Like the American actress Tallulah Bankhead, the Australian-born Coral Browne was celebrated not only for her mastery of any role, however feebly written or demanding, but also for her imperious elegance and savage wit. As with Bankhead, the edge of that wit was continually sharpened by the word to which the subtitle of this biography demurely makes reference. When, at the first performance of Pygmalion, Mrs Patrick Campbell’s Eliza uttered her ‘Not bloody likely!’, the audience initially gasped and then surrendered to shocked laughter. It was the same when Coral Browne came out with an expletive shorter and far cruder.
The contrast between ladylike good manners and the sort of language that might have been used by an Australian stevedore was all too often the pivot of the latest Coral Browne story. One such, related by Collis, had Browne in competition with an elderly theatregoer who, on an evening of