Although often portrayed in the lightweight and decadent manner of this cartoon Novello's work often had a serious edge. In 1939, Novello's musical The Dancing Years began in pre-1914 Vienna but ended in the shadow of the Nazis, while Careless Rapture made reference to the Chinese civil war. Critics found these shows too superficial, but Novello knew his audience, and they ran for many years, usually at Drury Lane before touring throughout Britain and overseas. Glamourous Night was even credited with saving the finances of the theatre.
Novello's image suffered some damage in 1944 when he was caught using rationed petrol to drive from the theatre in London to Red Roofs his home in Berkshire. After he tried to bribe a policeman, his defence case was ruined and he was sent to prison for eight weeks.