A Talent To Amuse - Tuesday 16th December 1969 - Phoenix Theatre

The Society has a recording of the highlights of this show and is seeking permission from those who took part to release it. If you took part in the show or knew somebody who did then please get in touch. Many of those who took part are no lonmger with us but there estates may wish to be contacted to ensure that the material planned for release is suitable and of the right quality. The recording will allow us to produce a double CD with the option of a single CD of notable extracts from the show.

Listed below are all those who took part - please get in touch if you can help or if you have any information that can help us. email

Production Staff:
Directed by Wendy Toye, Nigel Patrick and Douglas Squires
Produced by Martin Tickner
Musical Director Grant Hossack
Production supervised by Robert Nesbitt

John Gielgud, Maggie Fitzgibbon, Richard Attenborough, Irene Worth, Betty Hare, Robert Morley, Danny La Rue, Gretchen Franklin, Dofris Hare, Alison Leggatt, Dandy Nichols, Elsie Randolph, Dorothy Reynolds, George Benson, Robert Coote, Jack Kruschen, John Merivale, Daphne Anderson, Amanda Barrie, Sheila Bernette, Joyce Blair, Josephine Gordon, Gay Soper, Billy Boyle, Neil Fitzwilliam, John Gower, Terence Knapp, Rod McLennan, Terry Mitchell, Cheryl Kennedy, David Kernan, Faith Brook, Patricia Burke, Judy Campbell, Dulcie Gray, Marion Grimaldi, Glynis Johns, Vanessa Lee, Moira Lister, Dinah Sheridan, Eleanor Summerfield, Kim Grant, Lewis Fiander, Norman Warwick, Stephen Warwick, Susannah York, Richard Briers, Patrick Allen, Ray Barrett, Michael Denison. Joyce Grenfell, William Blezzard, Caryl Little, Sheila White, Jonathan Dennis, Graham James, Tony Britton, Peter Graves, John Moffat, John Stranding, Celai Johnson, Anne Rogers, Mark Wynter, Harvey Hope, Nicky Henson, Julian Holloway, Bunny May, Gary Bond, Anthony Roberts, Norman Warwick, Hubert Gregg, Gordon Jackson, David Knight, Bryan Forbes, Guy Hamilton, John Schlesinger, Joan Heal, Ian Carmichael, Graham Payn, Terry Mitchell, Stanley Holloway, Tessie O'Shea, The Young Generation, John Clements, Susan Hampshire, Denis Quilley, Pat Kirkwood, Elisabeth Welch, Jessie Matthews, Avril Angers, Hy Hazell, Stella Moray, June Whitfield, Patricia Routledge, Cyril Ritchard, Richar Rodney Bennett, Jeremy Brett, Anna Neagle, June Bronhill, Una Stubbs, Cliff Richard, Cleo Laine, Johnny Dankworth, The Mike Sammes Singers.

Musicians: Bruce George, Ronnie Price, Tome Pinguey, Paul Hiley, Chick Lovelle, Ray Bishop.

The Story So far...

At the Phoenix Theatre, London (the theatrical home of his West End hits Private Lives and Tonight At 8.30) a privileged audience sat down to see 120 performers and musicians embrace the life of The Master at a midnight matinee on 16th December 1969, the birthday of Noël Coward. This late-night performance, some four hours long allowed friends, contemporaries and stars of the day to perform his songs, sketches, monologues and extracts from his in the order of their happening, as described in Sheridan Morley’s first Coward biography ‘A Talent To Amuse’. As Robert Morley who compèred the show with Richard Attenborough put it,

I want to say personally how very proud I am and pleased and flattered to have been included tonight in this wonderful evening and I, like I think all the artists appearing with me tonight, will do my best to sell my child’s book”.

Grant Hossack the Musical Director for the evening recalls that Martin Tickner who produced the show had asked for a recording of the evening to made. Copies were given to Noël Coward one of which was kept at his London Office in Cadogan Square. This copy is the one that The Noël Coward Society has just had cleaned and renovated by Alan Bunting of ABCD Enterprises creating an unreleased jewel of affection for Noël Coward from the London world of entertainment of the 1960s. The Noël Coward Society is currently endeavouring to release the full recording on a double CD and extracts on a single CD. In order to do this we need to gain permission of up to 120 performers who appeared or played that night. Many of them are no longer with us so the task of contacting the living and the estates of the dead is to say the least challenging!

The creation and production of the show is a story in its own right and deserves to be told in both the CD notes and elsewhere.  Grant Hossack has memories of an occasion that reeks of all the panic and confusion that can be created when 120 people try to do their best to show their love for one of the leading figures of the entertainment world. He recalls that

John Gielgud ‘dried’ during “The Boy Actor”, and my chief memory of him is seeing his legs trembling violently the whole way through, he was so terrified! Who wouldn't be with Noël and Merle Oberon in the ‘Box’?”

Merle Oberon was Noël’s guest for the evening. She was an old friend who in 1955 had flown to see him with Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland as he took the bold step into American cabaret and became a legendary success at The Desert Inn in Las Vegas.

Although Grant was Musical Director for the evening he recalls that he was unable to write the arrangements…

“…as I was writing the arrangements for a pantomime with Richard Murdoch (with David Jason as a Chinese Policeman!) at the New Theatre, Bromley. Bruce George did the arrangements for Talent To Amuse. Of the other musicians Paul Hiley was the drummer. Tom Pinguey (Bass) & Ronnie Price (Organ) are no longer alive. Chick Lovelle played guitar and Bruce George played piano. Bruce was Australian and may be back there. Mike Sammes supplied the ‘pit’ singers for the Overture. I remember they forgot to turn the mikes on for them, so they couldn't be heard out front - That was the only thing I did score, too!! Harvey Hope was the guitarist who accompanied Mark Wynter in “Matelot”

"John Moffatt (who sang in '...Stately Homes) reminded me that at the Band Call, Stanley Holloway's "London Pride" was in the wrong key for him (I don't know how that happened!) and I was obviously very upset about this. Stanley said, "Don't worry, dear boy, I'll recite rather than sing it!" Which apparently he did .. !! I remember having an altercation with Tessie O'Shea's pianist, who joined the Band for her "Girl Who Came To Supper" excerpts. I had actually got the Tempo right for her at the Performance, which I hadn't at the Dress Rehearsal. However, he decided to play at a different tempo to mine, so I shrieked at him, "Follow ME - I have got the right tempo!" At which point he stormed out of the Pit, and Ronnie Price took over on Piano, to the relief of all concerned!!"

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