Noël Coward: Past, Present and Future

Edgbaston Park Hotel
Thursday 15 June (00:00) - Friday 16 June 2023 (00:00)


A Two Day Interdisciplinary Conference, University of Birmingham

‘There are probably greater painters than Noel, greater novelists than Noel, greater librettists, greater composers of music, greater singers, greater dancers, greater comedians, greater tragedians, greater stage producers, greater film directors, greater cabaret artists, greater TV stars. If there are, they are 14 different people. Only 1 man combined all 14 different labels: the Master.’ (Lord Mountbatten at Coward’s 70th birthday party. Coward, Noël. The Letters of Noël Coward. Edited by Barry Day. New York: Methuen Drama, 2007, p.3)

‘It is foolish for a writer constantly to decry the critics; it is also foolish, I think, for the critics to constantly decry anyone who writes as well as I do. […] The battle, of course, will never end until the grave closes over me, and then! Oh dear, the balls that will be written about me.’ (27 December 1964, after the reception of Pretty Polly Barlow. Noël Coward Diaries, edited by Graham Payn & Sheridan Morley, London: Macmillan, 1982, 584) 

In 1999, as part of the Noël Coward Centenary, and to mark the acquisition of the Noël Coward Collection, the first conference devoted to his work took place at the University of Birmingham. Selected papers from this conference were subsequently collected in a volume, Look Back in Pleasure (Methuen 2000). 2023, marks the fiftieth anniversary of his death and provides a timely opportunity to re-evaluate the significance of this major cultural figure by offering new ways of engaging with his life and achievements.

One of the principal aims of the conference is to take an interdisciplinary approach to Coward’s influence beyond the realm of the theatre to include his work as a novelist and short story writer; his work as a composer, lyricist and singer; his work in cinema as actor, screen writer and director as well as the figure of Coward himself, who carefully fashioned and sustained an instantly recognized public persona.

A Noel Coward photoTopics for papers and panels might include (but are not limited to)

  • Coward on film
  • Coward & politics, class, imperialism, Empire & patriotism, both World Wars.
  • Coward & his circle / contemporaries
  • Coward, gender & sexuality
  • Coward & musical theatre
  • Coward, celebrity, stardom and self-fashioning
  • Acting & directing in Coward
  • ‘Offshoots,’ parodies & appropriations of Coward & his work
  • Coward in the West End and on Broadway
  • Coward & Modernism

Image above supplied courtesy of the Cadbury Research Library, University of Birmingham.

Registration is now live!

You can now register for the conference via the button at the top right of this webpage. Conference fees are as follows. 

Full standard conference fee £190, standard day rate £100; full PGR conference fee £110, PGR day rate £60. There is also the option of the three course conference dinner (including drinks), which will be held at our Edgbaston Park Hotel on the evening of Thursday 15 June. 

Please note the registration deadline is Sunday May 28th.

Keynote speakers

We are very pleased to be able to confirm our keynote speakers for the conference are Professor Russell Jackson (University of Birmingham ) & Oliver Soden, whose new biography on Coward ( Masquerade: The Lives of Noël Coward) has recently been published.


Thursday 15 June

9:00-9:30 Registration and Coffee 

9:30-10:00 Welcome 

10:00-11:00 Keynote: ‘Noël Coward: Family Man’. (Professor Russell Jackson University of Birmingham) 

11:00-11:15 Break 

11:15-12:45 Panel 1: Coward and Representations of C20th British History 

  • ‘’I think I was better off in the trenches’: Noël Coward, the Great War and the veteran mentality (Mark Connelly, University of Kent, UK)
  • From Polemic to Parody: Coward’s Criticisms of Journey’s End (Lydia Manley, University of Birmingham, UK) 
  • Cavalcade & This Happy Breed: Remaking the Nation’s Past (Ben Poore, University of York, UK) 

12:45-13:30 Luncheon 

1.30-2.30pm Panel 2 : Sound & Music 

  • ‘The Two Most Wonderful Things in the World’: The Image and Legacy of Ivor Novello and Noël Coward (Michael Williams, University of Southampton, UK) 
  • Digital Drama’s Production of ‘Peace In Our Time’ (Kate Valentine, University of York & Alison Ramsey, University of Sussex, UK) 

2.30-2.45pm  Break 

2.45pm-4.15pm Panel 3:  Productions

  • Past, Present and Future Laughter: Noël Coward and Queer Temporalities (Gareth Smith, Cardiff University, UK) 
  • “‘Feminine Intellect,” “Ingenium”, and Self-Portraiture in Noël Coward’s The Rat Trap (Maya Cantu, Bennington College, Vermont USA) 
  • Actors and Ghosts: The layering of realities as a farcical tool in the plays of Noël Coward (Louise Peacock, De Montfort University, Leicester, UK) 

4.15pm Break 

4.30pm-6pm Panel 4:  Noël Coward on Film

  • Becoming a Filmmaker: The Making of In Which We Serve (Mark Glancy, Queen Mary University, London, UK) 
  • “That sinister sophisticate”: movie magazines portray Noël Coward in 1935 (Tamar Jeffers McDonald, University of Brighton, UK) 
  • The plays of Noël Coward on early BBC Television, 1937-1939 (John Wyver, University of Westminster, London, UK) 

6-7pm Drinks Reception 

7pm  Conference Dinner (optional) 

Friday 16 June 

9:00-10:30 Panel 5 : Coward’s Friendship Circles

  • BFFs: Noël Coward and Benita Hume, Portrait of a Friendship (Carolyn Owen King, Independent Scholar, UK) 
  • Clemence Dane & Noël Coward: Logical Family (Rose Collis, Independent writer & researcher, UK) 
  •  “The Mater with the Master” (Philip Harrison, University of Birmingham, UK) 

10:30-10:45am Break 

10:45am-1145am Panel 6: Noël Coward & Politics

  • Noël Coward, Propagandist? (Matthew Franks, University of Warwick, UK) 
  • Noël Coward and his Relationship with the Ministry of Information during World War II (Robert Williamson, Oxford Brookes University, UK) 

11.45am- 12.30pm Luncheon 

12.30-1.30pm. Roundtable: ‘Performing Coward’

Marcy Kahan (writer of the BBC wireless dramas The Noël Coward Quintet); Tam Williams (actor and director of the 2023 production of Hay Fever at the Mill at Sonning, Reading) 

Chair. Robert Hazle (Noël Coward Foundation) 

1.30-1.45pm Break 

1.45-2.45pm Panel 7: Coward on Film & Television 

  • The Social Context of Brief Encounter (Paddy Briggs, Noël Coward Society, UK) 
  • The Astonished Heart – A Study in Failure (David Cottis, Middlesex University, UK) 

2.45-3pm Break 

3-4pm Keynote 2: Oliver Soden in conversation with Professor Russell Jackson, will be discussing his new biography Masquerade: The Lives of Noël Coward 

4pm Closing remarks 

Travel to the conference

The conference will be based in our Edgbaston Park Hotel and Conference Centre. This is G23 on our university campus map.

Directions to Birmingham and to our Edgbaston campus are available on the Getting here page.  


For those who would like to book a room at an on-campus hotel, please see here for options at our Edgbaston Park Hotel or Peter Scott House.

Please visit our Accommodation page for advice on how to research other accommodation options. 

Our conference academic lead Professor Graham Saunders adds ‘Several attendees have asked if it is possible to make a booking at the legendary Crossroads Motel in Kings Oak. Unfortunately this Birmingham landmark closed  its doors for the last time in 2003…'

Food and Drink

Lunches and refreshments will be provided for conference delegates on both days. There will be a drinks reception for all conference delegates at the end of the first day. And there is the option to register and pay for the conference dinner as part of our registration process, which includes a three course meal and drinks.

For more information on food and drink options on and off campus visit our Food and Drink page.  

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