In Review

Book of the week: Henry ‘Chips’ Channon - The Diaries, 1918-1938

Edited by Simon Heffer, the diaries of the Tory MP and ultimate social climber provide an ‘unrivalled guide’ to society and politics in the interwar years

Henry ‘Chips’ Channon - The Diaries, 1918-1938

Sir Henry “Chips” Channon (1897-1958) was the ultimate social climber, said Noel Malcolm in The Daily Telegraph. The son of a Chicago shipbroker, he was born with a “reasonably-sized silver spoon in his mouth”, but “worked hard on converting it into a soup tureen of solid gold”. Arriving in Britain after the First World War, he wasted no time in getting to know everyone in English high society, plus an assortment of European royalty. In 1933, he married the very rich Lady Honor Guinness, and two years later became a Tory MP. All his life he kept a diary, which by his death ran to nearly two million words. A version was published in 1967, but to protect Channon’s reputation (and guard against libel), it was heavily bowdlerised. Now we have volume one of the three-part unexpurgated version, heroically edited by Simon Heffer. It’s a fascinating, “strangely addictive” work – which is just as well, given its formidable length. 

This enthralling book confirms Channon as the “greatest British diarist of the 20th century”, said Ben Macintyre in The Times. It is packed with “weapons-grade above-stairs gossip”, and superb one-line put-downs: Stravinsky looks “like a German dentist”; Churchill is a “fat, brilliant, unbalanced, illogical, porcine orator”. While definitely “not a banquet to be attempted in one sitting”, it provides an “unrivalled guide” to society and politics in the interwar years. Such was Channon’s knack for “bumping into all the right people” that many entries “read like a drunken round of Consequences”, said Craig Brown in The Spectator. At a dinner in Paris when he was 21, he was seated between Jean Cocteau and Marcel Proust; during a game of sardines at a stately home in Hampshire, he found himself “under a hot bed” with Lady Curzon and the Aga Khan. He also describes his many sexual encounters, sometimes with female prostitutes (“I wreaked my lust on her, undisturbed by her Northumbrian accent”), but “more often with male contemporaries”. 

Harder to stomach are his political opinions, said Andrew Marr in the New Statesman. Channon was an anti-Semite and a lover of dictators: Mussolini is a “dynamic man – so like God himself”; Hitler is the “greatest diplomat of modern times”. Still, we don’t read diarists because we admire them, but because of whom they met, and what they noted down. Channon may have been “wrong about almost everything”, but his beady eye and social indefatigability make his diaries “wickedly entertaining”.

Hutchinson 1,024pp £35; The Week Bookshop £27.99 (incl. p&p)

Henry ‘Chips’ Channon - The Diaries, 1918-1938
The Week Bookshop

To order this title or any other book in print, visit theweekbookshop.co.uk, or speak to a bookseller on 020-3176 3835. Opening times: Monday to Saturday 9am-5.30pm and Sunday 10am-4pm.

Recommended

Best properties: houses with income potential
Properties with income potential
The wish list

Best properties: houses with income potential

July podcast picks: online rage, taboos and obesity
Clockwise from top left: Blocked and Reported, A Thorough Examination, Taboo and You're Wrong About
In Review

July podcast picks: online rage, taboos and obesity

Theatre in review: South Pacific, Anna X and ‘country-comedy’ opera L’amico Fritz
Clockwise from top left: Anna X, South Pacific and L’amico Fritz
In Review

Theatre in review: South Pacific, Anna X and ‘country-comedy’ opera L’amico Fritz

Douglas Kennedy: my five best books
A Flag for Sunrise by Robert Stone, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
Expert’s view

Douglas Kennedy: my five best books

Popular articles

Why your AstraZeneca vaccine may mean no European holidays
Boris Johnson receives his second dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine
Getting to grips with . . .

Why your AstraZeneca vaccine may mean no European holidays

How taking the knee began
Colin Kaepernick takes the knee
Getting to grips with . . .

How taking the knee began

Ten great health, fitness and wellbeing ideas
Woman doing yoga
Advertisement Feature

Ten great health, fitness and wellbeing ideas

The Week Footer Banner