Noël Peirce Coward was born in 1899 and made his professional stage debut as Prince Mussel in The Goldfish at the age of 11, leading to many child actor appearances over the next few years His breakthrough in playwriting was the controversial THE VORTEX (1924) which featured themes of drugs and adultery and made his name as both actor and playwright in the West End and on Broadway. During the 1920s and 1930s, Coward wrote a string of successful plays, musicals and intimate revues including FALLEN ANGELS (1925), HAY FEVER (1925), EASY VIRTUE (1926), THIS YEAR OF GRACE (1928),and BITTER SWEET (1929). His professional partnership with childhood friend Gertrude Lawrence, started with the musical Revue LONDON CALLING and was followed by PRIVATE LIVES (1931), and TONIGHT AT 8.30 (1936).
During World War II, he remained a successful playwright, screenwriter and director, as well as entertaining the troops and even acting as a l spy for the Foreign Office. His plays during these years included BLITHE SPIRIT (1942), which ran for 1997 performances, outlasting the War (a West End record until The Mousetrap overtook it), THIS HAPPY BREED and PRESENT LAUGHTER (both 1943). His two wartime screenplays, IN WHICH WE SERVE, which he co-directed with the young David Lean as well as starring in, and BRIEF ENCOUNTER quickly became classics of British cinema.
However, the post-war years were more difficult. Austerity Britain – the London critics determined – was out of tune with the brittle Coward wit. In response, Coward re-invented himself as a cabaret and TV star, particularly in America, and in 1955 he played a sell-out season in Las Vegas featuring many of his most famous songs, including Mad About the Boy, I’ll See You Again and Mad Dogs and Englishmen which was followed by 3 live television specials on CBS including TOGETHER WITH MUSIC with Mary Martin In the mid-1950s he settled in Jamaica and Switzerland, and enjoyed a renaissance in the early 1960s becoming the first living playwright to be performed by the National Theatre, when he directed HAY FEVER there. Late in his career he was lauded for his roles in a number of films including OUR MAN IN HAVANA (1959) and his role as the iconic Mr. Bridger alongside Michael Caine in THE ITALIAN JOB (1968).
Writer, actor, director, film producer, painter, songwriter, cabaret artist as well as an author of a novel, verse, essays and autobiographies, he was called by close friends ‘The Master’. His final West End appearance was SONG AT TWILIGHT in 1966, which he wrote and starred in. He was knighted in 1970 and died peacefully in 1973 in his beloved Jamaica.
For further information on Noël Coward’s life and work, visit www.noelcoward.com .