Papers of Gladys Calthrop

Scope and Content

Papers of Gladys Calthrop, artist and stage designer, who designed sets and costumes for many of Noël Coward's plays and films. The collection gives an impression of the public and personal lives of Calthrop and her associates, the majority of whom are involved in the theatre. Correspondents include actors, directors, and writers; the collection gives a behind the scenes insight into the theatrical world of London and New York from the 1930s to the 1960s.

Papers include numerous letters sent to Gladys Calthrop from Noël Coward, c 1930-1969, illustrating the close lifelong friendship of the couple. Some letters illustrate Coward's role during the Second World War, providing details of his work in France, Australia, New Zealand and the United States of America. Later letters, dated 1940s onwards, detail Coward's impressions of Jamaica and the process of his buying land and making a home there. The collection also includes letters sent to Calthrop from various other correspondents including Binkie Beaumont, Vita Sackville West, Dame Sibyl Hathaway, Anna Neagle, David Niven, Mary Martin, Cecil Beaton, Rebecca West and Alfred Lunt, 1930s-1960s. There are letters of condolence sent to Calthrop following the death of Coward in 1973.

Administrative / Biographical History

Gladys Calthrop (1894-1980), artist and set designer, served as the designer on most of Noel Coward's plays and films. She was a close friend of Coward, who gave her the nickname 'Blackheart' or 'Blackie'. Gladys was the daughter of Frederick and Mabel Treeby, born in Ashton, Devon. She was educated at Grassendale in Southbourne, attended finishing school in Paris, and later studied art at the Slade School of Fine Art in London. On her return from Paris, Gladys married the army captain Everard Calthrop, with whom she had one son, Hugo. The marriage ended in divorce, and Gladys later had affairs with actress Eva Le Gallienne, author Mercedes de Acosta and Patience Erksine.

Calthrop worked on a number of Noel Coward's plays, including 'The Vortex' (1924), 'Cavalcade' (1931), 'Words and Music' (1932), 'Operette' (1938), 'Blithe Spirit' (1941) and 'Pacific' (1946). The working relationship between Calthrop and Coward ended in the 1950s, as Gladys was no longer seen as professional enough for Coward's new business plans. In spite of this, they remained close friends until Coward's death.

Noël Pierce Coward was born on 16 December 1899, the second of three sons of Arthur Sabin Coward, clerk, and Violet Agnes, daughter of Henry Gordon Veitch, captain and surveyor in the Royal Navy. Coward appeared in various productions during the 1910s. In 1924 he received his first critical and financial success with 'The Vortex'. This was followed with musical theatre productions 'London Calling', This Year of Grace', 'Bitter Sweet' and 'Words and Music', and plays 'Hayfever', 'Fallen Angels' and 'Easy Virtue' which, together with Coward's own persona and sense of style, established him firmly in 1920s popular culture. His prolific output contributed to his enormous success in both Britain and America, and by the late 1920s he had achieved international recognition.

By the early 1930s, the critical and popular success of Coward's increasingly mature work ensured his position as one of the most important dramatists of the period. His plays of this period included the classic 'Private Lives' (1930) in which he starred with Gertrude Lawrence, which established him as one of the world's highest-earning authors. Other successes were 'Design for Living' produced in New York in 1933 but not in London until 1939, the patriotic 'Cavalcade (1931), the cycle of playlets 'Tonight at 8.30' (1936) and 'Present Laughter (1939). Coward also recorded some of his best-known songs between 1929 and 1936.

Coward produced, with David Lean, a series of films relating to the war: 'In Which We Serve' (1942), 'This Happy Breed' (1943), 'Brief Encounter' (1945), and the film of his 1941 play 'Blithe Spirit', and undertook a tour of this play, along with 'This Happy Breed' and 'Present Laughter' for a nationwide tour in 1942-43 to try to boost public morale. Following the war, Coward spent the majority of the rest of his life abroad. He settled in Ocho Rios, Jamaica in the late 1940s, where he built the houses Blue Harbour and Firefly. His post-war musicals including 'Pacific 1860' (1946), 'Ace of Clubs' (1950), 'After the Ball' (1953), 'Sail Away' (1959-1961), and plays 'Relative Values' (1951) and 'Quadrille' (1952). Coward's continuing ability to re-invent himself saw him resume a sporadic film career in cameo parts in 'Around the World in Eighty Days' (1955), 'Our Man in Havana' (1960), and 'The Italian Job' (1968). He was also praised for his cabaret performances at London's Cabaret de Paris and The Desert Inn, Las Vegas.

Winifred Ashton (pseudonym Clemence Dane) (1888-1965) was a prolific playwright, screenwriter and novelist. The daughter of Arthur Charles Ashton and Florence Bentley, she studied art at the Slade School of Fine Art, London, and acted on the London stage as a young woman. Her work includes West End dramas such as 'Granite' (1926) and musicals such as 'Come of Age' (1934), as well as the novels 'Broome Stages' (1931) and 'The Flower Girls' (1954). She also wrote for radio and screen, including radio adaptations of Shakespeare and screenplays such as 'The Tunnel' (1935). She was furthermore a notable artist; her bust of Ivor Novello is in the Royal Theatre, Drury Lane, London, and her portrait of Noel Coward hangs in the Cadbury Research Library reading room, Birmingham.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, accessed February 2017; Mary Luckhurst, Professor Jane Moody, Theatre and Celebrity in Britain 1660-2000; Oxford Dictionary of National Biography accessed February 2017; Oxford Dictionary of National Biography accessed February 2017; Philip Hoare, Noël Coward: a biography 1995


Items have been arranged into three files to reflect the original organisation of the physical items. Dates of letters are in square brackets where they are inferred from the postage stamp on the envelope. Where it has not been possible to date letters they have been listed at the end of the description.

Access Information

Open. Access to all registered researchers.

Acquisition Information

Deposited at the Cadbury Research Library by Graham Payn during 2004.

Other Finding Aids

Please see full catalogue for more information.

Archivist's Note

Papers arranged and described by Beth Cutts, February 2017, in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description (ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; and in-house cataloguing guidelines.

Conditions Governing Use

Permission to make any published use of any material from the collection must be sought in advance in writing from the Director of Special Collections (email: Identification of copyright holders of unpublished material is often difficult. Special Collections will assist where possible with identifying copyright owners, but responsibility for ensuring copyright clearance rests with the user of the material

Related Material

Archive collections relating to Noël Coward, and held at the Cadbury Research Library, include:

Noël Coward Collection: papers, 1911-2000. Finding Number: COW;
Papers relating to Noël Coward: papers, [20th century]. Finding Number: MS69;
Material relating to Lila Field's 'The Goldfish': papers, 1911. Finding Number: MS158;
Correspondence sent to Claude Ray relating to Noël Coward: papers, [mid-20th century]. Finding Number: MS188;
Papers of Gladys Calthrop: correspondence, 1927-1979. Finding Number: MS201;
Noël Coward Theatre Programmes: programmes, 1913-1991. Finding Number: MS491;
Gladys Calthrop costume drawings: framed drawings, 1934. Finding Number: MS492;
Noël Coward Posters: posters, 1968-1986. Finding Number: MS497;
Noël Coward and Ivor Novello Cuttings: newspaper and magazine cuttings, 1943-1996. Finding Number: MS498;
Patricia Hollender Collection: correspondence, 1951-1978. Finding Number: MS500;
Play scripts relating to Noël Coward: scripts, [c 1911-c 1950]. Finding Number: MS501;
Images of Noël Coward: images, [1920s-1970s]. Finding Number: MS502;
Noël Coward's 'Present Laughter', typescript for radio adaptation: script, [1956]. Finding Number: MS788;
Photographs of Noël Coward and friends, [1920s-1930s]. Finding Number: MS987;
Noël Coward typescripts, 1947-1952. Finding Number: MS1065.