I have been reading The Noel Coward Diaries edited by Graham Payn and Sheridan Morley (1982) and am nearly at the end of this large volume of over 650 pages. The diaries extend from 1941 (several years before my birth) to 1969 when Noel Coward was about to be knighted.
Cole Lesley and Noel Coward.
I found this a fascinating book which gave a clear view into Noel Coward’s busy and successful life. I dare say that he might have had a fair inkling that these diaries would be published after his death, but despite this, he did not pull any punches in what he said about people he met; plays, films, concerts and operas he attended; and books he read.
He was a hard worker. He took roles in films and plays, performed in cabaret, and was always busy writing a new play or novel. He travelled extensively, and although he had many famous friends in theatre and royal circles, his inner circle of intimate friends was small and he remained loyal to them throughout his life - Cole Lesley, Graham Payne and Lorn Lorraine. The last-mentioned was his secretary and manager from 1924 until her death.
By the time his diary reached the nineteen-sixties his health was deteriorating. He was sad that Graham Payn was not making a success of his stage career and wrote a touching entry about Graham on 24 November 1966, “He has a loving and loyal heart and no future anywhere but with me... ”
I saw Noel Coward in his last West End performance in 1966 – Shadows of the Evening and Come into the Garden, Maud at the Queen’s Theatre. His co-stars were Irene Worth and Lilli Palmer. Apparently Irene Worth could do no wrong, while Lilli Palmer presented him with numerous irritating problems during the run of the play. I will always remember seeing a chaffeur-driven Rolls Royce arriving at the stage door to fetch Noel Coward after his performance. He waved graciously at the hoi polloi as the car drove off.
Noel Coward died in 1973. On the day of his death, British tenor, Webster Booth was in East London directing The Mikado. He and I were having tea and cream scones at Marina Glen that afternoon and spoke of him.
I recommend this book to anyone interested in the inner workings of the theatre. Noel Coward’s diary is beautifully written and gives fascinating insights into the theatre, the critics, and the vagaries of a number of famous performers, by a multi-talented performer, writer and composer who certainly deserved the title of The Master.
17 December 2015.