill-qualified to play. It was a role that would gain him no column inches in the newspapers but for the next twenty five years he quietly succeeded in managing a complex estate with charm, tact, firmness and an unwavering sense of ‘what Noël would have wanted’.

Throughout his stewardship of the Estate, Payn never wavered from making difficult decisions nor did he hesitate in allowing some experimentation where appropriate, believing that Noel himself would want his work to speak to today’s generation. Passionate about spreading the word to future generations, he was instrumental in setting up the Noel Coward Society, as well as the Noel Coward Charitable Foundation which gives grants to artistic organizations and promotes educational projects. Payn also campaigned for many years to have a theatre in London's West End (which he regarded as Noel's spiritual home) named after Coward. Although he did not live to see the name up in lights, he died knowing that his campaign had finally been successful and that Noel Coward's name will be attached to a West End Theatre for years to come. Barry Day

For published online obituaries see:
The Stage - The Times online - The Daily Telegraph - Playbill - New York Times - The Guardian

Remembering Graham Payn - thoughts from those who have written to us.

Graham Payn

This photograph, from 2003, was taken by Steve Ross, at the Restaurant of the Montreux Palace Hotel, Switzerland. (L) Gregory Moore and (R) Graham Payn. The recording of Matelot was made on the same day, in Vevey, Switzerland. "Matelot," was written for, and introduced by, Graham Payn, Noel Coward's life partner.
Click here to hear Gregory Moore and Steve Ross perform Matelot.


What a marvelous feeling you get here for their relationship .. Triton Hebbron

Grahm Payn - Boy Soprano

This picture of Graham when he was a noted boy soprano is from a CD of 'Great Boy Sopranos' (AMPHION PHI CD 159) and features two songs by Graham accompanied by Bruce Wendell. Some of Graham's perfomances were captured on film. The songs are: Meadowsweet (April) and Hymn That I Sang As A Boy (Miller-Burnaby)

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