Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Scandal and Chips

Henry Chips Channon died 50 years ago today. Although American-born, he became a British MP, but is mostly remembered today for his diaries, which have been dubbed ‘wonderfully indiscreet’ for their revelations about high society between the wars. Wallis Simpson, for example, was a friend, and he was privy to her secret affair with the future king. But there may be more scandalous revelations to come, if and when the original diaries are fully published or made available to the public.

The Diary Junction gives a short biographical summary for Channon. Born in Chicago, he was educated both in the US and France. He served with the American Red Cross during the First World War, and after the war returned to Europe, to study at Christ College, Oxford. He was given the nick-name Chips because he shared a house with a friend called Fish. After Oxford, Channon, who had inherited wealth, spent his time travelling and socialising. During the 1926 General Strike he became a Special Constable and promoted The British Gazette , an anti-strike newspaper.

In 1933, Channon married Honor Guinness, the eldest daughter of the second Earl of Iveagh, a previous Conservative MP, who helped his son-in-law become a Conservative MP. Channon and Honor had one child, Paul, born in 1935 (see diary extract below), but the marriage did not survive. Channon was having homosexual affairs, and Honor eventually ran off with a Czech airman. In Parliament, Channon was a supporter of Franco during the Spanish Civil War and, later, an advocate of appeasement. Neville Chamberlain appointed him parliamentary private secretary to Rab Butler, and he remained a junior minister throughout the Second World War.

Channon kept a diary all his life - said to amount to 30 volumes with over three million words - and it is for this that he is most remembered. He moved in the very highest social circles, being friends with the Duke of Kent, younger brother of King George VI, and privy to the secret affair between Wallis Simpson and King Edward VIII. Irene and Alan Taylor said, in The Assasin’s Cloak, that Channon is ‘wonderfully indiscreet’. And Channon himself wrote: ‘What is more dull than a discreet diary?’ A carefully edited version of the diaries - Chips:The Diaries of Sir Henry Channon - did not appear until nearly 10 years after his death in 1967. A few extracts can be found on the Spartacus Education website, and a few pages can be viewed on Amazon’s website.

According to the will of Paul Channon, who died in 2007, full publication of the diaries is to be delayed until 2018. However, The Independent on Sunday ran a story, by Andy McSmith, in April 2007 suggesting that Chips’ grandson, Henry Channon, is considering bringing the date forward. McSmith wrote: ‘Until we have seen the full version, we cannot know what has been hidden - whether it is merely titbits about the sex lives of long forgotten socialites, or something as juicy as a royal scandal. One of the great conundrums that the diaries may answer is the nature of the friendship between Chips Channon and the Duke of Kent, younger brother of King George VI. We know that, coincidentally, they had sons born on the same day in 1935, who grew up together, but what went on between the fathers, in the privacy of a royal bedroom, is still a matter of speculation.’

And here, in one apt extract (from Chips: The Diaries of Sir Henry Channon) dated 7 October - the same day as his death 50 years ago - can be found mention of Wallis Simpson, the Duke of Kent, and his only son (born, like the Duke of Kent’s two days later, on 9 October).

7 October 1935
‘Diana Cooper rang early; she had been to the Fort last evening to dine with the Prince of Wales, who was, she said, ‘pretty and engaging’. Mrs Simpson was glittering, and dripped in new jewels and clothes.

I went to Claridges to have tea with the Nicholas’ of Greece who are here for the royal confinement. The Duchess of Kent was there in brown dress and much bejewelled, and rather large but not so large as Honor. Her curls were faultlessly done at the back. She was sweetness itself, but she has not become in the least bit English. We had many pregnancy jokes, and she asked tenderly for Honor, and said it would be ‘so amusing’ if her baby was born first, or on the same day as ours. This unlikely coincidence now seems possible. Hers is due on 16 October, and ours was on 24 September. I adore this family, and loved them when they were down on their luck; now their star is rising, especially since the Kent wedding (these damned, inefficient and all too numerous servants never fill my ink-stand). At one point the Grand-Duchess sent her daughter into the next room to fetch her spectacles and the Duchess went meekly. She has been well brought-up in an old-fashioned affectionate way.

I feel confident that my son will be born before morning.’

No comments: