First published in 1967, the diaries of MP Sir Henry ‘Chips’ Channon caused a sensation with their wildly indiscreet and highly salacious observations of the great and the good of English society.
Amongst his political and social intrigues, American-born Chips found time to pursue close relationships with both men and women, as his marriage to Lady Honor Guinness deteriorated. He often shared a bed with his brother-in-law Alan Lennox-Boyd, an MP married to Honor’s sister, Lady Patsy. Even after meeting army officer Peter Coats, who became the love of his life, Chips continued to lust after both men and women.
The diaries were censored before publication, removing some of Chips’ offensive opinions: before the war he was casually anti-Semitic and pro-fascist, although his stance gradually changed.
First published in 1967, the diaries of MP Sir Henry ‘Chips’ Channon caused a sensation with their wildly indiscreet and highly salacious observations of the great and the good of English society
Now published in their full, uncensored state, the second volume opens the day after Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s return from meeting with Hitler at Munich, believing he has secured ‘Peace in our time’.
Chips — Conservative MP for Southend, in Essex, and an arch-enemy of the anti-appeasement faction led by Winston Churchill and Anthony Eden — is delighted and relieved, calling his beloved Chamberlain ‘the man of the age’.
Thursday, Oct 6, 1938
House of Commons — Debate on the Munich Agreement: appeasement vs war
We met at 11 and for some anxious hours we listened to the debate. Would the PM do well?
At 3.13 he rose. He was quietly magnificent. Winston was howled down. The Churchillian Group, conspicuous for their disloyalty, sat glum, sullen and wrong. Old Winston looked like an angry Buddha. The figures were: 366 for us, 144 for war. Cheers greeted the result, we shouted, we waved our handkerchiefs, there were deafening roars of ‘Hear! Hear!’ There was pandemonium and the PM quietly, with his usual gentle dignity, walked out.
I motored back to the beauty and peace of Kelvedon, Essex.
Chips celebrated the ‘Peace in our Time’ agreement between Neville Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler
Wednesday, Oct 12
Kelvedon [Chips’ country home]
Confidential talk with the Duchess of Kent: she is very pro-Chamberlain, rabid against Eden. I begged her to influence the King and Queen against Eden; she replied that she had done so; the King was sound; the Queen less so, as she quite liked Anthony …
Tuesday, Nov 8
The fourth session of this most fateful parliament opened today. I wonder what it will unfold? A war? An election? In the past three years we have had everything else, scandals, political strife, resignations, abdication and coronation . . .
The King, after the first appalling pause, when one wonders whether he will ever get the words out, read the speech in a clear voice with barely any trace of effort.
The words are especially selected for him, as some consonants he cannot cope with. It was all quickly over and the Sovereigns departed in a blaze of red and jewels …
Tuesday, Nov 15
The pogroms in Germany [days earlier, on Kristallnacht, Nazi thugs wrecked synagogues and shops, businesses and houses owned by Jews] and the persecutions there have roused much indignation everywhere. Hitler never helps us and always makes Chamberlain’s task more difficult.
One cannot say so, but the sympathies of many people are not altogether with the unfortunate Jews. Indeed, many important members of their own race do not attempt to deny their disappointment that there was not a world war in September.
Wednesday, Nov 16
Honor and I dined in her room. We dressed afterwards and went on to Buckingham Palace. Honor looked magnificent, ablaze with many sapphires and diamonds … With no fuss, the King and Queen appeared. She looked well in a crinoline and he was grinning and looked very young …
George Gage [Chips’s friend] entered, piloting the King of Romania who is gross, flashy, gay and rather fun.
Saturday, Nov 19
Lord Beauchamp [the inspiration for Sebastian Flyte in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited] died in New York, aged only 66. What a turbulent life. Rank, riches, arrogance, intelligence, achievement, high office, seven children, the god’s gifts at his feet, and he gaspille-ed [squandered] them all for the most sterile of vices — footmen!! There has never been such a scandal in England. King George V remarked ‘I thought those sort of people shot themselves.’
Monday, Nov 21
The newspapers splash the arrival of the Regent, my dearly beloved Paul [of Yugoslavia] who comes this evening!
… Really I can no longer cope with the present [German] regime, which seems to have lost all sense and reason. Are they mad? The Jewish persecutions carried to such a fiendish degree are short-sighted, cruel and unnecessary … [Hitler] is becoming increasingly morose, and anti-English generally. He quite likes Chamberlain but thinks we are an effete, finished race. He is right, of course.
Wednesday, Nov 23
I only feel well and fit with an empty stomach: I was magnificent this morning, and gaily drove to the Foreign Office … I lunched with Honor and ever since I am congestionne [congested], ill, absurdly stale. Is it exercise I need, or a jolly thorough fornication, or what?
Sunday, Nov 27
After a night of wet dreams (really at my age it is surprising and perhaps reassuring) I woke weak: Paul climbed into my bed; he is always asking questions about spanking — does he want one?
Wednesday, Nov 30
Shopped with the Regent . . . He loves me, deeply, I think. Not as much as I love him.
Thursday, Jan 5, 1939
I hope Hitler won’t take too much this year: 1938 gave him both Austria and Czechoslovakia … perhaps we shall have peace throughout 1939.
Saturday, Jan 28
Harold [Balfour] and Rob Bernays arrived to stay, ministers both, but not friends. They are getting on better. Bernays is very vicious sexually I have discovered. His secret is well-kept. [Bernays was a flagellomaniac.]
A tense House of Commons vote followed Chamberlain’s return from Munich
Sunday, Jan 29
Very late with Rob Bernays discussing his vices and unsatisfied lusts.
Friday, February 3
I arrived with the Duke of Kent for dinner and found a most ill-assorted party of 14 people, social waifs and strays. Edwina Mountbatten eclipsed the other professional beauties as she always does. Dickie Mountbatten has lost his looks, charm and glamour, but is still pleasant.
There have been serious explosions, bombs found in the Underground; a reign of terror has gone on for weeks now. It is alleged to be the work of Irish extremists.
Sunday, March 5
I am so tired sometimes. Yet I must be attractive still as never before have I had so much sexual success as in the past few weeks. I haven’t the time to follow it up.
Monday, March 13
Very big dinner party. The Duchess of Kent did not go to ‘the ladies’ — how does she manage? All royalties have amazing bladders.
Tuesday, March 14
There were rumblings at the Foreign Office of renewed trouble in Czechoslovakia. We did not at first take them v seriously; but learned that the Czech government had resigned and Hitler had summoned the President.
It looks as if he is going to break the Munich Agreement, and throw Chamberlain over, and become an international gangster.
Wednesday, March 15
Hitler has entered Prague apparently, and Czechoslovakia has ceased to exist. No balder, bolder defiance of the written bond has ever been committed in history. I don’t mind what he did; but the manner of it surpasses comprehension, and his callous desertion of the Prime Minister is stupefying. The PM is discouraged, horrified. His whole policy of appeasement is in ruins. Munich is a torn-up episode … A day of shattered hopes.
Monday, March 20
Nevile Henderson [British Ambassador to Germany] was recalled yesterday from Berlin, and Herr Dirksen, the German Ambassador, left London. The situation is grave.
Wednesday, March 22
Memel [in Lithuania] was today ceded to Germany by the Lithuanian government under threats of invasion and aerial bombardment. Tactless of Hitler to force us into a general holy alliance against him … the Cabinet is now unanimous that ‘something must be done’.
Saturday, March 25
Germany is furious about the Anglo-Polish agreement [the British undertaking to defend Poland if it were attacked] … My friend Federer from the German Embassy rang up, and I promptly asked him to luncheon. I gave him a thorough mental spanking, told him of our disappointment with Hitler etc.
Saturday, April 1
Lord Queenborough … told me that Queen Mary had said to him, in reply to a question as to when the Duke of Windsor would return to this country, ‘not until he comes to my funeral’. She is a hard-hearted woman.
Sunday, April 2
I found Nevile Henderson, debonair and elegant, sitting on a desk. We had a few words … Hitler is in a rage against us, and our governessy interference … He loathes us … Yet the man, Nevile H went on, is not altogether bad.
Tuesday, April 4
We have made a pledge we cannot implement and will look both treacherous and ridiculous in the event of German invasion of Poland.
Sunday, April 16
Lazy day. The ‘Boche boys’ [Prince Fritzi and a friend] played golf; the Dufferins [the Marquess and Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava] fornicated …
Just weeks before the start of WWII, Chips was convinced there would not be war between Britain and Germany, pictured, Adolf Hitler in Munich in the spring of 1932
Friday, April 28
At 12.30 a copy of Hitler’s speech was delivered to us [announcing that he was ending the Anglo-German naval agreement, and demanding that Poland allow the Germans untrammelled access to the free city of Danzig.]
It is good stuff, and I fear that all my sympathies are with him in what he says.
Monday, May 1
Something must be done immediately to soften the resistance of the Poles, to make them more reasonable towards the Germans’ just demands on Danzig.
Thursday, June 22
Tonight we had our great dinner, which was to celebrate Franco’s victory, do homage to Queen Ena and plot the restoration of the Spanish throne to her son.
When the ladies left, I sat with Norman Gwatkin whom I rather fancy. He is Assistant to the Lord Chamberlain.
Friday, June 30
Tonight at the Ball I was immediately led up to the Queen of Spain.
Her face is a libidinous one and I wondered was she flirtatious? It would be fun to have an affair with a queen. Shall I pursue it? . . .
Lady Londonderry asked me to dance. Although she looked impressive… she had a way of blowing saliva at me: also she bumped me with her tiara.
Friday, July 7
Peter Coats [an army officer] is a well-meaning pierrot of charm and Aryan good looks. I like him: it was mutual. We shall be friends. [They became lovers].
Tuesday, July 11
Dinner at [American socialite] Laura Corrigan’s … The ball proceeded and I enjoyed it hugely; so much so that I did not go on to Lord Beaverbrook’s ball. I hear it was an orgy …
Tuesday, July 18
I called on the Duke of Buccleuch … I assured him that there was to be no war this year.
On Wednesday, July 19, Chips wrote: ‘I was in a rage when I remembered an invitation had not come for tonight’s ball [at Buckingham Palace in honour of Chip’s friend Prince Paul of Yugoslavia]. I shall not forget this slight — sometimes I dislike the Queen of England! [later the Queen Mother]. And I know her fundamentally treacherous character. She is not ambitious; not in the least, but on the other hand she is remarkably snobbish …’
Wednesday, July 19
I was in a rage when I remembered an invitation had not come for tonight’s ball [at Buckingham Palace in honour of Chip’s friend Prince Paul of Yugoslavia]. I shall not forget this slight — sometimes I dislike the Queen of England! [later the Queen Mother]. And I know her fundamentally treacherous character. She is not ambitious; not in the least, but on the other hand she is remarkably snobbish …
Tuesday, Aug 1
The King has become rather violent against his predecessor [the Duke of Windsor]: they are a violent, disloyal family, always argue about one another.
Sunday, Aug 13
Intense heat again. Honor and I lay naked all day in the garden until teatime when Federer of the German Embassy arrived to stay, a pleasant fellow, he takes a most gloomy view of the international situation; thinks there may well be war this actual summer.
Tuesday, Aug 22
I feel that a new era, perhaps the last, has opened for England, and incidentally for me. It began this morning, when sleepily I opened the newspaper and read emblazoned across the ever-sensational Express: German–Russian [Non-Agression] pact. Then I realised that the Russians have double-crossed us … they are the foulest people on earth.
Wednesday, Aug 23
I cannot bear to think that our world is crumbling to ruins.
Saturday, Aug 26
It was five before we left, Peter Coats and I, for Kelvedon where we found Honor and Brigid still basking by the pool. Later Peter and I talked of our future, fun, and other youthful plans… Honor instinctively dislikes him and I much regret it, but fear it is inevitable.
Sunday, Aug 27
A lovely day at Kelvedon with Honor, my Paul, my Peter. We sunbathed; Brigid, whom I hoped to marry to Peter Coats, disliked him.
Tuesday, Aug 29
There are accounts of the Hitler regime cracking, of the Nazi leaders quarrelling: of food shortages etc . . . perhaps Neville will triumph! Viva Chamberlain!
Friday, Sept 1
Poland was this morning invaded by German troops … We had a blackout in the evening: the streets in utter disbelief and all day the servants have been frantically hanging black curtains.
Saturday, Sept 2 –
No 10 Downing Street
The various chiefs of staff were wandering about in uniform … we had already instructed Nevile Henderson to ask for an interview tomorrow morning at 9 am and to inform the German government that unless news came by 11 am that they had ordered the withdrawal of their forces from Poland, we should be at war . . .
Broken-hearted I begged David Margesson [Chief Whip] to do something; but he was determined. ‘It must be war, Chips, old boy,’ he said, ‘there’s no other way out.’
Sunday, Sept 3
10.57 am. The PM is to broadcast at 11.15 am and in a few moments a state of war will be declared … Everyone is smiling, the weather is glorious but I feel that our world or all that remains of it, is committing suicide, whilst Stalin laughs and the Kremlin triumphs … And Jewry the world over triumphs.
Listened to the PM. He was dignified, moving, brief and sad. He had barely finished when the sirens announced an air raid … Soon, however, the all-clear sounded.
Adapted from HENRY ‘CHIPS’ CHANNON: THE DIARIES 1938-43, published this week by Hutchinson at £35. © Trustees of the diaries and personal papers of Sir Henry Channon 2021.
Introduction and notes © Simon Heffer 2021. To order a copy for £31.50 (offer valid until September 25, 2021; UK P&P free), visit mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3308 9193.