The voice, the dressing-gown, the cigarette in its holder, remain unmistakable. There is rarely a week when one of ‘Private Lives’, ‘Hay Fever’, and ‘Blithe Spirit’ is not in production somewhere in the world. Phrases from Noël Coward’s songs – ‘Mad About The Boy’, ‘Mad Dogs and Englishman’ – are forever lodged in the public consciousness. He was at one point the most highly paid author in the world. Yet some of his most striking and daring writing remains unfamiliar. As T.S. Eliot said, in 1954, ‘there are things you can learn from Noël Coward that you won’t learn from Shakespeare’. In Oliver Soden’s story-packed book, the master finally gets his due.

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