Twentieth-century Blues

October 23 2011

Noël Coward: composer, lyricist, performer, in Mrs Worthington, Mad Dogs and Englishmen, Twentieth-century Blues, A Room with a View and The Stately Homes of England. If we need an excuse, there is social history in at least three of these.

Norman Davies in The Isles: “The most redeeming [you can’t have a comparative of redeeming] feature of the British imperialists undoubtedly lay in their ability to laugh at themselves. The most glorious lines on this theme [but that isn’t the theme!] and the most accurately observed were composed by a young English dramatist and lyricist as he drove along the jungle roads of Indo-China in February 1930 […].” He gives us a large part of the lyrics of Mad Dogs and Englishmen.

Time magazine, July 19 1954: “Future Indefinite, a sort of sequel to Coward’s earlier Present Indicative (TIME, March 29 1937), is Coward’s story of how he sang and mimed himself to the verge of laryngitic paralysis from 1940 to 1945. He sang Mad Dogs and Englishmen and Don’t Put Your Daughter to President Roosevelt. He sang them to General Smuts. He sang them to British and U.S. soldiers and sailors from Beirut to Burma, and he sang them during lunch hours ‘above the din of crockery and … metal plates’ to simple factory girls who couldn’t understand a word and were ‘flung into a state of leaden bewilderment’ when Coward’s teammate, Judy Campbell, trilled ‘that Arthur Murray had taught her dancing in a hurry and that there was a nightingale singing incessantly in Berkeley Square.’”

Present Indicative was published in 1937, Future Indefinite in 1954, the unfinished Past Conditional posthumously in 1986.

Coward, along with Britten and the Beatles, was the greatest English songwriter of the twentieth century. YouTube comment: “Not even Cole Porter […] was this sophisticated.” Wit of the instrumental backings, pitch-perfect transitions from speech to song and back.

Burma perhaps

One Response to “Twentieth-century Blues”


  1. […] a recent post fellow blogger David Derrick expressed the opinion that Noel Coward, together with Britten and the […]


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