Born to a musical family, Noel Coward developed an interest in the performing arts at the age of seven. He attended the Chapel Royal Choir School as a youngster. However, Noel had little formal education and could not read musical notes. Curiosity was his strength, as he was eager to learn and didn’t let the lack of formal education stop him. His father worked as a salesman, selling musical instruments. Financial struggles were very common in his childhood. His ambitious mother enrolled him in a dance academy in London. Noel became acquainted with many in the theater industry who had a significant effect on the young playwright, such as Charles Hawtrey, Philip Streatfelid, and Astley Cooper. Unfortunately, Philip Streatfelid would later pass away from tuberculosis.
Before the outbreak of WWII, he made a trip to America to pursue his career in theater. He wasn’t very lucky in the beginning. Later, however, he would forge great success and popularity. Plays like Young Idea, The Vortex, Fallen Angels, and Hay Fever laid the foundation of his career. They received wild popularity in England and America. Because of these achievements, he kept producing and working on plays until he collapsed on stage while starring in The Constant Nymph. His biggest theatrical failure was Sirocco, which generated a violent reaction from theatergoers.
When WWII broke out, Noel left the theater and wanted to contribute to the war effort directly. His job was running British propaganda to influence the American public and political opinion to aid Britain. He excelled in his job and later moved on to doing musical work by entertaining British troops in Europe, Africa, Asia, and America. After the bombing of London by German forces, he wrote and recorded patriotically-themed songs such as “London Pride” and “Don’t Let’s Be Beastly to the Germans.” During the war, he wrote and directed a naval film called in Which We Serve. He also composed the music for the film as well.
Although he was not formally educated in music composition and reading musical notes, Noel wrote eight musicals and three hundred songs throughout his career. His theatrical career and musical talent often overlapped. Talented in many forms of art, Lord Mountbatten, a British Naval Officer, once said on Noel’s seventieth birthday, “There are probably greater painters than Noël, greater novelists than Noël, greater librettists, greater composers of music, greater singers, greater dancers, greater comedians, greater tragedians, greater stage producers, greater film directors, greater cabaret artists, greater TV stars. If there are, they are fourteen different people. Only one man combined all fourteen different labels – The Master.”
Noel Coward was never formally educated in the arts. He was merely motivated, talented, and passionate. This combination led him to a great success that had a massive cultural impact.
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