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Noël Coward, Master Entertainer

Mad dogs and Englishmen. We revisit the suave wit of Noël Coward.

British actor, composer and playwright Noël Coward poses aboard the Queen Elizabeth ocean liner in 1947. (AP)

British actor, singer, lyricist, composer, playwright Noel Coward was England’s sparkling wit of the Jazz Age.

Slicked back hair. Tuxedo. Jaunty cigarette holder. An endless, shrewd capacity to entertain. In the 1920s and ‘30s, Noel Coward ruled, with “Mad Dogs and Englishmen,” and much more.

Now he’s back, in the age of iPod, and we get to know Noel Coward, all over again.

-Tom Ashbrook


Barry Day, fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a trustee of the Noël Coward Foundation. He’s editor of “The Letters of Noël Coward.” His new book is “The Noël Coward Reader.”

Jack Beatty, On Point news analyst.

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  • skott daltonic

    the Philip Hoare book on Mr. Coward was AMAZING.

  • Judith Onorato

    I am in my 30′s, but grew up with music from the 20′s, 30′s and 40′s. because of my grandparents. Now with the help of my ipod and the internet, I get a online raido program called Radio Dismuke with plays Noel Coward and Cab Calaway and all the greats from that time. I love it, and wish more people would take the time to hear the music from the past..

  • jim thompson, fort mill,sc


    Wonderful subject. Noel Coward had a fabulous relationship with Judy Garland. The two of them together were well,…just marvelous.

  • jim thompson, fort mill,sc


    To follw up on my first post regarding the wonderful relationship between Judy Garland and Noel Coward. On perhaps Judy’s most memorable album, Judy Live at Carnegie Hall she sang a song from Noel Coward’s Bittersweet, If Love Were All-a very touching moment in the concert.

  • Gretchen

    In the ’50s, my mother was on a Girl Scout trip cross country, and she recognized Noel Coward, on her plane, travelling incognito with a male companion. They were both wearing hats and trying to not be noticed, but my mother recognized them and began chatting with them. She always says he was incredibly gracious, and they ended up singing Noel Coward songs with the girl scout troupe all the way cross country. She later saw him in a play, and sent him a note: he invited her backstage. What a gentleman. She was a lifelong fan!

  • Debra Drummond

    I worked with a director – Vivian Matalon – who worked with Noel Coward – directed NC. Re: postwar playwrights: Harold Pinter noted NC as a major influence in his work.

  • http://onanov.com Donald Baxter

    I think it’s disingenuous of this guest to deny that Coward’s sexuality had much to do with his artistic sensibility. This seems to be a typical, privileged, heterosexual male attitude that denies the issue and influence of being the outsider that, even today, continues to color gay persons’ contributions to culture.

  • Ena Fox

    Enjoyed the Noel Coward segment, but I was startled by Tom Ashbrook’s or Jack Beatty’s repartee when talking about John Wayne’s unexpected enjoyment of Coward: “Perhaps John Wayne should go back to killing Indians!” Just substitute “Blacks” or “Jews” and you’ll see how the remark could be heard as insensitive and offensive. I know the offense was unintentional, but I hope the On Point staff will acknowledge the thoughtlessness of the remark.

  • John

    Maybe NPR will overreact and fire them too.

  • http://NA S.K. Blow

    That was a delightful program! Great to have it all put in perspective. Very thoughtful commentary on his life.

  • Grady Lee Howard

    The paradox of NPR is that they could fire Tom, Jack and that moonlighting tick over at Fox, and then join in the approval of Indian-killing by commercial and anti-fertility means by the big corporate goons who are gradually seizing control, of both public broadcasting and Amerindian controlled natural resources. Political correctness can provide cover for graft and callous greed. Don’t pledge without asking questions and reviewing funding first. Demand that individual subscribers provide the lion’s share of funding. Money always buys influence. (I never see the “Koch brand” on any “liberal” material: They won’t tolerate it. And I don’t want my little money used to produce material against my interests either.)

  • Paul Egan

    As a foregoing writer declares, the program was delightful, and especially so, what with Mr. Day’s rebuke of both the caller laughably prefacing his remarks by accusing the former of missing the point and of the rabidly politically correct Mr. Ashbrook who received the call with an awe one would think deserving of pronouncement from on high. Mr.Day well turned aside the caller’s nonsense attempting not only to inject the matter of sex but to move it to the center of consideration.
    As long as moderators of programs such as this can see nothing wrong in the skewed thinking and pop babble engulfing this civilization with endless, witless talk of sex and race to the exclusion of ideas and principles, then it will continue on its precipitous decent to oblivion.

  • Warren Crane

    I was an assistant stage manager on SAIL AWAY in 1960 on Broadway assigned to Mr. Coward who was directing. I spent many hours sitting at his side. He was everything you expect him to be…talented, brilliant, kind, sweet and very nice to an adoring fan!

  • Chester!

    I heard Liz Smith say once that she and Noel Coward were sitting on a beach one day watching beautiful people walk by when he confessed, “I’d go either way for a box of chocolate” – still cracks me up.

  • Wes Robertson

    Off topic much?

  • John

    I hope you’re going to challenge your homophobic guest with a little more rigor than that!

  • MAThielCatholicConservative

    I agree wholeheartedly with comment by Joel Eagan. Ideas and ideology and character are most important.  We must minimize the subconscious emotional baggage that might accompany our very early experience. I believe that I understand the brilliance of so many homosexuals. There may be a genetic link which confers some advantage. To me there is an additioanal factor.  Feeling they are different but not understanding they become very observant and great mimics as they attempt to fit in, especially with family.  We need to understand and use their gifts even as we try to understand etiology and minimize this disorder in the future. We won’t do that by granting some special “class status” for this affliction.  There is much in every field which these sensitive loving individuals can contribute.  Noel Coward was apparantly a paradigm of that ideal.  Don’t ask, don’t tell and don’t hate your fellow man. 

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