by Noël Coward
27 March - 06 May 2006
Noël Coward

Noël Coward

Noël Coward was born in Teddington on 16th December 1899. By the time he’d reached the age of 7 he had made his first public appearance in an end-of-term concert at St Margaret’s School in Sutton.

In January 1911 Noël made his professional debut in The Goldfish, a children’s musical, which premièred at the Little Theatre followed by runs at the Royal Court Theatre and the Crystal Palace Theatre. His performance caught the attention of the great Charles Hawtrey who asked the boy actor to appear in his autumn production of The Great Name at the Prince of Wales Theatre. He went on to appear in the very first production of Where the Rainbow Ends at the Savoy Theatre, a fairytale show that was in demand almost every Christmas for the next 40 years. During this run, Hawtrey encouraged the children in the show to stage their own special matinees. It was at one of these that Coward discovered another talent – in 1912 he directed 11-year old Dot Temple’s first play. From then on there was no stopping him.

By 1915 Coward played his first adult role in Charley’s Aunt and had written both the music and lyrics to his first song, Forbidden Fruit. He made his cabaret debut in 1916, and by 1917 he had produced a play for the first time, Ida Collaborates by Esme Wynne.

I’ll Leave It to You, Coward’s first play was produced in London’s West End in 1920 in which he played one of the juvenile leads. By 1922 his first book, A Withered Nosegay, was published and the very next year he produced his first revue, London’s Calling! starring Gertrude Lawrence.

In 1929 he completed and produced Bitter-Sweet and, whilst it was playing in Manchester, he wrote Private Lives, one of his most produced plays. This premièred in the West End starring Coward and Gertrude Lawrence and then went on to Broadway in 1931, once again with Noël and Gertie.

In 1932 Coward won an Oscar for Best Picture for Cavalcade, and a year later Design For Living was produced on Broadway featuring Coward and the Lunts.

During 1934 he appeared in his first major film role in The Scoundrel. He also formed Transatlantic Productions for the purpose of producing his plays (as well as others) along with the Lunts.

By 1937 the first volume of Noël Coward’s autobiography, Present Indicative, was published and the second part, Future Indefinite, in 1954. The third part of this autobiography, Past Conditional, was worked on in 1967 but later abandoned.

During World War II, Coward had a post in the Enemy Propaganda Office in Paris. Whilst working there, from September 1939 to April 1940, he sang to the troops for the war effort, a role he took up again in 1944.

In 1941, another widely produced play, Blithe Spirit, began a long run in the West End before transferring to Broadway and by the end of the year, Coward had completed In Which We Serve for which he won an Oscar for Best Production the next year, when it was premièred.