Contents [ printable ]

THM/287 - Esme Wynne and Noel Coward Collection

Esme Wynne and Noel Coward Collection

What is this?
  • this Description
  • View XML | View Text
This material is held atV&A Department of Theatre and Performance
Reference Number(s)GB 71 THM/287
Dates of Creation1912-1994
Name of CreatorEsme Wynne
Language of Material English
Physical Description 1 box

Scope and Content

This collection contains materials relating to the friendship between Esme Wynne and Noel Coward, collected by Wynne. The materials comprise mainly of original correspondence between the two as well as letters to and from other relevant individuals. Also featured are theatrical programmes, photographs, news clippings, a play-text and copies of scripts and songs written collaboratively by Wynne and Coward.

Administrative / Biographical History

Dorothy Ripper was born in 1989 in Stockwell. Educated first by governesses, then at an English boarding school and finally at a Belgian convent, she became a child-actress in 1909, taking the stage name Esme Wynne.

Noel Peirce Coward was born in Teddington in 1899, the second of three sons. He was educated briefly at a choir school and later received dance lessons, but was otherwise lacking in formal schooling. Precocious and excelling in local amateur talent shows, Coward's mother steered him into a career on the stage. His first professional engagement came in 1911 at the age of 14, where he appeared in the children's play The Goldfish in London.

Later that year they both appeared in the first production of Clifford Mills' Where the Rainbow Ends . Soon after Wynne attended Coward's 12th birthday party and their friendship was cemented. In 1912 Wynne had her first writing success at the age of 13 when her first play The Princes Bride was put on for one night by Charles Hawtree at the Savoy, including Coward in the cast.

From here on in they were inseperable, spending time together whenever possible and otherwise writing to each other constantly. In 1915 they embarked on a lengthy British tour playing Charles and Amy in Brandon Thomas's Charley's Aunt.

Between acting appointments they would find time to create and collaborate persistently, writing sketches and songs together and also a number of one-act plays under the joint pen-name of Esnomel; Ida Collaborates (The Last Chapter) (staged 1917), To Have and to Hold (not staged), and Women and Whisky (staged 1918).

After this time their lives diverged sharply, and their collaborations ended although their friendship continued through their letter-writing and occassional visits. Unfortunately a fire at Wynne's holiday home destroyed most of the letters and scripts they had written.

Coward continued to perform as a child star in the West End, and worked all the way through World War I in film ( Hearts of the World with Lillian Gish) and on stage. In 1918 he was honourably discharged from the army on health grounds and began writing plays and short stories and composing music, often selling stories to magazines to help his family financially. At this time he became aquainted with Lorn McNaughton who would later become his personal secretary.

His first full-length play put on a West End stage was I Leave it to You in 1920 at the New Theatre. In 1924 The Vortex was put on at the Everyman Theatre and became a controversial success. During the run he met an American stockbroker Jack Wilson, who became his lover and business partner. The success of The Vortex rocketed Coward into fame and saw an increase in demand for his work.

Coward revelled in his stardom; befriending the rich and famous, travelling far and wide and living a lavish and fashionable lifestyle. By the end of the 1920s he had become one of the world's highest earning writers. He continued to write, compose and act successfully in Britain and in the US. The year 1930 saw the opening of what would be his crowning achivement: Private Lives stared himself, Laurence Olivier and Gertrude Lawrence (his muse) and played in the West End as well as on Broadway. The years 1941-2 were also particularly notable, seeing the release of This Happy Breed, Present Laughter, Blithe Spirit and the war film he wrote, co-directed and starred in, In Which We Serve .

Meanwhile Wynne continued to act. Her final stage appearance came in 1920 when she played Faith in Coward's comedy I'll Leave it to You, after which she retired into married life with her husband Lynden Tyson, an officer of the Royal Flying Corps.

In 1924 Wynne became a Christian Scientist, despite having in her youth drawn up a 'Palship Act' with Coward which forbade either to speak of religion due to the arguments it caused. Her first and only child Jon was born in 1924 and went on to become an author and publisher. Wynne's marriage to Tyson broke up in 1929.

In the years after her marriage Wynne went on to write non-fiction journalism, children's stories and novels including Security (1927) and Momus (1928). Towards the end of her writing career her subject-matter veered into philosophical and metaphysical concerns.

Coward's post-war efforts never matched his pre-war successes. His last stage hit was Suite in Three Keys at the Queen's Theatre in 1966. At this time suffering from various health complaints and avoiding stringent UK tax laws Coward retired from public life and bought houses in Bermuda, Switzerland and Jamaica. He died at 'Firefly', his Jamaican home in 1973 following a stroke. Wynne had died a year earlier in Chichester.

Arrangement

This collection is arranged into the following series:

  • THM/287/1 - Correspondence between Wynne and Coward
  • THM/287/2 - Other correspondence
  • THM/287/3 - Photographs
  • THM/287/4 - Theatre Programmes
  • THM/287/5 - Newspaper and Periodical cuttings
  • THM/287/6 - Wynne and Cowards scripts
  • THM/287/7 - Marvellous Party Play-Text
  • THM/287/8 - Wynne and Coward Song Collaborations

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is available for consultation in the V&A Department of Theatre & Performance's Reading Room, which is located at Blythe House, 23 Blythe Rd, Olympia, London, W14 0QX. The Reading Room is open Tuesday to Friday between 10.15 am and 4.30 pm, access to it is by appointment only.

To request an appointment please email tmenquiries@vam.ac.uk or telephone 020 7942 2698.

Access to some of these files may be restricted. These are identified at file level.

Conditions Governing Use

Archive material may not be photocopied. Arrangements can be made to photograph material in the search room using non-flash photography.

Accruals

No further accruals are expected.

Related Material

See also the core collections of the V&A Theatre and Performance Department. Material relating to Noel Coward may be found in several collections, including the biographical, productions and photographs files.

Please ask for details.

Personal Names

Wynne, Esme
Coward, Noel

Cataloguing Info

TitleEsme Wynne and Noel Coward Collection
CreationCreated by Veronica Castro using the cheshire for archives ead creation tool 2011-07-12

Correspondence betweeen Wynne and Coward

Reference Number(s)GB 71 THM/287/1
Dates of Creation1916-1970
Physical Description 1 folder

Scope and Content

This folder contains the following:

  • Postcard from Coward to Wynne telling her about his trip to Scotland. Signed, dated September 1916.
  • Postcard from Coward to Wynne from Switzerland in which he discusses her sending a play to New York. Signed, dated November 1922.
  • Handwritten letter from Coward to Wynne in which he critiques her novel Momus. Signed, dated 1928.
  • Handwritten letter from Coward to Wynne in which he discusses her attitude to other women. Signed, dated January 1928.
  • Telegram from Coward to Wynne in which he mentions security at a New York opening. Signed, dated March 1929.
  • Handwritten letter from Coward to Wynne in which he discusses his hectic work schedule and social life and his general view of human nature: "I fear we shall never see human life eye to eye and tooth to tooth..." Signed, dated 1936.
  • Typed letter from Wynne to Coward in which she talks about "universal truth" and religion. Unsigned, dated September 1949.
  • Typed letter from Coward to Wynne in which he discusses his spiritual philosophy. Second page missing, unsigned, dated October 1949.
  • Typed letter from Coward to Wynne in which he mentions spirituality and his "heartwarming materialism". Signed, dated January 1952.
  • Short typed letter from Coward to Wynne, signed, dated May 1954.
  • Typed letter from Coward to Wynne in which he discusses a recent bout of ill-health, the deaths of mutual friends and his own attitude towards death: "I only know that if I should happen to 'pop' to-morrow that I have no complaints." Signed, dated 1960.
  • Typed letter (unfinished) from Wynne to Coward in which she talks about his being unwell, death, and their "awful" tour of Charley's Aunt. Unsigned, dated February 1960.
  • Typed letter from Wynne to Coward in which she discusses a burglary at her son Jon's house, the 'Nesbits' episode and her profilic output of spiritual writings. Signed, dated March 1960.
  • Christmas card from Coward to Wynne. Signed, dated 1961.
  • Christmas card from Coward to Wynne featuring a black and white portrait of himself on front. Signed, dated 1964
  • Christmas card from Coward to Wynne featuring a colour portrait of himself on front. Inscribed: "Darling Stoj - I hope these two aspects of my lovely little heart-shaped face will jerk you to your feet again, Fond love Poj", dated 1967.
  • Handwritten note from Coward to Wynne in which he mentions E.S.P. Signed, dated January 1970.
  • Handwritten letter from Coward to Wynne, this is his last surviving letter to Esme. He talks about his knighthood and asks to be addressed as "Sir Poj". Signed, dated January 1970.
  • Pencil sketch by Coward for Wynne depicting himself crying on a bus "after leaving you!" Signed, undated.
  • Ink sketch by Coward for Wynne depicting Wynne as a "Modern Medusa" who "Kills Men At Sight Also Beetles". Unsigned, undated.
  • Ink sketch by Wynne for Coward depicting herslef humurously in a range of roles she had played on stage. Unsigned, undated.
  • Ink sketch by Coward to Wynne depicting a young man taking "a boy and girl to tea at Rumplemayers!". Unsigned, undated.
  • Postcard from Wynne to Coward cancelling a date. Signed, undated.
  • Handwritten letter from Coward to Wynne. First page is missing but letter mentions going on holiday with his parents and motorcycling. The letter features various sketches; the Coward family in a house, an audience leaving a theatre upon hearing him sing, and Coward in bed, on a bus and riding a motorcycle. Signed, undated.
  • Note from Coward to Wynne thanking her for her condolences on the death of his mother. Signed, undated.
  • Handwritten letter from Coward to Wynne in which he critiques her play The Supreme Folly, comparing it unfavourably to another of her works, Little Lovers
  • Handwritten letter from Coward to Wynne in which he advises her at length on editing and improving her play The New Elaine, as well as the art of playwriting in general. Signed, undated.
  • Handwritten letter from Coward to Wynne, in which he is very depressed at having to stay in Dartmoor with his mother who is "being a pig and a cow in every way". Signed, undated.
  • Handwritten letter from Coward to Wynne where he critiques an unidentified play of hers act by act. Signed, undated.
  • Typed letter from Coward to Wynne where he tells her of his house and life in Jamaica and jokes that he had "not yet found Jesus". Signed, undated.
  • Scribbled note. Contained in envelope which states the following: "Blue Sheet is in Noel Coward's hand-writing and is probably a criticism of something Stoj had written, though she couldn't remember (April 1967) what". Unsigned and undated.

Administrative / Biographical History

In these letters Wynne and Coward regularly use nick-names for each other. Wynne is called Stodge or Stoj, and Coward is Podge or Poj.

Some of these letters and sketches have been transcribed and reproduced in The Letters of Noel Coward, ed. Barry Day, Methuen, 2007. A copy of this may be found in the V&A Department of Theatre and Performance library collection.

Personal Names

Coward, Noel
Wynne, Esme

Other correspondence

Reference Number(s)GB 71 THM/287/2
Dates of Creation1923-1967
Physical Description 1 folder

Scope and Content

This folder contains the following:

  • Letter from William Browne (theatre director and husband of actress Marie Tempest) to Coward in which he offers his opinion on one of Coward's plays (possibly Hay Fever). Signed, dated January 1923.
  • Handwritten letter from Lorn McNaughton to Wynne telling her that Coward is on the mend after surgery. Signed, dated July 1934.
  • Handwritten letter from McNaughton to Wynne in which she explains how the death of Cowards' mother and UK tax laws informed his decision to emigrate. Signed, dated June 1956.
  • Copy of typed letter from Raymond Mander and Joe Mitchenson (theatrical collectors) to Wynne asking for information regarding Coward's early career and his collaborations with her. Signed, dated March 1958.
  • Copy of typed letter from Wynne replying to Mander and Mitchenson in which she details the moment that inspired Coward to become a writer and bemoans the factual inaccuracies in his biography Present Indicative. Signed, dated March 1958.
  • Typed letter from Coward to Jon Wynne in which he talks about his misgivings over publishing a book of photographs of himself. Signed, dated March 1960.
  • Group of copies of 4 letters between Wynne and Edward Nils Holstius (novelist. In the letters Wynne is called 'Peter', and Edward 'Teddie'). Mostly reminiscences, these letters were kept in an envelope (this envelope has been destroyed) on which was written: "These photocopies are included because of the light they throw on a subject known to very few people, but subject to speculation for lack of evidence - the existence of a "list" Coward kept of people who he felt had wronged him, and on whom he intended to revenge himself." All letters are signed and dated January-March 1961.
  • Handwritten letter from Sheridan Morley (author) to Wynne asking to meet her to talk about his upcoming biography of Coward. Signed, dated 8th November 1966.
  • Copy of typed letter from Wynne in response to Morley offering him information for his book. Signed, dated 8th November 1966.
  • Typed letter form Morley in response to Wynne thanking her for the information given and asking for more on Coward as a teenager. Signed, dated 10th November 1966.
  • Copy of typed letter from Wynne in response to Sheridan asking that relevant passages be sent to her for approval before publishing. Enclosed is a copy of a letter of 'corrections' Wynne had sent to Coward on reading Present Indicative. Unsigned, dated 12 November 1966.
  • Handwritten letter from Morely to Wynne thanking her for information. Signed, dated November 1966.
  • Handwritten letter from Morley to Wynne thanking her for speaking to him. Signed, dated 6th April 1967.
  • Copy of typed letter from Wynne to Morley offering more relevant pieces of information regarding her friendship with Coward. Signed, dated 10th April 1967.
  • Typed letter from Morley to Wynne once again thanking her for her help. Signed, dated 14th April 1967.
  • Copy of typed letter from Wynne to Morley in which she thanks him for sending her a copy of Coward's plays and discusses the subjects of marriage and homosexuality. Unsigned, dated 14th April 1967.
  • Copy of typed letter from Wynne to her son Jon in which she discusses her concerns about having had her interview with Morley tape-recorded. Unsigned, dated 17th April 1967.
  • Handwritten note from Coward to Jon thanking him for a letter. Signed, undated.
  • Telegram from 'Gray' to Coward and Wynne inviting them to dinner. Signed, date illegible.

Administrative / Biographical History

In these letters Wynne and Coward regulalrly use nick-names for each other. Wynne is called Stodge or Stoj, and Coward is Podge or Poj.


Photographs

Reference Number(s)GB 71 THM/287/3
Dates of Creation1917-1925
Physical Description 1 folder

Scope and Content

This folder features the following:

  • Black and white photograph of Wynne, dated 1917,
  • Black and white photograph of Wynne and Coward in I'll Leave it to You, New Theatre, 1920.
  • Black and white photograph of Coward on holiday in Spain. Signed, dated 1925.
  • Black and white studio portrait of a young Coward. Signed on front: "Love to Esme / Noel Coward". Undated.
  • Sepia-tint photograph of Coward as Slightly in Peter Pan. Signed on front: "To Dear Darling old Stodge from Podge." Undated.
  • Black and white postcard image of a young Wynne and Coward with John E Kims. Undated.
  • Black and white postcard image of Coward and Philip Streatfeild (painter), undated.


Theatre Programmes

Reference Number(s)GB 71 THM/287/4
Dates of Creation1916-1920
Physical Description 1 folder

Scope and Content

This folder contains the following theatre programmes:

  • Charley's Aunt by Brandon Thomas at the Marlborough Theatre. The production starred Wynne as Amy Spettigue and Coward as Charles Wykeham. Dated 31st Janury 1916.
  • A Pair of Silk Stockings by Cyril Harcourt at the Theatre Royal, Aldershot. This play was preceded by a work written by Wynne and Coward entitled The Last Chapter, which starred Wynne as 'Ida Walker'. Dated 20th August 1917.
  • I'll Leave it to You by Coward, which starred Wynne as Faith Crombie. Dated 3rd May 1920.
  • A Pair of Silk Stockings by Cyril Harcourt at the King's Theatre, Hammersmith. This play was preceded by a work written by Wynne and Coward entitled Woman & Whisky. Undated.
  • Where the Rainbow Ends by Clifford Mills and John Ramsey, which starred Wynne as Rosamund Carey and Coward as William. Undated.

Administrative / Biographical History

All programmes in this collection were starred in or were written by Wynne and/or Coward.

Personal Names

Wynne, Esme
Coward, Noel
Ramsey, John
Mills, Clifford
Thomas, Brandon
Harcourt, Cyril

Newspaper and Periodical Cuttings

Reference Number(s)GB 71 THM/287/5
Dates of Creation1912-1994
Physical Description 1 folder

Scope and Content

This folder contains the following:

  • Copy of an article from an unknown newspaper mentioning Wynne's performance in The Daisy Chain and the up-coming production of her play The Prince's Bride at the Savoy Theatre. Dated 29th January 1912.
  • Cutting from Lady's Pictorial featuring images of Wynne and Reginald Owen in Where the Rainbow Ends. Dated 4th January, 1913.
  • Cutting from The Tatler featuring a small item on I'll Leave it to You . Dated 1st September 1920.
  • Copy of an article from BBC Worldwide written by Wynne's son Jon and discussing the friendship between Wynne and Coward. Dated May 1994.
  • Cutting from Sketch featuring images from I'll Leave it to You . Undated.

Administrative / Biographical History

This folder will contain news cuttings from British newspapers and periodicals.

Personal Names

Wynne, Esme
Coward, Noel
Owen , Reginald

Geographical Names

Savoy Theatre, London

Wynne and Coward Scripts

Reference Number(s)GB 71 THM/287/6
Dates of Creation1916-1919
Physical Description 1 folder

Scope and Content

This folder contains the following play-texts:

  • Copy of Le Reve De Pierrot by Wynne with music by Coward. Item contained in an envelope labelled: "Copy as Coward's music not available (Coward estate?) / also: "Poem" written by NC as an example of popular songs in the 30s (Copy only. Original in EWT notebook)". This envelope has been destroyed. Dated 1916.
  • The Last Chapter by Ensomel. Typed original with annotations. Inscribed on front by Jon Wynne. Dated 1917.
  • To Have and to Hold by Esme Wynne and Noel Coward. Typed original, undated.
  • Act IV of The Last Trick by Esme Wynne and Noel Coward. Typed original, inscribed on front by Jon Wynne: "Recorded by Morley as written by NC but a collaboration with EWT." Undated.
  • Women and Whisky by Ensomel. Typed original with annotations. Undated.

Administrative / Biographical History

This folder will contain works written by Wynne and Coward.


Marvellous Party Play-Text

Reference Number(s)GB 71 THM/237/7
Dates of Creation1989
Physical Description 1 folder

Scope and Content

This folder contains a copy of Jon Wynne-Tyson's play Marvellous Party, published in 1989.

Administrative / Biographical History

The play, written by Jon Wynne depicts an imaginary middle-aged meeting between Wynne and Coward in Las Vegas.

Personal Names

Wynne, Esme
Wynne-Tyson, Jon
Coward , Noel

Wynne and Coward Song Collaborations

Reference Number(s)GB 71 THM/237/8
Dates of Creation1917
Physical Description 1 folder

Conditions Governing Access

This folder contains the following:

  • Copy of manuscript for Songs of the Sea, music by Coward and lyrics by Wynne. Undated.
  • Copy of manuscript for Faith, music by Coward and lyrics by Wynne. Undated.

Custodial History

These manuscripts were held in an envelope which was labelled with the following information: 'Copies of early song collaborations between Noel Coward and Esme Wynne-Tyson (originals in Coward Estate's possession in 1991).'

'EW-T's four 'Songs of the Sea' lyrics are written in her notebook (EWT archive, box 17),dated 25.12.1917.'

The envelope has been destroyed.

Personal Names

Wynne, Esme
Coward, Noel