Born in Chicago in 1897, Henry ‘Chips’ Channon settled in England after the Great War, married into the immensely rich Guinness family, and served as Conservative MP for Southend-on-Sea from 1935 until his death in 1958.
His diaries are elegant, gossipy and bitchy by turns. They are the unfettered observations of a man who went everywhere and knew everybody.
Only now, over sixty years after Channon’s death, can the text be presented in all its unexpurgated and sometimes shocking glory.
Volume 1 of the diaries charts Channon’s journey from youthful playboy to contented family man to betrayed husband. Above all, we get a vivid sense of what it was like to be a member of the highest English society in the 1920s and 30s, how they behaved, and what shaped their opinions and prejudices.
Volume 2 takes us from the heady aftermath of the Munich agreement, through the rapid unravelling of appeasement and on to the tribulations of the early years of the Second World War. It closes with a moment of hope, as Channon, in recording the fall of Mussolini in July 1943, reflects: “The war must be more than half over.” Although the conduct of the war remains a constant theme, Channon’ s more personal preoccupations come increasingly to the fore. As he throws himself back into the pleasures of society, he records his encounters with the likes of Noel Coward, General de Gaulle and Lord Alfred Douglas, the erstwhile love of Oscar Wilde. He describes dinners with members of European royal dynasties and recounts gossip and scandal about the good and the less good. He also charts the implosion of his marriage and his burgeoning, passionate friendship with a young officer on Wavell’s staff.
Often biting, always frank and revealing, these are richly entertaining diaries that bring a pivotal epoch vividly to life.
‘The greatest British diarist of the 20th century. A feast of weapons-grade above-stairs gossip. An astonishing achievement. Channon is a delightful guide, by turns frivolous and profound.’ Ben Macintyre, The Times. ‘Wickedly entertaining […] scrupulously edited. Genuinely shocking, and still revelatory.’ Andrew Marr, New Statesman ‘A work of high camp.’ Craig Brown, The Spectator ‘A masterpiece of storytelling and character assassination’ Kathryn Hughes, The Guardian, Book of the Day ‘Gripping reading. An indispensable source.’ Max Hastings, The Sunday Times ‘The Pepys of the interwar years.’ Rachel Cooke, The Observer
Simon Heffer was born in 1960. He read English at Cambridge and took a PhD in modern history at that university. His previous books include: The Age of Decadence, and Staring at God. In a thirty-year career in Fleet Street, he has held senior editorial positions on The Daily Telegraph and The Spectator, and is now a columnist for The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Telegraph.
Simon will be interviewed by acclaimed historian of modern Britain, TV presenter and broadcaster Dominic Sandbrook.
Just Released : The second volume of Henry Chips Channon’s diaries as edited by Simon Heffer.