I’m slowly working my way through The Diaries: 1918–38 of Henry “Chips” Channon, edited by Simon Heffer, the first of three volumes of Channon’s full and unexpurgated diaries. I can’t begin to describe the scale of the book (and its footnotes); there are many reviews and this one from the Guardian gives a good sense of it.
Here are some quotes from recent reading. But really every entry is quotable.
Sunday 18 March 1928, with Tallulah Bankhead:
We went to see Tallulah Bankhead. She was asleep and looked ill, but we roused her and in obscure language she complained of an inflamed inside. She is so like a man, yet surrounds herself with the grand luxe of a seductive courtesan.
Tuesday 30 March 1928, with Montague Summers:
Tallulah Bankhead and Berners to lunch. George went home and I slipped surreptitiously down to Richmond to dine with Montague Summers for the second(?) time. That mad erudite old priest, with his tales of witchcraft, sorcery and esoteric beliefs fascinates me. After a bad dinner he whipped me with a dog-whip, which seemed to give him infinite delight, and me only momentary discomfort, so I did not protest. But I will not go there again; I think he is as dangerous as he is brilliant.
Tuesday 18 December 1934 is about the party the night before at the home of Raimund von Hoffmannsthal (who incredibly doesn’t have a Wikipedia entry, though his father Hugo von Hofmannsthal, who wrote libretti for Richard Strauss, does) and his wife Alice Astor, who had previously been Princess Obolensky because she was married to Prince Sergei Platonovich Obolensky Neledinsky-Meletzky.
The party had Stimmung—at dawn the Austrian Minister, usually so dignified, was very tipsy and kissed everyone.
The “Austrian Minister” has a footnote (and a Wikipedia entry):
Georg Freiherr von und zu Franckenstein (1878–1953) was Austrian Minister to the Court of St. James’s from 1920 to 1938 when, because of his hostility to the Nazis, he was recalled. He chose to stay in London and become a British subject, and was knighted in July 1938, becoming known as Sir George Franckenstein.
From Saturday 19 January 1935:
Randolph Churchill, the knave of cads, has announced his intention of standing as an independent at Wavertree; that is an Independent Conservative against the “official” National Conservative. He has been threatening to contest Southend, and that would be highly unpleasant although I should win. He has few qualities; he speaks eloquently, he is plausible to meet—at first; then he has charm. But he is unprincipled, uneducated, unkind, untrustworthy and has a fiery temper and an arrogant manner with subordinates. He is covered with pimples; he is nearly always drunk; and he is a famous fornicator, and blabs afterwards. I really dislike him; and he is wildly jealous of me.
Randolph Churchill’s name has a footnote:
Randolph Frederick Edward Spencer-Churchill (1911–68), son of Sir Winston Churchill, spent his life in his father’s shadow, and with few of his qualities and little of his talent. He mostly earned his living by writing and spent five years—1940 to 1945—as a Member of Parliament, before being defeated in the Labour landslide. Lazy and arrogant, he dropped out of Oxford, began to drink heavily and ran up substantial debts, setting a pattern for the rest of his life.
The book is 1002 pages long and full of such detail it will take a long time to get through, but the writing—probably the only aspect of Channon’s life and personality that can be admired—is incredible.