Never-before-seen pictures that could have put Noel Coward in jail

A never-before-seen collection of photographs taken while homosexuality was still illegal in the UK has captured English playwright Noel Coward with two of his male lovers and many of his famous friends.

The intimate snaps, taken in the 1920s and 30s, show the flamboyant star at the height of his success for writing more than 65 plays, the most notable of which include 1939 comedy Present Laughter and the later triumph Blithe Spirit.

The images were taken in the garden of his country home in Kent and on the beaches of the Bahamas, where he holidayed in 1937 ahead of the outbreak of the Second World War.

Two of his male lovers are featured – the English stage and film actor Alan Webb and Jack Wilson, a married US stock broker who had a relationship with Coward in the 1920s.

Experts have suggested these intimate images would have been enough to land Coward in prison at the time, as homosexuality was against the law in Britain until the the Sexual Offences Act came into force in July 1967.

Before this, men could be jailed for being with another man. Many were prosecuted for these relationships, famously including Second World War code-breaker Alan Turing who was charged with gross indecency in 1952.    

Pictured: Alan Webb

Pictured: Alan Webb

Pictured: Noel Coward

Pictured: Noel Coward

Noel Coward (right) is seen on the beach in the Bahamas in newly uncovered snaps which also pictured his lover Alan Webb (left)

Pictured: The playwright's lover Jack Wilson with his wife Natasha in the gardens of Goldenhurst, Coward's home in Kent

Pictured: The playwright's lover Jack Wilson with his wife Natasha in the gardens of Goldenhurst, Coward's home in Kent

Pictured: The playwright’s lover Jack Wilson with his wife Natasha in the gardens of Goldenhurst, Coward’s home in Kent

The intimate snaps, taken in the 1920s and 30s, show the flamboyant star (pictured) at the height of his success for writing more than 65 plays, the most notable of which include 1939 comedy Present Laughter and the later triumph Blithe Spirit

The intimate snaps, taken in the 1920s and 30s, show the flamboyant star (pictured) at the height of his success for writing more than 65 plays, the most notable of which include 1939 comedy Present Laughter and the later triumph Blithe Spirit

The intimate snaps, taken in the 1920s and 30s, show the flamboyant star (pictured) at the height of his success for writing more than 65 plays, the most notable of which include 1939 comedy Present Laughter and the later triumph Blithe Spirit

Also in the newly discovered photographs are images of the late Earl Mountbatten, the uncle of Prince Charles, who was seen on a fishing trip.

Lord Jeffrey Amhurst, an army officer and lifelong bachelor, also features in the images alongside English actor Sir Michael Redgrave.

It is thought the 93 snaps, which are expected to sell for £800 at Sworders Auctioneers in London next month, belonged to the British film star Joyce Carey as she appears in most of them.

Carey, who starred in the 1945 film Brief Encounter, enjoyed a long-term friendship with Coward, as did Gladys Calthrop, who is also in many of the pictures.  

Pictured: Lord Jeffrey Amhurst with an unidentified friend in the gardens of the 17th-century Goldenhurst in Aldington

Pictured: Lord Jeffrey Amhurst with an unidentified friend in the gardens of the 17th-century Goldenhurst in Aldington

Pictured: Lord Jeffrey Amhurst with an unidentified friend in the gardens of the 17th-century Goldenhurst in Aldington

Pictured: Noel Coward

Pictured: Noel Coward

Pictured: Jack Wilson

Pictured: Jack Wilson

Jack Wilson, (right) a married US stock broker, had a relationship with acclaimed playwright Noel Coward (left) in the 1920s

Pictured: The Dam Busters actor Sir Michael Redgrave relaxes in the garden of Coward's home Goldenhurst in the 1930s

Pictured: The Dam Busters actor Sir Michael Redgrave relaxes in the garden of Coward's home Goldenhurst in the 1930s

Pictured: The Dam Busters actor Sir Michael Redgrave relaxes in the garden of Coward’s home Goldenhurst in the 1930s

Also in the newly discovered photographs are images of the late Earl Mountbatten (pictured), the uncle of Prince Charles, who was pictured on a fishing trip

Also in the newly discovered photographs are images of the late Earl Mountbatten (pictured), the uncle of Prince Charles, who was pictured on a fishing trip

Also in the newly discovered photographs are images of the late Earl Mountbatten (pictured), the uncle of Prince Charles, who was pictured on a fishing trip

Calthrop was the playwright’s costume designer and when he received his Knighthood in 1970 she accompanied him to Buckingham Palace. 

Other images in the extraordinary archive appear to have been taken at a garden party hosted by Coward at Goldenhurst, his 17th century home in Aldington, Kent. 

There are images of him playing croquet on the lawn with friends who include the Canadian film star Raymond Massey. 

The 1920s and 30s theatre impresario Charles Cochran is depicted in one of them while the actress Beatrice Lillie is seen lying on a hammock. 

Philip Hoare, author of the official biography of Noel Coward, said: ‘They are incredible photographs, they would never have been seen publicly.

It is thought the 93 snaps, which are expected to sell for £800 at Sworders Auctioneers in London next month, belonged to the British film star Joyce Carey as she appears in most of them. Pictured: Coward lying on a beach

It is thought the 93 snaps, which are expected to sell for £800 at Sworders Auctioneers in London next month, belonged to the British film star Joyce Carey as she appears in most of them. Pictured: Coward lying on a beach

It is thought the 93 snaps, which are expected to sell for £800 at Sworders Auctioneers in London next month, belonged to the British film star Joyce Carey as she appears in most of them. Pictured: Coward lying on a beach

Pictured: Actress Beatrice Lillie

Pictured: Actress Beatrice Lillie

Pictured: Joyce Carey

Pictured: Joyce Carey

Actress Joyce Carey (right) is depicted in one of them while the actress Beatrice Lillie (left) is seen lying on a hammock

Pictured: Jack Wilson (middle) with Joyce Carey and Canadian movie star star Raymond Massey (far right) at a gathering

Pictured: Jack Wilson (middle) with Joyce Carey and Canadian movie star star Raymond Massey (far right) at a gathering

Pictured: Jack Wilson (middle) with Joyce Carey and Canadian movie star star Raymond Massey (far right) at a gathering

Pictured: Theatre impresario Sir Charles Cochran is seen attending a garden party at Goldenhurst with several other guests

Pictured: Theatre impresario Sir Charles Cochran is seen attending a garden party at Goldenhurst with several other guests

Pictured: Theatre impresario Sir Charles Cochran is seen attending a garden party at Goldenhurst with several other guests

‘They are really intimate images that could have led to Noel Coward going to prison. He lived in fear of that, like most gay men at the time did.

‘Noel Coward wanted to be loved and that is what I see in these pictures. He is surrounded by people who were sympathetic to him and, more importantly, they are people who he could trust.’

John Knowles, a consultant for the Noel Coward estate, said: ‘These pictures confirm where Noel Coward was in the twenties and thirties, which was highly successful in the West End having gone from genteel poverty to being able to afford a house in the country, a Rolls-Royce and nice clothes. He was also a friend of the stars.

Pictured: Gladys Calthrop, who was a lifelong friend of Cowards and worked as the costume designer for many of his plays

Pictured: Gladys Calthrop, who was a lifelong friend of Cowards and worked as the costume designer for many of his plays

Pictured: Gladys Calthrop, who was a lifelong friend of Cowards and worked as the costume designer for many of his plays

Pictured: Noel Coward, on bench, chatting with friends in the gardens of Goldenhurst in the fascinating collection of images

Pictured: Noel Coward, on bench, chatting with friends in the gardens of Goldenhurst in the fascinating collection of images

Pictured: Noel Coward, on bench, chatting with friends in the gardens of Goldenhurst in the fascinating collection of images

‘He had relationships with other men but women were very fond of him as well. He knew scores and scores of women.

‘He was at ease with women and remained friends with them all of his life, in particular Joyce Carey and Gladys Calthrop.’

A spokesman for Sworders Auctioneers said: ‘This is a fascinating collection of ninety-three candid snapshot photographs of Noel Coward and his friends, contained in a modern black album.’ 

Sir Noel Coward died aged 73 in 1973, four years after he appeared as Mr Bridger in The Italian Job. 

Sir Noel Coward, who was knighted in 1970, died aged 73 in 1973, four years after he appeared as Mr Bridger in The Italian Job

Sir Noel Coward, who was knighted in 1970, died aged 73 in 1973, four years after he appeared as Mr Bridger in The Italian Job

Sir Noel Coward, who was knighted in 1970, died aged 73 in 1973, four years after he appeared as Mr Bridger in The Italian Job

Sir Noel Coward: The acclaimed playwright who began acting at 12 before launching a successful career in writing spanning five decades

Noel Coward was born in December 1899 in Teddington, Middlesex, the oldest surviving son of parents Arthur and Violet.

He made his professional stage debut as Prince Mussel in The Goldfinch at the Little Theatre, London when he was 12, following dozens of public appearances in school and community concerts. It was revived at Crystal Palace and Royal Court Theatre in the same year. 

After his appearance in The Goldfinch in 1911, Coward went on to write The Vortex in 1924 – a controversial play which featured themes of drugs and adultery which essentially made his name as an actor and writer on both Broadway and the West End.

He continued to write throughout the 1920s, producing a series of successful plays and musicals including Fallen Angels, Hay Fever, Easy Virtue and Bitter Sweet. He then launched a professional partnership with his friend Gertrude Lawrence, producing Private Lives and Tonight at 8.30 throughout the next decade.

At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, Coward volunteers for war work and eventually found himself acting as an unofficial spy for the Foreign Office in Paris.

Throughout these years, he also produced Blithe Spirit, This Happy Breed and Present Laughter. Later, Coward wrote two wartime screenplays, In Which We Serve and Brief Encounter.

Following the war, Coward became a cabaret and TV star in the US and in 1955 he played a sell-out season in Las Vegas featuring many of his most famous songs including Mad About the Boy and I’ll See You Again.

He then settled in Jamaica and Switzerland in the mid-1950s, before becoming the first living playwright to be performed by the National Theatre in the 1960s when he directed Hay Fever there.

Late in life, Coward appeared in films including One Man in Havana and The Italian Job.

The playwright, actor, songwriter and director, who was knighted in 1970, wrote his final scripts, In Suite in Three Keys, in 1966.

He died in March 1973 at the Firefly Estate in Jamaica. 

Source: NoelCoward.com   

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