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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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... only 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 ...
... contemporary hit – from The Belle of New York, The Merry Widow, Hello Ragtime! or the early Noel Coward revues. Unable to read music, she played the piano by ear in an enjoyably slapdash way, and when she came to stay the house would be filled with the sound of these irresponsible melodies, which worked on one’s spirits like the concept of a cocktail. At ...

The British Disease

Peter Jenkins, 21 August 1980

Governments and Trade Unions: The British Experience 1964-79 
by Denis Barnes and Eileen Reid.
Heinemann, 240 pp., £12.50, May 1980, 0 435 83045 7
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... which there was nothing to be done except complain. Accused of drinking champagne at breakfast, Noël Coward asked: ‘Doesn’t everybody?’ Accused of committing a form of national suicide, the British in the Sixties and Seventies merely raised their eyebrows, as if this was the way of the industrialised world. Wasn’t everybody? Sir Denis Barnes ...


Ian Hamilton: Sport Poetry, 23 January 1986

... wrote an ode to the penis’, or that Edith Sitwell took to her bed for six weeks after Noel Coward put her in a play as Hernia Whittlebot, or that Ibsen three times over a period of twenty years based characters on a ‘fellow poet, novelist and dramatist whose easy self-confidence’ contrasted with his own ‘sense of personal failure’, or that ...

Who ruins Britain?

Peter Clarke, 22 November 1990

Friends in High Places: Who runs Britain? 
by Jeremy Paxman.
Joseph, 370 pp., £16.99, September 1990, 0 7181 3154 1
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The Sunday Times Book of the Rich 
by Philip Beresford.
Weidenfeld, 336 pp., £18.95, October 1990, 0 297 81115 0
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... here out of 24, with the list headed by the Duke of Westminster. (‘It always is,’ as Noel Coward almost put it.) The present Duke clocks in at £4200 million – not bad for a lad who left Harrow with two 0-Levels. There are ten other Harrovians in the list, compared with 78 Etonians. ‘By a curious trick of statistics,’ the editors ...

Minnesota Fates

Ferdinand Mount, 12 October 1989

We Are Still Married 
by Garrison Keillor.
Faber, 330 pp., £11.99, September 1989, 0 571 14140 4
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... in the front line of one-man showmen, along with, say, Michael MacLiammoir, Ruth Draper and Noel Coward. Thus no modern writer can have taken more literally the injunction to ‘read out loud the sentence you have just written’ – except that Keillor has spoken not just an individual sentence or two but the whole story plus a raft of variations tried out ...


Jane Mendelsohn, 23 September 1993

The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love 
by Oscar Hijuelos.
Penguin, 416 pp., £4.99, November 1990, 0 14 014391 2
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The Fourteen Sisters of Emilio Montez O’Brien 
by Oscar Hijuelos.
Hamish Hamilton, 484 pp., £15.99, July 1993, 0 241 13431 5
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... shocking her daughter. In my favourite incident, Maria, the third sister, discusses romance with Noël Coward on the deck of an ocean-liner. He calls her ‘ducky’ and lets her know ‘that our lives are rather like the cresting waves, with highs and lows, that the moon illumines the night as emotion brings a glorious flame into our hearts. But what ...

The Court

Richard Eyre, 23 September 1993

The Long Distance Runner 
by Tony Richardson.
Faber, 277 pp., £17.50, September 1993, 0 571 16852 3
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... excoriating, maudlin, self-pitying, iconoclastic rhetoric, to belong more to the world of Noël Coward than that of Edward Bond. Far from looking back in anger, it looks back with a fierce, despairing, nostalgia. Is there a more solipsistic cry from the post-war years – when the world has become better informed than ever about mass ...

Remembering the taeog

D.A.N. Jones, 30 August 1990

People of the Black Mountains. Vol. II: The Eggs of the Eagle 
by Raymond Williams.
Chatto, 330 pp., £13.99, August 1990, 0 7011 3564 6
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In the Blue Light of African Dreams 
by Paul Watkins.
Heinemann, 282 pp., £13.99, August 1990, 0 09 174307 9
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Friedrich Harris: Shooting the hero 
by Philip Purser.
Quartet, 250 pp., £12.95, May 1990, 0 7043 2759 7
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The Journey Home 
by Dermot Bolger.
Viking, 294 pp., £13.99, June 1990, 0 670 83215 4
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Evenings at Mongini’s 
by Russell Lucas.
Heinemann, 262 pp., £12.95, January 1990, 0 434 43646 1
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... first seductive bars of “La Paloma” ’, we may hear not only Firbank, but the rhythms of Noel Coward, ‘in a bar at the Piccolo Marina’, where life came to Mrs ...

Bond in Torment

John Lanchester: James Bond, 5 September 2002

From Russia with Love, Dr No and Goldfinger 
by Ian Fleming.
Penguin, 640 pp., £10.99, April 2002, 0 14 118680 1
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... his lively introduction to the Penguin Classics edition, quotes Fleming’s friend and neighbour Noël Coward on the subject of Honeychile Rider’s world-famous bottom, ‘almost as firm and rounded as a boy’s’: ‘I know we are all becoming progressively more broadminded nowadays but really, old chap, what could you have been thinking of?’ In a ...

Valet of the Dolls

Andrew O’Hagan: Sinatra, 24 July 2003

Mr S.: The Last Word on Frank Sinatra 
by George Jacobs and William Stadiem.
Sidgwick, 261 pp., £16.99, June 2003, 0 283 07370 5
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... to Male Sensitivity’. Women get it, gays get it (though Sinatra’s pack liked to have a Noel Coward around ‘to talk to the women’), Jews get it (‘Not that Mr S. was anti-semitic; he simply felt most comfortable with guys from the same background’) and, strangest of all, given that Mr J. is a black man, black people get it non-stop, as if it were ...


Stephen Smith: What’s become of Barings?, 23 March 1995

... desks. Singapore’s climate is even more extraordinary than it appears to have been when Noel Coward was putting up at Raffles Hotel. The Master remarked of a downpour: ‘I recognised it as rain only because I knew it couldn’t possibly be anything else.’ Ah, Singapore! How hard it is to stay the pen from scribbling the ‘colony’, if only by way of ...


August Kleinzahler: Too Bad about Mrs Ferri, 20 September 2001

... One time I called someone a son of a bitch, which must have sounded preposterously foreign and Noël Coward-like. All activity ceased, and I was viciously assaulted by Tommy Grumulia and Anthony Delvecchio. Boys are formed by the playgrounds they come from. Ours was violent, noisy and profane, somewhat operatic in the Italian manner. But there were no ...

Ducking and Dodging

R.W. Johnson: Agent Zigzag, 19 July 2007

Agent Zigzag 
by Ben Macintyre.
Bloomsbury, 372 pp., £14.99, January 2007, 978 0 7475 8794 1
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... of the middle class whom he met over gaming tables and in clubs. He became friendly with Noel Coward, Ivor Novello and Marlene Dietrich, as well as with Terence Young, who later made the first Bond films. Mixing with these types made Chapman acutely aware of his own lack of education, and he read enthusiastically, trying to catch up. Macintyre is often ...

Iniquity in Romford

Bernard Porter: Black Market Britain, 23 May 2013

Black Market Britain 1939-55 
by Mark Roodhouse.
Oxford, 276 pp., £65, March 2013, 978 0 19 958845 9
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... shows was vital war work, and that he could hardly be expected to travel by train. At the time Noël Coward called this ‘selfish, pathetic triviality’, though he later fell foul of the regulations himself. So did Lady Astor, Lord Donegall and the army’s provost marshal, no less. It was a smart move by the authorities to target these figures. It ...

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