David Ivor Davies’s mother, Clara Novello Davies, was a prominent voice teacher. From her, he obtained both musical genes and what is still one of the most recognizable stage names in the history of British light music. In 1914, the patriotic song ‘Keep the Home Fires Burning’ made him rich and famous at only 21 and he never looked back. Notably handsome, he also starred in silent films as well as in his own steadily increasing output of successful operettas and musical comedies. (It’s not a total surprise to learn that he saw Lehar’s ‘The Merry Widow’ 27 times.) It was enough to make even his friend Noel Coward envious. Novello did not just sit at home composing while his contemporaries were being slaughtered on the battlefields of WW1. He joined the RNAS (precursor of the RAF) when being an airman was as hazardous as being an infantryman but after a couple of crashes, he was given a desk job. Ironically, the US-born lyricist of ‘Home Fires’, Lena Guilbert-Ford, was killed during a German air-raid on London in 1918.
During one of his occasional involvements with Hollywood, Novello apparently came up with the immortal one-liner ‘Me Tarzan. You Jane’. Today, his social and sexual life would make headlines in the tabloids and celebrity magazines. From his 20s until his death, he lived with fellow-actor Bobbie Andrews, who took leading roles in many of Novello’s productions but he did live in a more discreet age. However, he became briefly notorious during WW2 after he was imprisoned for a few weeks for using illicit petrol coupons, allegedly supplied by one of his very numerous admirers. It did nothing to dent his popularity. In what was almost a parody of true the-show-must-go-on thespian style, he died of a heart attack hours after performing in King’s Rhapsody, one of the last and most successful of his musicals.
Monday, 30 May, 2016