Noël Coward

On the Air: Rare Unknown Broadcasts 1944-1948

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The close of the 20th century and the brutally violent dawn of the 21st witnessed new horizons in global warming, dress rehearsals for a Third World War and a rekindling of interest in the life and works of Noël Coward (1899-1973). Anyone hopelessly smitten by this person's charm and wit will want to augment his commercially issued studio recordings with this album of rare transcripts drawn from his radio programs which were aired during and after the Second World War. Recorded between 1944 and 1948, these are not live performances but rather pre-recorded acetates intended for broadcast purposes. The first quarter-hour of this compilation comes from Treasury Star Parade program No. 321, a production of the U. S. Treasury Department, complete with scripted pitches for War Bonds. Coward begins by wistfully singing his standard "Waltz Medley," a softly spun sequence of romantic, sentimental airs. He then recites "Lie in the Dark and Listen," an amazing poem composed at night while contemplating the sounds of RAF bombers flying overhead on their way to Cologne. He then delivers his notorious "Don't Let's Be Beastly to the Germans," which he later described as "a satire directed against a small minority of eccentric humanitarians who, in my opinion, were taking a rather too tolerant view of our enemies." This very funny exercise in cynicism is packed with wry verbiage like "let's be sweet to them and day by day repeat to them that sterilization simply isn't done." Unfortunately, the song didn't go over so well with the English public; Coward received quite a bit of critical abuse after singing it over BBC radio, and HMV even refused to record it. President Franklin Roosevelt, however, thought it was brilliant. When Coward sang it for him at a private dinner, arrangements were made for the song to be pre-recorded for use on U.S. radio broadcasts. The 1944 version is nearly four-minutes long; it contains extra verses which apparently didn't make it onto other recordings of the song. In 1947, radio producer Harry Alan Towers (a rising entrepreneur who would eventually collaborate with Orson Welles) convinced Noël Coward to record no less than thirteen 30-minute radio programs with musical accompaniment by Mantovani & His Orchestra. The archival acetate platters are incredibly rare; what you get on this CD is a sampling of selections from all 13 programs, which were emceed by Coward himself. Highlights include "Nina," a very funny send-up of exotic dancing, and the famous "Mad Dogs and Englishmen," which the composer introduces as a song he wrote in 1930 while traveling the thousand mile road between Hanoi and Saigon.

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