Graham Payn

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b. 25 April 1918, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, d. 4 November 2005, Les Avants, Switzerland. Educated in South Africa and, from 1929, in England, Payn appeared on the stage in a London Palladium production…
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Artist Biography by

b. 25 April 1918, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, d. 4 November 2005, Les Avants, Switzerland. Educated in South Africa and, from 1929, in England, Payn appeared on the stage in a London Palladium production of Peter Pan at the age of 13. He was in the West End in Sitting Pretty (1939), Up And Doing (1940), Fine And Dandy (1942), Magic Carpet (1943, which is not connected to the 1930 similarly titled Broadway show), and in 1944 was in The Lilac Domino and Alice In Wonderland. Although he played multiple roles in the latter, Payn usually had small parts or was in the chorus. He showed little ambition for stardom, even after being befriended by Noël Coward, whose close companion he eventually became. Coward wrote ‘Matelot’ especially for him to sing in Sigh No More (1945) but Payn chose not to build upon this opportunity. Even when Coward cast him in further productions, such as Pacific 1860 (1946), Payn opted for professional obscurity, choosing seldom to rise beyond character roles. Even so, he did tour the USA in 1948 playing the lead in Coward’s Tonight At 8.30 opposite Gertrude Lawrence.

In the 50s Payn played mostly in London revues but did appear in Coward’s Ace Of Clubs and After The Ball, the latter a musical version of Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan. Payn appeared in other musical shows and also in straight dramas during the later part of the decade; the former included Love Is News, the latter Subway In The Sky and Brouhaha. He was also in Suddenly It’s Spring (1959), with Margaret Lockwood and Yolande Donlan, and Coward’s Waiting In The Wings (1960). In the mid-60s, Payn was assistant director of High Spirits, a musical version of Coward’s Blithe Spirit that played both in the West End and on Broadway, and he performed in a revival of Present Laughter.

In the late 30s, Payn made some appearances on British television during its earliest days, and also made some film appearances (sometimes credited with his surname spelled Payne), including Boys In Brown, The Astonished Heart (both 1949) and The Italian Job (1969). Following Coward’s death in 1973, he was co-author, with Sheridan Morley and Cole Lesley, of Noël Coward And His Friends (1979) and co-editor with Morley of The Noël Coward Diaries (1982). He later managed Coward’s estate in Switzerland and in 1994 published his autobiography.