Henry ‘Chips’ Channon: The Diaries 1918–38 by Simon Heffer (ed) - review by Piers Brendon

Piers Brendon

He Played Sardines with the Aga Khan

Henry ‘Chips’ Channon: The Diaries 1918–38

By

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Henry ‘Chips’ Channon was an affluent American who managed to scale the pinnacles of British high society between the wars. His ascent, assured by marriage into the Guinness dynasty and his inheritance of their pocket borough of Southend, was chronicled in diaries which, when edited by Robert Rhodes James and published in 1967, caused a furore. Although much abridged and bowdlerised, they contained gossipy revelations that testified to the author’s vain, snobbish, frivolous, spiteful, observant, ingratiating, volatile and rakish personality. They tweaked back the curtain on some of the more scandalous features of the beau monde, among them Edward VIII’s affair with Wallis Simpson. And they gave a vivid account of Chamberlain’s appeasement policy from the inside, since in 1938 R A Butler, undersecretary at the Foreign Office, made Channon his PPS, explaining to a doubtful colleague that he needed to attach a first-class restaurant car to his train.

Actually, Butler plagiarised this remark from Churchill, who had made it about Philip Sassoon. Simon Heffer omits to mention this in the introduction to his unexpurgated edition of Channon’s diaries, the present whopper being the first of a promised three volumes. He is, too, a little coy about Peter Coats, who provided Rhodes James with censored transcriptions of the diaries without showing him the originals. Heffer describes Coats, who was nicknamed ‘Petticoats’, as Channon’s ‘close companion’ instead of his longstanding lover (Gore Vidal called him ‘a classic English queen’). Furthermore Heffer fails to explain how Channon, whose father was a Chicago businessman, managed to insinuate himself into the good graces of Europe’s aristocrats.

Part of the answer must be that Channon, who was bisexual, literally got into bed with them. In 1918 he exploited his good looks, his charm and his position as honorary attaché to the American embassy in Paris to cultivate the titled, the rich and the famous, including such literary

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