Coffee with Hitler: The British Amateurs Who Tried to Civilise the Nazis by Charles Spicer - review by Michael Bloch

Michael Bloch

Flirting with the Führer

Coffee with Hitler: The British Amateurs Who Tried to Civilise the Nazis


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This book tells the story of three Germanophile Englishmen who, during the 1930s, tried to foster ‘understanding’ between Britain and Nazi Germany with a view to averting another war. They were the businessman Ernest Tennant, the academic Philip Conwell-Evans and the aviator Grahame Christie. In character and background they could not have been more different. Tennant was the Old Etonian scion of a rich and famous family, Conwell-Evans a lower-middle-class Welshman, Christie a swashbuckler out of the pages of a Buchan novel. Tennant and Christie had served (traumatically in Tennant’s case, heroically in Christie’s) in the First World War; Conwell-Evans was a pacifist who had avoided military service (though we are not told whether this was because he was unfit – he certainly sounds physically unimpressive – or a ‘conchie’). But they all loved Germany, which they frequently visited, and spoke its language fluently.

When the Nazis took power, they recognised that this heralded a national revival, which they hoped would result in friendship with rather than enmity towards Britain. They believed they could contribute to such an outcome through their close relations with important figures in the new regime. Tennant and Conwell-Evans became pals of Ribbentrop, Hitler’s diplomatic adviser, who was appointed ambassador to the UK in 1936 and foreign minister in 1938; Christie became an intimate of his fellow aviator Göring, head of the Luftwaffe and eventually Hitler’s designated successor. Perhaps their greatest coup occurred in 1936, when Conwell-Evans brought Lloyd George to meet Hitler and Ribbentrop in Bavaria. The ex-premier and the dictator got on splendidly, which seemed to augur well for Anglo-German amity.

All three were closely involved in the Anglo-German Fellowship, launched in 1935: Tennant was one of the founders while Conwell-Evans became the political secretary. Previous historians have depicted this as a Nazi front organisation, but Spicer persuasively argues that this was not really the case. It was set

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