“…and, oh,/The difference to me!”*

*closing words of Wordsworth’s She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways (1798)

Pictured: Landmark Arts Centre, Teddington, formerly “The church of ST. ALBAN, which replaced St. Mary’s…opened in 1889. It was designed by W. Niven almost on the scale of a Gothic cathedral and, in spite of its size, is incomplete. It is built of stone and consists of a lofty aisled and clerestoried nave of five bays, chancel, ambulatory, and north and south aisles. The roofs are covered with copper externally and all but that of the nave are vaulted. The west end of the nave, as originally planned, has never been built. The three eastern windows of the chancel clerestory and the east window of the ambulatory were inserted in 1953. The font and one of the side altars were formerly in St. Mary’s Church, and there are various other fittings which are older than St. Alban’s itself and were brought to it from different countries. They include seven silver lamps which were once in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. (British History Online)

From the website of The Twickenham Museum:

“Noël Coward was born at Teddington, where the family had been living since 1883, on 16 December 1899. He was the son of Arthur Coward and Violet Veitch. In his first autobiography he wrote that they were a musical family and underpinned the musical life of St Alban’s Church.

“…the church’s greatest asset was the Coward family, which was enormous, active, and fiercely musical. My Uncle Jim played the organ, while my father, together with my uncle Randolph, Walter, Percy, and Gordon, and my Aunt Hilda, Myrrha, Ida, and Nellie, graced the choir. Aunt Hilda, indeed, achieved such distinction as a ‘coloratura’ that she ultimately became known as ‘The Twickenham Nightingale’.”

The family moved away from Teddington to Battersea in 1908 and two years later Noël made his first appearance on stage in a fairy play, The Goldfish. By 1917 he had written several plays.

He was knighted in 1970 and that year his entry in Who’s Who listed 43 plays and other stage or film productions including Present Laughter, Blithe Spirit, This Happy Breed, The Vortex, Private Lives, In Which We Serve and Brief Encounter.

In 1948 he went over to Jamaica, building a house at Roundhill near Port Maria: Blue Harbour. He bought a second house uphill: Look Out (which he renamed Firefly). This he used as a refuge from too many visitors. In 1959 he settled, a tax exile, at Les Avants, in Switzerland; but it was at Firefly that he died, and was buried, on 26 March 1973.”

Wikipedia notes that Coward works produced in the mid-to-late 1920s included his biggest failure in this period, the play Sirocco (1927), which concerns free love among the wealthy. It starred Ivor Novello, of whom Coward said, “the two most beautiful things in the world are Ivor’s profile and my mind”. Theatregoers hated the play, showing violent disapproval at the curtain calls and spitting at Coward as he left the theatre. Coward later said of this flop, “My first instinct was to leave England immediately, but this seemed too craven a move, and also too gratifying to my enemies, whose numbers had by then swollen in our minds to practically the entire population of the British Isles.”

In 1932, Coward wrote a comedy entitled Design for Living. Reviewing a production at the Old Vic in 2010, Michael Billington wrote in The Guardian:

“Last time Noel Coward’s 1932 comedy was given a major revival, at the Donmar in 1994, it was presented as a raunchy, unashamed hymn to bisexuality and the delights of a menage a trois. But Anthony Page’s infinitely subtler, and funnier, revival reminds us that Coward’s cosmopolitan hedonism was always matched by an inbuilt puritanism, and that the play offers a genuine contest between the bohemian talentocracy and moral orthodoxy.”

Wikipedia informs us that Design for Living is also the title of a 1933 American pre-Code comedy film produced and directed by Ernst Lubitsch and starring Fredric March, Gary Cooper, and Miriam Hopkins. Based on the premise of the 1932 play, with a screenplay by Ben Hecht, the film is about a woman who cannot decide between two men who love her, and the trio agree to try living together in a platonic friendly relationship.

Criticism was mixed, with some critics praising the film, but many expressed mixed feelings about its great departure from Coward’s play. Coward said, “I’m told that there are three of my original lines left in the film—such original ones as ‘Pass the mustard’.”The film was a box office success, ranking as one of the top ten highest-grossing films of 1933. All three of the lead actors—March, Cooper, and Hopkins—received attention from this film as they were all at the peak of their careers.

The New Yorker of May 11, 1981 featured a short story by Samson Raphaelson, Freundschaft, a reminiscence by the 85-year-old playwright about his relationship with Ernst Lubitsch. The two worked on nine films together between 1930 and 1947, when Lubitsch died. Now, late in life, the writer has begun to feel that Lubitsch meant much more to him, and, perhaps, he much more to Lubitsch than he has ever taken the time to realize.

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