Noel Coward – playing his part to perfection

The epitome of English upper class chic and light-hearted devil-may-care wit, Noel Coward grew up in relative poverty and left school at nine to become a child performer. Prolific and versatile, he exuded effortless charm, acid wit and lauded a life of dilettante indulgence, while working like a Trojan writing 50 plays from his teens onwards. Many of his plays such as Hay Fever, Private Lives, Design for Living, Present Laughter, and Blithe Spirit, are still in the regular theatre repertoire. He also became renowned as a composer, director, actor, and singer.

  A new documentary ‘Mad about the Boy’ rollics through his life as he became a theatrical celebrity and a scandalous figure in the 1920s, a closet homosexual when it was never publicly acknowledged, having an affair it is thought with Prince George, Duke of Kent (Princess Alexandra’s bi-sexual father) – and working flat out. During WW11 he volunteered for the British propaganda war office. His career dipped and rose again as his resilience came to the rescue, pushing his talents out onto the public stage. He died in 1973.

  Coward was born 16 December 1899 2.30am Teddington, England, and had a singular, see-saw chart, which would constantly pull him between opposites, and he would struggle to find a balance. He had a quick-witted and communicative 3rd house Sagittarius Sun conjunct a know-it-it-all and hard-working Saturn. His Saturn in Sagittarius was in a disciplined conjunction to Mars in Capricorn.  He also had a mischievous, outspoken Uranus and Mercury in Sagittarius and Jupiter in Scorpio in his financial 2nd so he’d be good at attracting money and spending it.  All his Sagittarius planets in varying measure were opposition a Gemini Moon conjunct Pluto and Neptune in Gemini. A whirlwind Mutable chart, constantly on the go, multi-tasking, always searching.

  He would constantly wobble from one extreme to the other and search for AN Other to bring him fulfilment. Which finally came in the form of Graham Payn, a small time South African singer/actor, who was his life partner for three decades before he died and after his death took on the running of his estate.  Payn, 25 April 1918, had his Taurus Sun Mercury in Coward’s 7th house of relationships which is ideal; and Payn’s North Node in Sagittarius was conjunct Coward’s Sun – so Coward was his destiny. Payn’s Venus was in Coward’s 5th house of enjoyment and romance and squared Coward’s key oppositions so giving a balance to the wobbly see-saw.  Payn’s Saturn Neptune in Coward’s 10th hints at his executor role after his death.

  What is of passing interest is that Coward’s chart has strong similarities to that of King George V1 (Queen Elizabeth’s father), 14 December 1895 3.05am.  He also had a 3rd house Sagittarius Sun opposition the signature Neptune Pluto in Gemini of that generation, in his case in his 8th.  George was weighted down by four Scorpio planets and that plus the trapped 8th house emphasis would make him more introverted. But he clearly had a bright streak that was yearning to be let loose.

Noel Coward Quotes:

‘A perfect martini should be made by filling a glass with gin then waving it in the general direction of Italy.’

‘Work hard, do the best you can, don’t ever lose faith in yourself and take no notice of what other people say about you.’

‘It is discouraging how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit.’

‘Familiarity breeds contempt, but without a little familiarity it’s impossible to breed anything.’

‘Consider the public. Never fear it nor despise it. Coax it, charm it, interest it, stimulate it, shock it now and then if you must, make it laugh, make it cry, but above all never, never, never bore the living hell out of it.’

‘Why do I drink Champagne for breakfast? Doesn’t everyone?’

‘Just say the lines and don’t trip over the furniture.’

‘People are wrong when they say opera is not what it used to be. It is what it used to be. That is what’s wrong with it.’

‘We have no reliable guarantee that the afterlife will be any less exasperating than this one, have we?’

‘Wit ought to be a glorious treat like caviar; never spread it about like marmalade.’

‘If he (Peter O’Toole) had been any prettier it would have been Florence of Arabia.’

Pic: Allan Warren

5 thoughts on “Noel Coward – playing his part to perfection

  1. Thanks, Marjorie. I’ve always been a fan. Grew up watching all those old films such as ‘In Which We Serve’, ‘Brief Encounter’ and ‘Blythe Spirits’.

    He came from a remarkable generation, Ernest Hemmingway was born in the same year as well as Duke Ellington, Fred Astaire, Alfred Hitchcock, Nabokov, Borges, Humphrey Bogart and photographer, ‘Weegee’, among others. They have that signature Pluto and Neptune in Gemini – that same year, the South Node arrived to join that conjunction as it widened and began to break up. Those born that year may well have been just old enough to participate in the final years of WWI.

    As a gay man, Coward would have been aware that in less than a year following his own birth, Oscar Wilde died in exile at just 46 years old in poverty and pain, having spent two years in prison for ‘homosexual offences’ which sapped him of his health and ruined his reputation. No wonder Coward did not publicly acknowledge his sexuality. There are gay and lesbian members of my own family on both sides from this era. My mother’s older cousin for instance, who was also a devout Christian active in the CofE and though he lived with his partner for many years, had to conceal his true self and carried a burden of unnecessary guilt because of it. I notice that Coward’s Moon/Pluto falls in the 8th house.

    His chart, as Hugh points out is fascinating. All that Gemini/Sagittarius, and a comedian’s Mercury/Uranus in Sagittarius. I bet he liked to shock. And a packed 3rd house – all that energy would have made Noel Coward a restless, inquisitive perhaps precocious child.

    It’s also quite interesting to look at Noel Coward’s astrological brother, Frank Vosper born just one day before Coward. Vosper was also a successful actor and playwright, also gay, also widely travelled. He was particularly interested in crime and wrote ‘People Like Us’, based on the notorious Thompson & Bywaters case of the times. It was later banned by the office of the Lord Chancellor because of the controversial subject matter. Vosper was also a friend of John Gielgud and appeared with him in a production of ‘Hamlet’. Vosper’s partner was Peter Willes. Sadly, Vosper died in 1937 when he fell from an ocean liner in mysterious circumstances, his death being later ruled as a suicide. I thought I’d add his story, just because it demonstrates how the astrological quality of time can repeat its patterns.

  2. Amazing chart. Amazing man.

    How did he keep all that mutable energy under control.

    I suppose his natal Saturn conjunct Sun and an exalted Mars in hard working Capricorn helped

    • “Work hard, do the best you can, don’t ever lose faith in yourself and take no notice of what other people say about you.”

      Started working as an actor aged 11. He was a prolific writer and was just 18 when he wrote his first play, ‘Ida Collaborates’ with Esme Wynne.

      • Remarkable man indeed. I like the lines from the song Mad About the Boy – “Will it ever cloy? This odd diversity of misery and joy” that seem to reflect that mutable energy. And perhaps they also reflect the quincunx between the earthy Capricorn Venus and Moon, Pluto, and South Node in Gemini. I think the lyrics to the whole song are quite expressive of Noel Coward’s chart.

  3. A bit like Stephen Fry and Eliott Spencer, with the younger partner providing much needed stability. Amazing that the lack of education did not hold him back.

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