A wonderful friend of mine found my embarrassingly long wishlist on Amazon (seriously, it runs to nine pages) and gifted me with two books from it for Christmas, one of which is The Noel Coward Diaries. The book has been on the wishlist for well over a year so I was delighted to receive it as a pressie.
Noel Coward is best remembered as a revered English playwright with some of his more famous works being Private Lives, Blithe Spirit and Hay Fever. However Coward was also a composer, director, actor, singer and writer of both short stories and a novel. I read The Collected Short Stories a number of years ago and have have often returned to it when I want a light-hearted read. Whether they’re set in the world of theatre, on board a ship at the Captain’s table, or at a round of endless parties at a country estate, the stories are extremely funny and well-observed.
Described by The Guardian as “A goldmine of gossip with a cast of a thousand stars”, the diaries cover the last thirty years of Coward’s life from 1941 to 1973. Given the rarefied circles that Coward moved in, the cast of characters is appropriately awe inspiring: Frank Sinatra, Laurence Olivier, Charlie Chaplin, David Niven, Elizabeth Taylor, Greta Garbo, Lauren Bacall, members of the British Royal Family, JFK and The Beatles are just some of the people mentioned. I have been dipping in and out of the book over the last couple of weeks and it’s very amusing with some interesting insights into his writing life interspersed throughout.
Diaries are often a more interesting proposition than a biography or autobiography. They give the reader a comprehensive look at a person’s daily life without getting bogged down in dates, family history, social context, etc. It also gives the reader the chance to hear the person’s life in their own language, with their own syntax, use of slang and turns of phrase, so one begins to feel as if you’re in the room with them. While this won’t be a book that I race through in a couple of days, I will definitely continue to read this book in a sporadic fashion and I’m sure, based on what I’ve read so far, that I’ll enjoy it immensely.
Here’s a funny little ditty from Coward called “I went to a Marvellous Party”. The lyrics are below the video on Youtube and are well worth checking out for their clever wit.