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Graham Payn
(1918 — 2005)

Graham Payn was a British actor, singer and painter of South African origin. Born in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa in 1918 Payn is largely remembered for his theatrical, rather than painterly, career. In 1931 he made his first stage appearance in a performance of Peter Pan at the London Palladium. His talent as a boy soprano was broadcast by the BBC in several programmes throughout the early 1930s, and his exuberant penchant for singing and dancing was first noticed by playwright Noël Coward in 1932. As a boy soprano, Payn performed small parts in several stage revues and motion pictures in the same year, but was unable to continue when his voice broke in adolescence. Payn returned to his native South Afirca where he taught tap dancing before returning to England in 1936 where he found work as a singer in popular variety shows and radio plays. His West End debut was made just weeks before the outbreak of the Second World War, but Payn halted his career to serve in the army. However, after being discharged on health grounds, Payn was able to continue his theatrical ambitions in a great number of shows and revues throughout the early 1940s.


In 1945 Payn was visited by Noël Coward, after which Coward began to champion Payn’s career which he himself had helped launch a decade before. Payn was often considered to be a protégé of Coward’s, and the pair continued to collaborate on a number of projects throughout the 1950s and 1960s in both the West End of London, on Broadway in New York. Their close relationship was such that Payn also appeared in two films alongside Coward. Payn and Coward were partners not only in the theatre but in the home. In the 1940s Payn was encouraged by his lifelong companion, himself an avid amateur artist in his youth, to begin to explore oil painting as an artistic outlet. Several works were produced by Payn in response to his surroundings, most notably the landscape of Jamaica where he lived for some time with his partner. These vibrant works, inspired by the striking nature of the island, capture the joy and wonder of the artist. Payn died in 2005.