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Esme Wynne and Noel Coward Collection

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This material is held at Theatre and Performance
Reference Number(s) GB 71 THM/287
Dates of Creation 1912-1994
Name of Creator Esme 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:

    Conditions Governing Access

    This archive collection is available for consultation in the V&A Blythe House Archive and Library Study Room by appointment only. Full details of access arrangements may be found here: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/a/archives/.

    Access to some of the material may be restricted. These are noted in the catalogue where relevant.

    Conditions Governing Use

    Information on copying and commercial reproduction may be found here: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/a/archives/.

    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. ( 1889 - 1972)
    Coward, Noël. ( 16/12/1899 - 26/3/1973)

    Cataloguing Info

    Title Esme Wynne and Noel Coward Collection
    Revisions

    Correspondence betweeen Wynne and Coward

    Reference Number(s) GB 71 THM/287/1
    Dates of Creation 1916-1970
    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. He suggests her career might lie in writing novels: "you have a prose mind not a dialogue mind". Signed, undated.
    • 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, Noël. ( 16/12/1899 - 26/3/1973)
    Wynne, Esme

    Other correspondence

    Reference Number(s) GB 71 THM/287/2
    Dates of Creation 1923-1967
    Physical Description 1 folder

    Scope and Content

    This folder contains the following:

      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 Creation 1917-1925
      Physical Description 1 folder

      Scope and Content

      This folder features the following:


        Theatre Programmes

        Reference Number(s) GB 71 THM/287/4
        Dates of Creation 1916-1920
        Physical Description 1 folder

        Scope and Content

        This folder contains the following theatre programmes:

          Administrative / Biographical History

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

          Personal Names

          Wynne, Esme
          Coward, Noël. ( 16/12/1899 - 26/3/1973)
          Nicoll, John Ramsey Allardyce
          Mills, Clifford
          Thomas, Brandon. ( 1856 - 1914)
          Harcourt, Cyril

          Newspaper and Periodical Cuttings

          Reference Number(s) GB 71 THM/287/5
          Dates of Creation 1912-1994
          Physical Description 1 folder

          Scope and Content

          This folder contains the following:

            Administrative / Biographical History

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

            Personal Names

            Wynne, Esme
            Coward, Noël. ( 16/12/1899 - 26/3/1973)
            Owen , Reginald

            Geographical Names

            Savoy Theatre, London

            Wynne and Coward Scripts

            Reference Number(s) GB 71 THM/287/6
            Dates of Creation 1916-1919
            Physical Description 1 folder

            Scope and Content

            This folder contains the following play-texts:

              Administrative / Biographical History

              This folder will contain works written by Wynne and Coward.


              Marvellous Party Play-Text

              Reference Number(s) GB 71 THM/287/7
              Dates of Creation 1989
              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, Noël. ( 16/12/1899 - 26/3/1973)

              Wynne and Coward Song Collaborations

              Reference Number(s) GB 71 THM/287/8
              Dates of Creation 1917
              Physical Description 1 folder

              Conditions Governing Access

              This folder contains the following:

                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, Noël. ( 16/12/1899 - 26/3/1973)