Page last updated at 09:25 GMT, Monday, 29 June 2009 10:25 UK
Ivor Novello: Last Great Romantic
Ivor Novello
Novello (at the piano) was an all-round entertainer

The man who gives his name to the famous songwriting award was a multi-talented star of stage, screen and concert hall.

Born in Cardiff, Ivor Novello found fame as a writer of patriotic songs during the First World War such as Keep The Home Fires Burning.

His good looks helped him win acclaim as Britain's first movie idol, although he failed to make a break in Hollywood.

Novello returned to the stage, and died in 1951 shortly after a performance.

David Ivor Davies was born in 1893 at Llwyn-yr-Eos (Grove of Nightingales) in Canton, Cardiff, to tax collector David Ivor Davies and Dame Clara Novello Davies. His professional name came from an Italian godmother.

Novello was taught music by his mother at an early age, and won a scholarship to Magdalen Choir School in Oxford where he was soon labelled the Welsh Prodigy for his writing talents.

Ivor Novello's birthplace
Novello's birthplace is marked by a blue plaque and an ornamental gate

On leaving school, the family moved to London. His first major success was the song Keep the Home Fires Burning in 1914, which became a popular tune for British soldiers abroad.

It was his passport to popularity as a wartime entertainer, earned him £15,000, and led to his being asked to score several West End productions.

On the ship home from a five-month trip to New York in 1919, Novello received a cable that began his career as a film star in The Call of the Blood. He soon became Britain's leading silent movie star and matinee idol, with continued success when the 'talkies' took over.

A move to Hollywood did not work out, as Novello was homesick for London and the theatre. He was described as having an "electrifying stage presence" - he wrote a total of 24 plays and appeared in 14, including Henry V.

Novello's life took an unexpected turn in 1944, when he was jailed for eight weeks (serving four) for misuse of petrol coupons, a serious offence in wartime Britain. Trying to bribe his arresting officer hadn't helped matters. The incident, coupled with his homosexuality, is widely thought to have cost Novello a knighthood.

Ivor Novello
Novello returned to his first love - theatre - after his movie career stalled

However, he emerged from Wormwood Scrubs prison as popular as ever, entertaining Allied troops in France and Belgium and scoring a second wartime success with the song We'll Gather Lilacs.

On 6 March 1951, Novello died of a heart attack at his flat in Aldwych, London, just hours after performing on stage.

His place in music history was secured when the British Academy of Composers and Songwriters inaugurated the Ivor Novello Awards to honour the talents of songwriters and composers.

A blue plaque marks his birthplace in Cardiff and, after a long campaign, a statue was unveiled outside the Wales Millennium Centre on 27 June 2009.

Statue honours composer Novello
27 Jun 09 |  South east
Audio: Ivor Novello remembered
26 Jun 09 |  Arts & Culture
Ivor Novello: Muranian Rhapsody
02 Sep 09 |  Music


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