The release of Chips Channon’s unexpurgated diaries is one of the great joys of 2021. They are diffuse, sometimes repetitive, with moments of banality. Passages of fine writing are juxtaposed with occasional drunken scrawls. Yet their editor, Simon Heffer, is right to reproduce the text in near-entirety. This is an unmatched source for mid-20th-century Westminster life, for the activities and opinions of the English plutocracy, the traders of influence and the setters of fashion. The diaries have a stupendous, brazen honesty – about political machinations, class bias, personal character, bodily needs, love and loathing – that buffets and invigorates the reader. They celebrate human imperfectibility, they defy the prigs and they are a riot of authenticity.
Channon did not have an original mind. His diaries were written for posterity, but what model was he emulating? The answer for the earlier diaries is Marcel Proust. He knew Proust and claimed to have resisted a sexual pounce by the Ritz’s greatest novelist. His diaries, with their dukes and duchesses, ambassadors and brothel-keepers, clans and coteries, were initially an attempt to produce a non-fiction, English A la recherche du temps perdu.
In this second volume, covering the period from the Munich Agreement to Mussolini’s downfall, Channon has switched his allegiance to Trollope, whose books he reads and rereads. In the manner of the Palliser novels, he boasts about ministerial appointments that he has prompted, charts the plots and notes the