Noel Coward – I went to a marvellous party!

Friday, February 10th, 2023
Key Largo, Florida

Yesterday my longstanding friend Fiona St. Clair emailed me a quip from her residence in Canada. When I replied with a succinct “Groan!” she wrote back immediately to ask what instead I offered as a contribution to daily lightheartedness and humour.  I sent her Noel Coward’s ancient rendition of “I went to a marvellous party!” This in turn prompted the following rebuttal which I believe is too delicious to abandon as mere anecdote.

Thursday, February 9th, 2023
Toronto, Ontario

Touché.  You know, I met Noel Coward once.  He used to visit his friend Ian Fleming (of Bond fame) at Fleming’s house on the coast just outside Oracabessa in Jamaica.  We often rented a lovely house at Christmas (this was in our pre-plantation-owning days) right next door and Fleming, being a friendly chap, used to chat with us across the oleander hedges that separated our two houses.  Ian invited us over once when Coward was visiting as it turns out Coward and my dad had met, way back in the late 1940s when Coward had started to winter in Jamaica, (my dad at the time, used to work for ICI and sold agricultural chemicals and fertilizers etc. across the Caribbean and Mexico).  He and my father had sat across from each other on the flight out of London which used to take BOAC about 36 hours to cross the Atlantic, travelling via Lisbon, the Azores, and Bermuda before arriving in Jamaica.  When making a refuelling stop in the Azores, any plane that landed always brought out a crowd as flying was still a novelty in most parts of the world.  If you remember airports used to have ‘waving’ balconies where people could see off or welcome flights.  Getting off the plane to stretch their legs, my father who was standing behind Noel in the doorway, heard him exclaim: “Ah, my public!”, indicating all the people standing and waving at everyone who was disembarking.  Apparently he then threw his hands up in the air and bowed deeply, much to the perplexity of the Azoreans who probably didn’t have the foggiest as to who he was!  What I remember about meeting him (I was 14 at the time) was a man who seemed to laugh at whatever was being said in a sneering kind of way.  He was charming to my mother but ignored me completely.  Ian Fleming, however, was always kind.  His house was full of dogs and he took them everywhere.  After we bought our banana plantation, he would often come and visit.  Noel Coward’s home, FireFly, was also nearby but I don’t think my parents were ever invited there that I recall.


I Went to a Marvellous Party” (sometimes known as “I’ve Been to a Marvellous Party”) is a song with words and music by Noël Coward, written in 1938 and included in his Broadway revue, Set to Music, in which it was performed by Beatrice Lillie in January 1939. Lillie introduced the song to London audiences in June of that year in cabaret at the Café de Paris. It was later included in the revues All Clear (1939), Cowardy Custard (1972) and Oh, Coward! (1972). Both Lillie and Coward made recordings of the song, which is among his most popular.

The lyric of I Went to a Marvellous Party is a first-person description of five parties attended by the singer on the French Riviera. The character of the song is humorous and giddy. It has been suggested that the activities described in the lyrics were typical of the “frantic, addleheaded search for amusement” of the Train bleu society, which flocked to the Riviera each summer in the 1920s and ’30s.

In 1953 Coward described the background to the writing of the song:

During the summer of 1937 or 1938, I forget which, Elsa Maxwell gave a party in the South of France, It was a “Beach” party and when she invited Grace Moore, Beatrice Lillie and me she explained that we were to “come as we were” and that it would be “just ourselves”. When we arrived (as we were) we discovered that “just ourselves” meant about a hundred of us, all in the last stages of evening dress.

The Calais-Mediterranée Express was a French luxury night express train which operated from 1886 to 2003. It gained international fame as the preferred train of wealthy and famous passengers between Calais and the French Riviera during the interwar period. It was colloquially referred to as Le Train Bleu in French (which became its formal name after World War II) and the Blue Train in English because of its dark-blue sleeping cars.