In 1931 Noël Coward was adjudged to be the highest earning author in the world. He remains one of Britain’s most famous sons, infant prodigy, playwright of genius, talented composer, writer and performer. His name is common currency, his epigrams endlessly quoted and his plays still performed around the world.
Noël Coward was born on 16th December 1899. This fact seemed to endow him with the fleeting grandeur of the old century and also of his country’s past. Behind the red-brick of his birthplace and unremarkable family background, was an interesting ancestry of high ranking naval officers, public servants of note and talented literary and musical figures. He could also claim royal and aristocratic connections. Coward grew up to be obsessed with the British class structure and social climbing. He was encouraged in this by his mother, a gentlewoman of Scottish decent.
The young Noël was an extremely talented child musically and theatrically. He was also an accomplished dancer. He joined a children’s theatre which was formed by a Miss Lila Fields. No member of the group was over the age of fourteen. His friendship with Mrs Astley Cooper who resided at Hambledon – her large estate in Oakham in Rutland – introduced Coward to a life of luxury, into which he fitted with considerable ease! He loved the clothes, the manners, the social graces and the entire ambience. The mental vision of many of his plays were formed at this time.
Coward’s presence in the public eye turned him into a celebrity in his own right across both the UK and USA. The media avidly followed and reported on Coward’s plays and public appearances, elevating his celebrity status significantly as his career continued to develop.
Despite his high-profile persona and arguably lavish lifestyle, Coward was fundamentally a man who loved all artistic forms and possessed a work ethic like no other. He immersed himself in work from the age of 10. Consequently, he was hugely prolific; his final verse was written only days before he died.
As a result, Coward became known as ‘The Master’ by many of his contemporaries and fans. A quote from Lord Louis Mountbatten on Coward’s 70th birthday perhaps best sums this up:
There are probably greater painters than Noël, greater novelists than Noël, greater librettists, greater composers of music, greater singers, greater dancers, greater comedians, greater tragedians, greater stage producers, greater film directors, greater cabaret stars, greater TV stars. If there are, they are 14 different people. Only one man combined all 14 labels – The Master.