Noël Coward

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Noël Coward (Sir Noel Peirce Coward 1899-1973)[1] was a renowned and multi-talented British playwright, composer, performer, producer and theatre personality especially celebrated for his caustic wit.


There have been many and comprehensive biographies of Coward over the years.

See for example the entry on "Noël Coward" in Wikipedia at

Contribution to South African theatre, film, media and performance

His plays were hugely popular in South Africa as elsewhere, notably Blithe Spirit, which had numerous productions over the years, also in Afrikaans as Die Vryerige Spook (“The Amorous Ghost”).

Coward visited South Africa in 1944 at the behest of "Ouma" Smuts, the wife of the Prime Minister J.C. Smuts, as part of her war effort charities. Coward arrived in Pretoria in early February 1944 and immediately started doing shows for the Union Defence Force Entertainment Unit. On 17 February, he went down to Cape Town for his opening night – attended by Jan Smuts, his cabinet and other luminaries – and toured the country, rounding his tour off with two performances at the Empire Theatre in Johannesburg on 17 and 18 April. He then left for Bulawayo at the end of April.

His play Blithe Spirit opened at the Opera House in Pretoria on 7 July of the same year and moved from there to the Standard Theatre in Johannesburg, before going on a countrywide tour. There is a a belief that he actually saw the play in Johannesburg. However, in a letter to the editors of ESAT, the playwright and researcher Anthony Akerman points out that this is a misconception, for . Given the time-line, Coward could hardly have been in Johannesburg during the run and would also not have been there during rehearsal. He attributes the error to a general misreading of a letter to The Star (and quoted in Arnold Benjamin's book Lost Johannesburg), wherein Coward claimed to have seen a play in the Standard Theatre. (He suggests that this could have been a reference to Sheridan's The Rivals, which was presented by the Johannesburg REPS from 19 April that year, and adds that the misconception was probably also reinforced by an obituary for Gwen ffrangçon-Davies on BBC radio, presented by John Tydeman.) Of course, Coward would most probably have discussed the play with Gwen and Marda Vanne.

Other plays by Coward performed in South Africa over the years include Red Peppers (1969), Present Laughter (1969; 1979), Fallen Angels (circa 1970), Hay Fever (1974), and two compilations: Cowardy Custard (1973) and Oh Coward! (1982).

A radio version of his one-act play Still Life (1936), starring Marlene Dietrich as "Laura", and apparently called Brief Encounter after the 1945 film based on the play, was broadcast by the SABC's Springbok Radio in Castle Playhouse on 27 April 1966.


E-mail correspondence from Anthony Akerman, 2 December, 2021.

Percy Tucker. 1997. Just the Ticket. My 50 Years in Show Business. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press.

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