In her poignant short story 'Mad About the Boy', Georgina Hammick describes a teenage flapper writing a fan letter to Noël Coward. Having received no response after several attempts, the persistent admirer tries once more, only this time signs with a boy's name. By return of post comes an autographed photo. This has such a ring of truth to it that I was convinced, reading Hammick's book (People For Lunch, 1987), that it must have been based on fact. In this sturdy collection of Coward's letters, however, there are no replies to unknown admirers, no letters to the taxman, creditors, or tailors (not even Sulka, suppliers of all those silk dressing-gowns). Such prosaic scraps of correspondence can often enliven editions like this, providing a different kind of insight from the 'on stage' mood of most of the letters here.
The cast of characters is familiar and largely predictable: Gertrude Lawrence, Marlene Dietrich, Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Mary Martin and other famous players. Barry Day has chosen to group the letters by theme or in some cases individuals, so a sense of chronology is often absent. For instance, we have