The Noel Coward Diaries by Graham Payn & Sheridan Morley (edd); Coward, the Playwright by John Lahr - review by Sandy Wilson

Sandy Wilson

‘Dad’s Renaissance’

The Noel Coward Diaries


Weidenfeld & Nicolson 698pp £15 order from our bookshop

Coward, the Playwright


Methuen 179pp £8.95 order from our bookshop

Be warned: this does not make cheerful reading. Entertaining, yes, and funny enough at times to make you laugh aloud; but the general tone is depressing. Regrettably Noel Coward kept no diaries of the Twenties and Thirties – ‘the merry years’, as he calls them; his autobiography, Present Indicative, only reaches 1931 and he was working on a memoir, Past Conditional, to fill the gap when he died in 1973. These diaries, started tentatively in 1941, but written up fully from 1945, deal with the years when his theatrical career was in a steady decline, a decline that ended abruptly in the mid-Sixties with the ‘Coward Revival’ or, as he described it, ‘Dad’s Renaissance’. It was also the period when he lost faith in the future of England and indeed of Western Civilization as a whole – and when he felt that the Press, and the critics in particular, were engaged in a campaign against him. Not only did the newspapers attack his shows; they also accused him, when he took up residence abroad in 1955 for tax reasons, of deserting his country. He had never been on good terms with journalists, and during these years his attitude to them began to border on paranoia: ‘How they hate me, these little men.'

But what is more distressing is to observe how his judgment seemed to fail him, and how the gap between what he thought the public wanted and what they would pay to see grew wider. For his first major post-war production he chose to write an operetta – a species

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter