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Red silk is the best blood

David Thomson: Sondheim, 16 December 2010

Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954-81), with Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes 
by Stephen Sondheim.
Virgin, 445 pp., £30, October 2010, 978 0 7535 2258 5
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... dampens the impact. There are famous lyricists who get a headmaster’s lashing – one is Noël Coward and another is Lorenz Hart. Sondheim is brilliant on Coward – ‘brittle and sentimental’, he says, and then adds: ‘condescending’. He allows that Coward has ‘charm’, but ...

Short Cuts

Andrew O’Hagan: Voices from Beyond the Grave, 20 November 2008

... of their characters. Among the British contingent, none is more satisfying in this way than Noel Coward, who was caught at Heathrow in transit from his home in Jamaica to his home in Switzerland. It is 6 a.m. and you can hear in the background what a British transport arena used to sound like before the days of interminable announcements. It is not too early ...

Against Self-Criticism

Adam Phillips, 5 March 2015

... of ignoble fear in the face of pain, danger or difficulty’; according to Chambers, a coward may be a ‘pusillanimous person’, someone ‘wanting firmness of mind … mean-spirited’. Cowardice is deemed to be unimpressive, inappropriate, a shameful fear. We are cowardly when we are not at our best, when frightened. But there are acceptable ...

Sickness and Salvation

Sylvia Lawson, 31 August 1989

Aids and its Metaphors 
by Susan Sontag.
Allen Lane, 95 pp., £9.95, March 1989, 0 7139 9025 2
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The Whole Truth: The Myth of Alternative Health 
by Rosalind Coward.
Faber, 216 pp., £12.99, June 1989, 0 571 14114 5
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... shoulders of the individual, and sell their varying brands of ‘natural’ salvation. In Rosalind Coward’s view, this is the Protestant curse, developed now into an ideology only too compatible with individualist capitalism, despite all the show of opposition to the unhealthy industrialised world. Her prose is extensive, explanatory, careful; there’s too ...

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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... 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 years than ...

Zanchevsky, Zakrevsky or Zakovsky?

Sheila Fitzpatrick: Julian Barnes, 18 February 2016

The Noise of Time 
by Julian Barnes.
Cape, 184 pp., £14.99, January 2016, 978 1 910702 60 4
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... mother or the Soviet regime. He is anxious, indecisive (outside the musical realm), something of a coward. A ‘thorough-going neurotic’, even a ‘hysteric’, in his own self-diagnosis. His mother and his scientist wife, Nina (Nita to her family), are the dominant characters in his immediate milieu. ‘Sometimes, after a successful concert, when he had ...

One Night in Maidenhead

Jean McNicol, 30 October 1997

Noel Coward and Radclyffe Hall: Kindred Spirits 
by Terry Castle.
Columbia, 150 pp., £15.95, November 1996, 0 231 10596 7
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Your John: The Love Letters of Radclyffe Hall 
edited by Joanne Glasgow.
New York, 273 pp., £20, March 1997, 0 8147 3092 2
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Radclyffe Hall: A Woman Called John 
by Sally Cline.
Murray, 434 pp., £25, June 1997, 9780719554087
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... to her own not terribly tragic life. Early in her suggestive and elegantly written study of Noël Coward and Radclyffe Hall, Terry Castle admits that Hall’s ‘style is for the most part the antithesis of Coward’s – painfully discursive, polemical, almost entirely devoid of gaiety, archness or ambiguity’. Castle ...


Elizabeth Mavor, 18 July 1985

A Traveller in Romance 
by W. Somerset Maugham, edited by John Whitehead.
Muller, Blond and White, 275 pp., £12.95, November 1984, 0 85634 184 3
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... Parker is discussed, the letters of Madame de Sévigné, the personalities of Marie Tempest, Noel Coward, Eddie Marsh, the Aga Khan; there are pensées on playing bridge, the reasons why the American dislike the English, an account of what it’s like to have one’s portrait painted; there are some unexceptionable short stories and a playlet. There are ...

Bang-Bang, Kiss-Kiss

Christian Lorentzen: Bond, 3 December 2015

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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... 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 ...


Alan Bennett: What I did in 1998, 21 January 1999

... and Canada there not being much to choose. Easter Monday. Watch two programmes on Noël Coward, wishing now I’d agreed to be interviewed for them. I’d said no on the grounds that my acquaintance with him was too slight, but Wesker appears whose connection was even slighter. I saw Coward first in New York in ...

On David King

Susannah Clapp, 21 June 2018

... I am dead.’ ‘You can’t be dead – you’re the greatest living writer.’ ‘No, no, Noël Coward is the greatest living writer.’ ‘But Noël Coward is dead.’ ‘Oh,’ said Genet, ‘that’s good.’ There was our caption. No editing needed. David had the ear of a natural writer – there seemed to be no gap ...

Stalking Out

David Edgar: After John Osborne, 20 July 2006

John Osborne: A Patriot for Us 
by John Heilpern.
Chatto, 528 pp., £25, May 2006, 0 7011 6780 7
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... charts Osborne’s transformation from the Angry Young Man of the late 1950s via ‘the faux Coward sophisticate and surly teddy boy’ of the 1960s to the English country squire of the 1980s and 1990s. People who knew Osborne personally (which I didn’t) speak warmly of the quality of his company; however, most also acknowledge that his refusal to edit ...

Do put down that revolver

Rosemary Hill, 14 July 2016

The Long Weekend: Life in the English Country House between the Wars 
by Adrian Tinniswood.
Cape, 406 pp., £25, June 2016, 978 0 224 09945 5
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... panoply of the country house as home, with its limited diversions and heavy obligations. As Noël Coward put it, ‘The fact that they have to be rebuilt/and frequently mortgaged to the hilt/is inclined to take the gilt/off the gingerbread.’ Coward himself, who was born in Waldegrave Road, Teddington, represented one new ...


A.N. Wilson, 21 October 1993

Love from Nancy: The Letters of Nancy Mitford 
edited by Charlotte Mosley.
Hodder, 538 pp., £20, September 1993, 0 340 53784 1
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... My great new friend is Noël Coward’, Nancy Mitford confided to a correspondent in 1949. ‘Bliss. He shakes like a jelly at one’s jokes, I adore that.’ It was laughs Nancy Mitford wanted, much more than grandeur. She longs to make people laugh, and sometimes, almost in the manner of a nervous stand-up comedienne, interrupts her letters to make sure that the audience is suitably convulsed ...

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