16 MAY 1992, Page 25

Coward's courage

Sir: Earlier biographers should probably hold back here, but though I am inclined to agree with almost all of John Osborne's damnation of the Clive Fisher Noel Coward (Books, 2 May), one query remains. Do we really think that Coward did 'irreparable damage' to the theatre by making it 'an abiding synonym for superficiality and deception'? On the contrary, coming imme- diately after an era in which Wilde and Lonsdale had done just that, Noel actually injected some sort of reality back into the West End. The Vortex was a play about drug-addiction and indeed closeted homo- sexuality, written and staged by its author at a time in 1924 when alcoholism was seldom mentioned in polite society. The silk dress- ing-gown was not Coward's invention, whereas some attempt to get Twenties the- atregoers to look at themselves as they real- ly were was entirely his idea.

It was incidentally The Vortex, 30 years before Look Back in Anger, which was first

described as 'dustbin drama', and by Sir Gerald du Maurier, writing in almost exact- ly the same terms as those Coward was later to use in attacking the Royal Court.

Sheridan Morley

Chelsea Harbour, London SW10