Full Name: Ivor Novello Davies
Birth: 15th January, 1893
Place of Birth: Cardiff
Nationality: British
Job Title: Composer, Singer, Actor, Playwright
Partners: Bobbie Andrews
Died: 6th March 1951, London

Ivor Novello Davis was born in the Cowbridge Road East area of Cardiff in a modest town house called Llwyn-yr-Eos. (Grove of the Nightingale). While his father worked as a local tax collector, his mother, Clara Novello, was well-known professional singer who founded and conducted the world-famous Welsh Ladies Choir. The young Novello grew up surrounded by music and musicians. He was even a page boy at the wedding of famous contralto Clara Butt.

To the delight of his mother, the young Novello took to singing instantly. With the encouragement of his mother, he started to perform at festivals of celebration for Welsh art, known as Eisteddfod. By the time he was ready to start secondary school, his voice and musical knowledge were excellent, good enough to earn a place at Magdalen college school in Oxford. The school was well known for its choir and Novello managed to become one of the 16 choristers, such was the quality of his voice. As if singing in one of the top choirs in the country was not enough, Novello also began composing. Like his mother, he decided to drop the Davies part of his name and write under the name Ivor Novello.

When he left school in 1914 he moved with his parents to London. With the Great War raging overseas, Novello felt the desire to write a song of hope, a song which could be sung both in the trenches of Western Europe and the homes of England alike. After a short search, he stumbled upon a poem by Lena Guilbert-Ford called Keep the Home Fires Burning. The sentiment in the poem was ideal and just what the nation needed. Novello composed and published the song and overnight he became famous. The song grew to become a unifying cry for the whole country and gave hope to millions in a time of deep crisis. The army sent him ‘on tour’ to entertain British troops.

Novello himself was recruited to the Royal Navel Air Service, a pre-cursor to the RAF, a few years into the conflict. While his music had become a vital part of the war efforts, his fighting skills were sadly lacking! On his first ever solo flight, Novello crash landed. He was only slightly injured, but on his second attempt, the same thing happened! This time his injuries were more serious and the Navy decided he would serve out the war much better behind a desk! To Novello, this was a gift. Working 9-5 as a clerk allowed him time to concentrate on composition. He started to get involved with theatre and wrote the score for several musicals. One of his biggest early triumphs was Theodore and Co, a very English musical comedy which he wrote the music for. The show ran for 503 performances and added to the small fortune Novello had already earned for Keep the Home Fires Burning.

It was during these early days in show business that he met the actor Robert (Bobby) Andrews. The two young men became best friends, but it became obvious their affection ran much deeper. Their friendship gradually turned into a relationship and they would remain lovers for the next 35 years. Although they both had other lovers, Andrews was a rock for Novella they were undoubtedly the love of each other’s lives.

That is not to say Novello had only one lover! The musician is well known for his high profile affairs with famous names such as Siegfried Sasson, the famous WWI poet.

After the war, Novello was contacted by French filmmaker Louis Marcanton. He was in England looking for somebody to play the romantic hero in his latest film project – Call of the Blood, Novello jumped at the chance and his role in the tale of adultery and revenge made him a silent film idol. His stunning good looks gave him the nickname The British Valentino and as more and more film roles came his way, he was soon a successful matinee idol. His fame brought him through the 30s and his talents transferred well to the talkies. But it wasn’t just heartthrob roles he excelled in. In 1932 he started in the title role of Hitchcock’s ‘The Lodger’ . He worked so well with the director that they teamed up again and co-wrote the Hitchcock thriller Downhill.

Unlike many actors of the era, Novello did not neglect his stage work. He continued to work on the score of successful West End musicals. In 1965 he starred in the musical hit Glamorous Night and this success was followed up in 1939 with The Dancing Years. During his work he built a strong relationship with Zena Dare, a stage diva with whom he worked for many years. They were not only colleagues but also the best of friends and Dare became somewhat of a mother figure for Novello.

The war years were a relatively happy time for Novello. He and Andrews had moved to a cottage in Littlewhich Green, Berkshire, which would become their home for many years. In 1964 the famous Redroofs theatre school moved there, inspired by the cottages former owner. However there was a shock to come. In 1944, Novello was arrested for misuse of petrol tokens. Every the showman, Novello continued to travel around the country from theatre to theatre and when a fellow thespian offered him her unused petrol tokens, he gladly accepted. Novello was made an example of a sentenced to eight months in prison. Luckily, he only needed to serve four and he left with his career and reputation still largely in tact after many heart-felt public apologies.

Novello enjoyed seven more years of fame and was now held up as the archetypal British songwriter. Despite his failing health, he continued to appear on stage most evenings and it was after one such performance that he died. His sudden death was later found to be caused by a coronary thrombosis.

The name Ivor Novello is now fittingly better known as the award given for excellence in songwriting. The annual awards are a benchmark of contemporary writing talent, a fitting tribute to a man who raised the bar and produced some of the best known songs of his generation.

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