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Six degrees

Kenny Hodgart

 

Noel Coward (right), whose 1931 song Mad Dogs and Englishmen references Hong Kong's noonday gun, was born 113 years ago today in Middlesex, England. The flamboyant playwright, composer, actor and singer had the honour, in 1968, of firing the gun himself on a visit to the city. Coward never publicly acknowledged his homosexuality, although in later life he commented, "There are still a few old ladies in Worthing [on England's south coast] who don't know." The phrase "mad dogs and Englishmen" is referenced in The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, a 1965 novel by sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick …

 

Dick, who was also born on December 16 (in 1928), didn't achieve literary fame in his own lifetime, and claimed that for long spells he "couldn't even pay the late fees on a library book". His novels are invested with theological themes - Dick doubted the universe was real, believing in it only as an extension of God. Despite working on the literary fringes (some might say lunatic fringes), 10 films have been made of his books. Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, loosely based on Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, received financial backing from Hong Kong media mogul Run Run Shaw …

 

Born in Ningbo, Zhejiang province, Shaw is believed to be 105 years old, although no official records exist to confirm it. The founder, along with Runme Shaw - of the Shaw Brothers film studio founded in the 1930s - launched TVB, now a broadcasting giant, in 1967. Run Run is a member of White's, a gentleman's club in London whose roll call of past denizens includes George Bryan "Beau" Brummell …

 

Brummell made his mark on aristocratic British life in the late 18th century as a dandy - first at Eton College, followed by Oxford University, then as a lieutenant in the 10th Royal Hussars under the future King George IV. A pioneer of tailored clothing, he is credited with introducing the modern men's suit, worn with a tie - or more accurately a knotted cravat - and advocated the polishing of shoes with champagne. He was the subject of the 1954 film, Beau Brummell, in which the love interest, Lady Patricia Belham, is played by Elizabeth Taylor …

 

The quintessential screen siren, Taylor - who died last year - starred in some 50 films, her first aged nine. Despite suffering medical problems throughout her life, she also managed eight marriages (including two to Richard Burton) and a host of affairs. She was one of the first major stars to take her clothes off on-screen (in 1963's Cleopatra). In 1966, she and Burton starred in Mike Nichols' Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

 

Neither the film nor the play of the same name had anything to do with Virginia Woolf, the novelist, although in common with Taylor and her peers, the Bloomsbury Group - the London literary set to which Woolf belonged - took a liberal approach to sex. Before committing suicide in 1941, Woolf was briefly beguiled by a thespian of some repute, whom she described as "clever as a bag of ferrets and trivial as a perch of canaries". His name was Noel Coward.

 

 

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