Saturday, 14 December 2013

Wit and wisdom from Sir Noël Coward

In which G.M. Norton tips his hat to the second wittiest man of all time.


Playwright, composer, director, actor, singer. Sir Noël Coward was all of these things and so much more. As his chum, Lord Mountbatten, remarked in 1969:

"There are probably greater painters than Noël, greater novelists than Noël, greater librettists, greater composers of music, greater singers, greater dancers, greater comedians, greater tragedians, greater stage producers, greater film directors, greater cabaret artists, greater TV stars. If there are, they are fourteen different people. Only one man combined all fourteen different labels – The Master." 

As well as being clever and incredibly talented, Coward was a flamboyant dresser. Indeed, one may instantly think of Coward wrapped in a flouncy dressing gown or smoking jacket, with a long cigarette in one hand and humorous retort up his sleeve.

With Sir Noël’s birthday on the sixteenth day of December, what better way to mark it than to enjoy a witty remark or ten?
  1. “Wouldn't it be dreadful to live in a country where they didn't have tea?” 
  2. “I have a memory like an elephant. In fact, elephants often consult me.” 
  3. “Television is for appearing on - not for looking at.”
  4. “It's a pity you didn't have a little more brandy. It might have made you more agreeable!”
  5. “I like long walks, especially when they are taken by people who annoy me.” 
  6. “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.” 
  7. “A.E. Matthews ambled through This Was a Man like a charming retriever who has buried a bone and can't quite remember where.” 
  8. “My importance to the world is relatively small. On the other hand, my importance to myself is tremendous. I am all I have to work with, to play with, to suffer and to enjoy. It is not the eyes of others that I am wary of, but of my own. I do not intend to let myself down more than I can possibly help, and I find that the fewer illusions I have about myself or the world around me, the better company I am for myself.”
  9. “What I adore is supreme professionalism. I’m bored by writers who can write only when it’s raining.” 
  10. “Wit ought to be a glorious treat like caviar; never spread it about like marmalade.


A thoroughly English gentleman, Coward will always be an icon in all the best denotations of the word.

G.M. Norton
Protagonist of ‘Norton of Morton’

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