Henry ‘Chips’ Channon: The Diaries, 1943–57 by Simon Heffer (ed) - review by Richard Vinen

Richard Vinen

Kim Kardashian of Westminster

Henry ‘Chips’ Channon: The Diaries, 1943–57


Hutchinson Heinemann 1,168pp £35

Chips Channon was lucky. He was born rich and became even richer through his marriage into the Guinness family (and the family’s continuing generosity after his acrimonious separation from his wife, Honor). He moved from his native America to Britain in 1920 and was elected to Parliament. This meant that he had a ringside seat as the British government sought to appease Hitler, a policy that he supported, as well as during the Second World War, in which he took no active part. He seems to have been attractive to both men and women and he was fortunate that his relations with the former did not get him arrested (the need for discretion about homosexual relations partly accounts for the fact that the previously published version of these diaries was expurgated). He and historians have also been lucky that the Channon family have sponsored a full and sumptuously produced new edition of the diaries – this is the last of three volumes – and that Simon Heffer has devoted so much work to their editing. Heffer is a scrupulous scholar, whose austere erudition is relieved by flashes of malicious wit. His notes identify characters in the text, translate the French phrases that Channon so often drops into his writing and explain various features of British high society.

Are the diaries worth the labour that Heffer has lavished on them? In some respects, they are a disappointment. The foreword to this book, written by younger members of the Channon family, and the editor’s introduction both suggest that some of the entries may shock or offend. I doubt, though, that any reader who is sufficiently interested in mid-20th-century Britain to buy these diaries will be surprised to find that a man of Channon’s background sometimes expresses anti-Semitic opinions. As for the homosexual encounters, Channon drops many arch hints. He records that his bedroom looks as though it has been hit by a typhoon and wonders, ‘what could the servants have not thought?’ One evening, he anticipates ‘voluptuous sport’ and the next morning he recalls ‘a night of illicit love’. He even writes with Pooteresque precision of ‘mortal sin at 5.10’. But the only thing that we learn about what actually happens in bed is that the playwright Terence Rattigan (Channon’s one-time lover) snores.

More seriously, Channon was never that close to power. He knew Rab Butler, for whom he had briefly served as a parliamentary aide, but his contact with important politicians was mostly at second hand. He did not have the daily meetings with Churchill enjoyed by John Colville or

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