"He used to bring us home masses of things like carved camphorwood chests that we kept blankets in because they were
mothproof, and once he arrived from Iceland with a whole frozen cod. It was enormous!"
When she was three, Noele saw her first professional show - Sophie Tucker at the London Hippodrome.
"I thought she was super, but then I've always been larger than life myself," said Noele, whose favourite woman in history
is Queen Elizabeth the First.
Noele a shy child? Never!
"I love people. I love being with them and talking to them. I even like going into a room full of strange
When she was seven the family moved to a flat in Westcliff-on-Sea. Here Noele learned to swim, and very nearly
"While my bedroom was still being decorated I was sleeping in the living room. My mother woke up and could smell
gas. Behind a picture of my grandmother there had been a gas light and it hadn't been plugged properly.
"I was unconscious and my mother had to drag me out of the room. When she moved the painting, the wallpaper came
out ina a balloon and the gas just rushed in. Had it not been for that heavy picture checking the flow of gas I would have
The family stayed three years in Westcliff, then moved back to London, where they had a double-fronted house in Ilford.
Here Noele went to another convent, learnt to ride a horse, found she was good at English composition, history and geography
and poor at mathematics.
"I hated school, really," she said. "I left when I was 15 and went to RADA. Mother paid for me and I adored
it there. I did Shakespeare and Shaw and all the Coward plays. I adore comedy. I played Eliza Doolittle
- terrific stuff!"
Even before she left RADA Noele was working. In her senior year she got a job as an understudy in Aren't Men
Beasts at the Strand Theatre and went on as a vamp to make her first West End appearance while still a drama student.
"I did four perfomances and the theatre filled up with all my relatives!"
After working with a repertory company in Edinburgh - her first "appearance" was an off-stage scream - she came back
to London and, at the King's Theatre, Hammersmith, in 1937 played a comedy maid part in Eugene O'Neill's Ah Wilderness.
Later it was televised.
"That was terrifying," said Noele, who takes a bit of frightening. "I knew nothing at all about television and
it was the BBC's first big dramatic production. We did it in about seven studios, and when you had finished one scene
you had to run down the corridor to your next scene in another studio.
"At one point I had to serve twelve people with a complete dinner of soup, lobster and a sweet.
"Because the cameras needed much more light than they do now, the heat was so tremendous that varnish melted on the tables
and I dropped a silver salver because it had become so hot. We did the play twice in a week because there was no recording
in those days so a repeat really was a repeat.
"Only a few hundred people in the London area had television sets, and my family found a friend who had a set."
In 1938 Noele was in repertory at Penge Empire when she was asked to be a model for John Logie Baird's early colour
TV experiments at Crystal Palace. Each evening after the show his chocolate brown Rolls Royce collected her and she
was sat in front of a camera while Baird's assistants tried the effect of different coloured hats.
"I was knocked out by seeing myself in colour," said Noele. "And it was marvellous colour ... the soft, pastel,
very lifelike colour we're getting now."
While at Penge, Noele was in a play called Suspect and sang the song that eventually traps the murderer into
confessing. But as well as sending a murderer to the gallows it sent a new musical comedy star into orbit.