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Tony, Ray and the Duchess

Alan Bell, 21 May 1981

A Lonely Business: A Self-Portrait of James Pope-Hennessy 
edited by Peter Quennell.
Weidenfeld, 278 pp., £12.50, April 1981, 0 297 77918 4
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... change the shape of my brain-pan.’ His professionalism shows through, and it is clear that the Noël Coward biography which he had just started at the time of his death would have been something to have looked forward to from a man who could describe Elsa Maxwell as ‘an ugly, vulgar, fusty, noisy woman with a tumbler of whisky screwed into her ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: David Lean, 3 July 2008

... in June and July covers the whole career, which seems to fall into what we might call shifts. The Noël Coward shift comprises In Which We Serve (1942), This Happy Breed (1944), Blithe Spirit (1945) and Brief Encounter; the Dickens shift is Great Expectations (1946) and Oliver Twist; and the epic shift consists of The Bridge on the River Kwai ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘Hail, Caesar!’, 17 March 2016

Hail, Caesar! 
directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen.
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... in production with Ralph Fiennes as the director. The joke seems crude – Gene Autry meets Noël Coward, say – but the tone here, as in the rest of the film, has those curious qualities the Coen brothers specialise in. Everything is slow, a little obvious, and whatever is funny is caught up in another effect, harder to name. In this case we ...

Bang-Bang, Kiss-Kiss

Christian Lorentzen: Bond, 3 December 2015

Spectre 
directed by Sam Mendes.
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The Man with the Golden Typewriter: Ian Fleming’s James Bond Letters 
edited by Fergus Fleming.
Bloomsbury, 391 pp., £25, October 2015, 978 1 4088 6547 7
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Ian Fleming: A Personal Memoir 
by Robert Harling.
Robson, 372 pp., £20, October 2015, 978 84 95493 65 1
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... the Flemings’ more famous friends (Somerset Maugham, Claudette Colbert, their Jamaica neighbour Noël Coward), but details of their social life are sketchy. When Truman Capote pays a visit, Fleming writes to Ann: ‘Can you imagine a more incongruous playmate for me?’ He seems happiest discussing technical details, as when a gun expert, Geoffrey ...

When the Mediterranean Was Blue

John Bayley, 23 March 1995

Cyril Connolly: A Nostalgic Life 
by Clive Fisher.
Macmillan, 304 pp., £20, March 1995, 0 333 57813 9
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... He was a mixture of Pan and Peter Pan. Clive Fisher, who has written a very good book on Noel Coward, was quite right to give this elegant study the subtitle ‘A Nostalgic Life’. Being Anglo-Irish helped the nostalgia. Connolly senior had been a Major in the British Army and when he retired became an expert conchologist – shells to shells, as one ...

The Best Barnet

Jeremy Harding, 20 February 1997

With Chatwin: Portrait of a Writer 
by Susannah Clapp.
Cape, 246 pp., £15.99, January 1997, 0 224 03258 5
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... Chatwin’s other models look very odd in the juxtaposing: he admired Hemingway and doted on Noël Coward. Clapp’s attempt to make sense of this is as forlorn as anyone’s would be: Coward’s ‘measured languour and tense, comic under-statement can be discerned in Chatwin’s prose, as, occasionally, can ...

Astrid, Clio and Julia

Alan Bell, 17 July 1980

The Wanton Chase 
by Peter Quennell.
Collins, 192 pp., £8.95, May 1980, 0 00 216526 0
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... architecture in the squares of wartime London, in the constant literary references which view Noël Coward, Ivor Novello and Robert Newton in the light of Garrick’s theatrical world, or his pungent romance with Miss Julia set against Hazlitt’s Liber Amoris. It is not just a world of politesse and enlightenment that is referred to. Boswell (who ...

A Turn of Events

Frank Kermode, 14 November 1996

Reality and Dreams 
by Muriel Spark.
Constable, 160 pp., £14.95, September 1996, 0 09 469670 5
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... Auden and Chester Kallman, Graham Greene, Allen Tate, Louis MacNeiec, Tennessee Williams, Noel Coward, John Braine, Mary McCarthy ... (a shade slyly, Mrs Spark, after all a director in her own way, may here be self-indulgently thinking of some of her own old pals). He meditates the great turn of the times that may be upon us, and dreads God’s dreams ...

Lord Fitzcricket

P.N. Furbank: The composer’s life, 21 May 1998

Lord Berners: The Last Eccentric 
by Mark Amory.
Chatto, 274 pp., £20, March 1998, 1 85619 234 2
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... country-house prankishness. His verbal wit, it is true, sometimes had a little more edge, in the Noël Coward style. I liked: ‘Complaining of insomnia, he said that he had had a room next door to Sibyl Colefax, “and she never stopped climbing all night”.’ Mark Amory’s entertaining book leaves one rather liking Berners, a most unpretentious ...

Count the Commas

Terry Eagleton: Craig Raine’s novel, 24 June 2010

Heartbreak 
by Craig Raine.
Atlantic, 186 pp., £12.99, July 2010, 978 1 84887 510 4
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... people can be found speaking to each other in the oblique, emotionally constipated tones of a Noël Coward drama. Francesca thinks it smart to imitate African English. The novel has a notably tin ear for human speech. Someone who is clearly not from a Glasgow housing scheme asks: ‘Where is it, somewhere in Walter Pater, where he says that Leonardo ...

Beau Beverley

George Melly, 27 June 1991

Beverley Nichols 
by Bryan Connon.
Constable, 320 pp., £20, March 1991, 0 09 470570 4
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... of his income, even when he was earning a lot of money. He wrote far too much, far too fast. Noel Coward would have served Connolly as a better comparison than Auden or Waugh. As social and, at times, just as silly as Nichols, he had that core of steel that Beverley lacked. His craftsmanship and his awareness of his own limitations have ensured his ...

Ferrets can be gods

Katherine Rundell, 11 August 2016

Gabriel-Ernest and Other Tales 
by Saki and Quentin Blake.
Alma Classics, 156 pp., £6.99, October 2015, 978 1 84749 592 1
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... literary publications), and so it is with the list of writers who have introduced Saki’s work: Noël Coward, A.N. Wilson, Tom Sharpe, Will Self. Coward’s use of Sakian humour, though, is constrained by his urgent pursuit of the next punchline; Sharpe’s has a seaside postcard quality that has dated more in forty ...

Simply too exhausted

Christopher Hitchens, 25 July 1991

Edwina Mountbatten: A Life of Her Own 
by Janet Morgan.
HarperCollins, 509 pp., £20, July 1991, 0 00 217597 5
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... him dragoon his own scabs in the General Strike. Anyway, the Kelly story had a happy ending. Noel Coward was induced to make a movie about it – one of the great camp films of the wartime period. As Dame Janet gushes: Dickie could not have been more pleased. The script? Here were his own speeches to the crew. Problems with the Admiralty? He wheeled Noel in ...

Snug

John Bayley, 9 September 1993

The Life of Ian Fleming 
by Donald McCormick.
Peter Owen, 231 pp., £18.50, July 1993, 0 7206 0888 0
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... had she arrived than his Bond persona took fright, and he determined to palm her off on Noel Coward, who lived up the bay. In exchange Coward asked for the gift of Fleming’s polaroid camera and tripod, which he had long coveted, and the pair haggled openly over the deal in the presence of the novelist, who had no ...

Trouble down there

Ferdinand Mount: Tea with Sassoon, 7 August 2003

Siegfried Sassoon: The Making of a War Poet 1886-1918 
by Jean Moorcroft Wilson.
Duckworth, 600 pp., £9.99, September 2002, 0 7156 2894 1
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Siegfried Sassoon: The Journey from the Trenches 1918-67 
by Jean Moorcroft Wilson.
Duckworth, 526 pp., £30, April 2003, 0 7156 2971 9
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Sassoon: The Worlds of Philip and Sybil 
by Peter Stansky.
Yale, 295 pp., £25, April 2003, 0 300 09547 3
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... There is much about the succession of lovers or near-lovers – Gabriel Atkin, Ivor Novello, Noël Coward, Rex Whistler and above all the unbearable Stephen Tennant with his pearls and tantrums – but these tortuous episodes, in which Sassoon often gave as much hell as he got, are greatly revealing of his dissatisfaction as well as evocative ...

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