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Noel Coward was early victim of tax anger
As Ken Livingstone is likely to find to his cost on May 3, the election day for the London Mayor, the vast majority of us who pay our taxes without recourse to anything that might be judged ‘funny business’ hold a grudge against those who do not. One of the first to feel the power of this opprobrium was Noël Coward. The groundswell of public opinion against him, which severely dented his popularity in the last decade and more of his life, was his decision in 1956 to live abroad (in Jamaica) ‘for tax reasons’ — as was reported, with much abusive comment, on all the front pages of the time.
Editing his diaries in 1982, Sheridan Morley and Graham Payne observed: “The fact that he was leaving England to avoid future taxation rather than money already owned to the Inland Revenue, and the fact that it was still every Englishman’s inalienable right to live where he chose [is this actually true?], escaped largely unnoticed. Noël was the first publicized figure to leave Britain for tax reasons in the 1950s, and he paid a price unknown to the hundreds of actors, singers and footballers who were later to follow in his footsteps.”
As for the waning popularity of his works, the Master noted in these diaries in 1951 (appropriately on St George’s Day/Shakespeare’s birthday, April 23): “How foolish it is to allow one’s mind ever to be irritated by reviews. I write what I wish to write — later on the world can decide if it wishes to. There will always be a few people, anyhow, in every generation who will find my work entertaining and true.”
How right he was. In the week of an excellent production of Star Quality at Oxford Playhouse, we can look forward to the arrival of another of his long-neglected plays, Volcano, at the same venue in July. Meanwhile, a production of Hay Fever at the West End theatre named in his honour is continuing to attract rave notices and big crowds. Master, indeed.