(Charles Spencer’s article appeared in the Telegraph, 7/28.)

I thought I had Noël Coward neatly pigeon-holed – cocktails and laughter, clenched wit, and a nasty tendency among the stylish and sophisticated characters to mock those they believe to be less smart than they are. But there are other aspects to his work, too, not least a deep patriotism and a tendency to finger-wagging moralising.

This Happy Breed, however, written in 1939, reveals a very different Coward – and an extremely engaging one. Here he seems to drawing on his own humble origins in the London suburbs, the son of a failed piano salesman and a mother who took in lodgers and steered her son’s progress as a child actor. Only later did this “brazen odious little prodigy” (the description is Coward’s own) achieve the polished finesse for which he is best remembered.


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