Saturday, August 11, 2012

Noel Coward, Future Indefinite


Opening Passage:

Present Indicative was the story of my life from birth until the age of thirty-one. It finished just after the production of Cavalcade when, with Jeffrey Amherst, I embarked on a voyage to South America. The last line of the book was:--"When we came up on deck there was no England left. Nothing but sea and sky."

Summary: Future Indefinite is not an immediate sequel to Present Indicative; rather it makes a leap to when Coward was thirty-nine, and concerns Coward's doings in the years between 1939 and 1945, when, for everyone in Europe, the future was very indefinite. Seeing it all unfold through Coward's eyes is quite an experience: he was a propagandist for the British war effort, did some minor spy work (although he is very coy about most of it here), and entertained the troops. There are quite a few funny and droll anecdotes throughout the work. We also get, front and center, Coward's attitude toward journalists, who regularly considered him an open target (after all, he was an entertainer who traveled all over the world, not uncommonly on public dime), and whom he regarded with an attitude that ranged from disdain to contempt bordering on hatred. Coward's personality is also everywhere in evidence throughout the book: haughty and melodramatic but also (to use his own favorite compliments, which apply very well to himself) kind and common-sensical. Because of his fame, the book is full of the major names of the period: Churchill (Coward's relationship with Churchill was polite and sociable, but they didn't understand each other), Roosevelt (Coward is a fan), Mountbatten (one of his best friends), stars of stage and screen.

Favorite Passage: Here is Coward trying to solve the problem of a rogue radio station (whose signal could be used by German bombers on the way to England), and, unable to speak to the busy Winston Churchill himself, he talks with Duncan Sandys, Churchill's son-in-law. Coward had previously, much earlier, asked Churchill for advice about how he could help the war effort and had been told that he should devote himself to keep people's spirits up by singing.

We sat down in two heavily brocaded chairs and I proceeded, as intelligibly as I could, to put the facts before him. Perhaps I was overeager; too emphatic; perhaps my sense of drama overcoloured and overweighted my argument, because I felt, while I talked, that my words were falling on stony ground. He was polite and attentive and listened indulgently, but there was something in his manner that gave me the impression that he was humouring me, like a benevolent uncle who nods understandingly when his small nephew announces shrilly that he has just seen three full-blooded pirates int eh back garden. After the interview, when I rose to go, he smiled charmingly and said what a good idea it would be if only I could write a gay, morale-lifting war song, something on the lines of "Mad Dogs and Englishmen." I knew then how dismally I had failed and, with a sad heart, left him, reflecting on my way back to the office, that the Churchill family's passion for "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" verged on the pathological. (p. 104)

Recommendation: Certainly recommended for light reading. It is very uneven, but overall quite an amusing easy read, and, of course, it's a light look at a very dark time by someone who was everywhere in the world at the time, and so would be interesting just for that. There are parts of the book that are hard to put down.


  1. The idea of trying to do Pygmalion in a caste system is pretty funny.

    Apparently there actually is a Bollywood version of the My Fair Lady version of Pygmalion, although it's apparently not in English.

  2. Speaking of Bollywood versions of English classics, you've seen Bride and Prejudice, of course?

    It's not the be-all and end-all of Austen re-imaginings, but Mr. Collins is pretty funny, and Mr. Bingley is Naveen Andrews, who was Sayid in Lost and was swoonworthy in The English Patient (the only good thing about that movie, in fact), and Caroline Bingley is the actress who played Niobe in Rome. It's a pleasant bauble for a gloomy day -- no one can watch a big Bollywood song fest and not feel the teensiest bit uplifted.

  3. I have not seen it, actually. I'll have to keep an eye out for it.


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