Edith Sitwell v Noel Coward (1923)

Having mentioned Dame Edith Sitwell in passing the other day I wondered idly if she had made it on to Youtube – I know she was interviewed by John Freeman, for instance, and I’m sure I remember some film of her declaiming her verses from a wheelchair for the entertainment of Her Majesty the Queen (I imagine the Duke of E., in particular, would have enjoyed this).  But – oh dear! – how cross she would be! – the best I could come up with was the following clip.

It is the sketch “Swiss Family Whittlebot“, from Noel Coward’s 1923 revue “London Calling“, in which he burlesqued the Sitwells, to Edith’s intense and lasting fury.  The part of Hernia Whittlebot (i.e. E.S.) is played by Maisie Gay.  Rather confusingly, the sound track is another song from the same revue, also performed by Miss Gay.

(Mind you, I rather like the lyric –

“Ten thousand roses have I got within a garden wall,

God give me strength to sniff the lot,

Oh let me sniff them all!”

– I’ve certainly heard a lot worse over the years).

(Anyone interested in a discussion of who is better – Coward or Sitwell (and no, there isn’t only one way to find out) might enjoy this, from the website of the popular singer Nick Currie (a.k.a. Momus) – Coward v. Sitwell).

(And whatever happened to the word Whittlebot, or Whittlebottom (meaning an overly anxious person)?  A great favourite of my mother’s, but I’ve not heard it in years).

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2 thoughts on “Edith Sitwell v Noel Coward (1923)

  1. Although not on youtube the Face to Face footage of Edith is now available on DVD from Twilight Films – amazon have it. The occasion you mention in the presence of the queen maybe her 70th birthday celebration organised by her nephew Francis. I am not sure that she actually recited any of her works on that occasion although others obviously did. She was certainly in a wheelchair. She did read for the queen at an event in 1943 although the queen was still a princess then and either had not met Phil yet or had left him at home. Her mum – the queen – was there too!

  2. It’s kind of you to take the trouble to comment on my – rather silly – post. Yes, I think I am confusing two separate events. The one I think I remember seeing film of must have been her 70th birthday : the other may have been a still photograph of her reciting in wartime (perhaps “Still falls the Rain”? – possibly in Westminster Abbey?). But perhaps I’m just confusing myself further.

    I was aware of the DVD of Face to Face, and must make the effort to seek it out.

    Thanks again.

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