When they were first published in 1967, the diaries of MP Sir Henry ‘Chips’ Channon enthralled and appalled the nation in equal measure. Malicious and delicious, the diaries skewered some of the grandest names in society and politics.
What no one realised was that the diaries had been heavily censored. Now they are being published for the first time in their full, outrageous glory.
The American-born Chips, as he was known, settled in Britain after graduating from Oxford and became a social climber on a grand scale, becoming friendly with the future Edward VIII — the then Prince of Wales — in 1920.
Chips (pictured) was bisexual and had numerous sexual liaisons with both men and women. Our second extract features some of those, together with his fabulously indiscreet observations about London society
He went on to become a close friend of Edward’s brother the Duke of Kent and mixed with the grandest families in the land (and indeed married into one of them when he wed Lady Honor Guinness in 1933).
They had one son, whom he adored, but the marriage was not happy. She had many affairs (one with her ski instructor) and in 1945, they divorced.
Chips was bisexual and had numerous sexual liaisons with both men and women. Our second extract features some of those, together with his fabulously indiscreet observations about London society.
Winston AND Clemmie – Tuesday May 17, 1927
Winston Churchill pictured in 1930 with his wife Clementine – according to Channon, he exerted ‘his conjugal rights at odd times and in unexpected places — frequently after a debate etc’
G [Channon’s friend and lover, George Gage, a courtier] dined at the French Embassy, dining in state with the King and Queen [George V and Queen Mary].
G was between Mrs Winston Churchill and the Lady Mayoress.
Mrs Churchill confided to someone the other day that she never knew when she was safe from Winston; he exerts his conjugal rights at odd times and in unexpected places — frequently after a debate etc.
Tallulah Bankhead – Sunday, February 7, 1926
American actress Tallulah Bankhead (pictured) who made her name as a stage actress and won a New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for her performance in The Little Foxes in 1939
Gage and Ivo return to me and I took them to lunch with Tallulah [Bankhead, famous American actress] — they were fascinated by her. She is amusing but a terrible snob.
In the evening, supper with Tallulah again (after dining at the Spanish Embassy). Later for hours she lay in my arms — the lights almost out, the low bed, the fire — and I… and at four I returned home.
Monday, February 8, 1926
Very bored with Tallulah, whom I met at supper tonight at the Eiffel Tower [a popular London restaurant near Oxford Street].
She greatly attracts me but she is such a snob.
Wednesday, February 10 1926
I am really very attracted by Tallulah, she is so strange and ardent. I am quite captivated.
Friday, February 12, 1926
I went to bed early at 9.30, exhausted. But at eleven, sleep refusing to share my bed, and the fluids of life warming in my flesh, I arose, dressed and went out into the wet London night adventure-bound.
My nose led me to the St Martin’s Theatre. By chance Tallulah Bankhead was disengaged. I sat in her dressing room and watched the lovely pink creature change, pink stays, pink flimsy garments, pink tummy, all the necessary ingredients for a young blood’s delight.
Later Tallulah and I went to the Embassy [club]; the beau monde of London seemed surprised at our entrance together. Why?? Much later on we went to Two Uncles’ restaurant and at four returned to her flat. A friend of hers was there and we played a game called ‘Stripping Words’.
We had to spell out words and anyone finishing one was forced to remove an article of clothing. Tallulah was soon naked, I next, the friend last. She left us and darling Tallulah lay in my arms . . .
Later as I dressed the friend re-entered, she said she was a virgin. They watched interestedly as I dressed.
Noticing this I delayed it, putting on first, my socks, shoes and suspenders. I am very attractive naked, as handsome as my face is dull. I left them at six.
Montague Summers – Tuesday, February 14, 1928
I went to Richmond to see Montague Summers [Catholic priest and translator of books on witchcraft]… The lecherous old priest was most charming, and showed me many strange books, including several about healing and flagellation, which has always exerted a strange fascination over me.
I should love to be beaten by a priest or schoolmaster and never have, though I daresay one dose would cure me. How oddly constructed are one’s sexual nerves.
Friday, February 24, 1928
I went to Richmond by Underground to dine with Montague Summers: I was very late — over half an hour. We had a most delightful conversation and I confessed to him my every temptation: He was sympathy and wisdom itself — at first: Then suddenly the conversation became charged with purport and I knew the old priest wanted to seduce me.
Timidly he led the conversation to flagellation, and told me that he longed to beat me, adding that my having been so late for dinner would serve as a pretext!
I was very nervous, and more than a little drunk (his Lenten fare had been uneatable and I had drunk too much burgundy).
Laughingly I consented, one should really always do everything once, especially since it hurts no one else.
He led me upstairs, through his bedroom and into a chapel, full of blatant images etc. I began to wish I had not come, and quivered with nervousness, but my sense of humour wedded to a love of adventure triumphed.
I bent over at the foot of the altar. ‘That will not do,’ he said. ‘You must let down your trousers.’ I undid them and let them slip down to my feet. The old priest, who is, of course, one of the most charming and learned men in the world, removed one of his slippers (red heel and a large buckle) and smartly struck me on my naked buttocks.
At first I did not mind, but at about the tenth or eleventh blow, my flesh tingled and I got up, flushed and embarrassed. ‘Thank you,’ he said politely, and he conducted me down to the library and we discussed life and love until midnight. I had to hurry to catch the last train to London.
Dinner talk – Wednesday, July 28, 1937
Emerald Cunard [London society hostess, widow of Sir Bache Cunard, grandson of the founder of the shipping line] dine[d] and brought the Sitwells [Georgia and Sacheverell, art critic and brother of poet Edith and author Osbert]; a gay disputatious dinner.
I maintained that there were four subjects on which people rarely, indeed if ever, spoke the truth; 1. Sex; 2. Money; 3. Religion; 4. Mrs Simpson.
People are never truthful in regard to their sexual kinks, always pretend to be either richer or poorer than they are, and up to a point cut their religious conversational cloth to their company; about Mrs Simpson no one is ever truthful.
Evelyn Waugh – Sunday, December 16, 1934
Lunch was amusing: Evelyn Waugh said that anyone can write a novel given six lessons, pen, paper and no telephone or wife. Perhaps he is right.
Tuesday, August 6, 1935
Evelyn Waugh has just signed on with the Daily Mail for the duration of hostilities between Italy and Abyssinia, and is leaving for Ethiopia on Saturday. He may, as he says, be away for five years, or five months. He pretends to have insured his testicles for £3,000, as Ethiopians had a way of castrating unwelcome individuals.
Rudyard Kipling – Sunday, July 13, 1924
Portrait of novelist and poet, Rudyard Kipling – Channon described him as ‘a tiny apelike simian little man with incredible eyebrows of great bushiness and deep endless brown eyes’
An enormous Saturday-to-Monday party at Fairlawne … Rudyard Kipling was there.
He is a tiny apelike simian little man with incredible eyebrows of great bushiness and deep endless brown eyes.
He is brown and a little dirty, and clumps of hair protrude from his ears.
He talked to me all afternoon and was very vivid in his descriptions of bullfights, which he had evidently relished. With a wealth of gesture he described in vigorous, colourful English the entire ritual — we could almost hear the moans of the dying horses and smell the bloodstained sawdust.
He is at his best in his descriptions of action. I got them both on to politics and Mrs Kipling, good old Tory, regretted that all the power in England was no longer in the hands of 40 families as it had once been.
Mrs Kipling is an intelligent plain little woman but much easier to talk to than most writers’ wives.
Money – Tuesday, May 3, 1927
I ought to be very happy today as I had long letters from my parents: Father says that a decision has at last been taken qua our financial affairs. I now inherit 1/13 of my grandfather’s real estate, i.e. a sum of $85,000 — in addition, of course, to Father’s settlement on me.
Wednesday, May 4, 1927
Now I know I am financially safe for life — secure — and belong definitely to the order of those that have — and through no effort of my own, which is such a joy.
Love and marriage – Thursday, October 18, 1923
Gage [Henry ‘George’ Gage, 6th Viscount, a courtier] and I have taken a small house… No. 6, Buckingham Street, SW8 [London], for a year; and we move in on Monday.
I wonder if we will be as happy here as in Mount Street, where we have all three been so gloriously exuberantly happy for two years? We shall miss our old playfellow, Paul [Prince Paul of Yugoslavia, whom Channon met when they were both at Oxford].
Monday, October 22, 1923
Paul was married today in faraway Belgrade with a large group of kings and queens to watch. Only the Yorks [Prince Albert, later George VI, and Princess Elizabeth, later Queen Mother] went out from England.
Prince ‘Bertie’ is to be best man as he was for Paul’s cousin King Alexander last year. There can be no one there who loves him as I do. I am quite miserable.
Wednesday, January 16, 1924
Crossed to Paris and was met at the Gare du Nord by my Paul [of Yugoslavia]. His wife has become a vision of beauty. They seemed so happy and gay and simple and absolutely madly in love with each other.
I dined with him alone — their baby is expected in August. I was sick with excitement and joy at seeing him and had to leave the restaurant, hurrying to the Champs-Elysees where I was violently sick. Oh! Why am I such a creature of emotion?
Monday, November 9, 1925
Life slips smoothly along. Dear Paul has arrived from Serbia; how gentle and loving and tender he is without his wife. She seems to suck him dry and I think I really hate her. We have happy evenings together now dining at the Eiffel Tower or at Buck’s, and lay afterwards together discussing life and literature.
Gage is back from America, as witty and delightful and mad as ever. He is too deeply interested in himself, I wonder if he is unbalanced? He came in in the evening and with his arms thrown over his head, lying naked on his bed, he pours his heart to me. How I love him and long to make him happy and contented.
Thursday, December 31, 1925
My deep affection for George [Gage] grows. I am almost more fond of him than of anyone. His deep charm . . . wit, moods, kindness, good nature and quiet dignity and loyalty amaze me.
Living with him in deepest intimacy for years, I grow to love him more every day and my love for him I take into next year.
Tuesday, February 9, 1926
My affection for Gage grows more every day. After five years he has become so gentle and affectionable [sic]. Most of my 24 hours are passed in his society and they are the happiest of my life.
December 21, 1927
George so loving and loveable; he sits in my room now at night late and we talk. In the morning he calls me and we talk; I bathe whilst he shaves and we talk.
How long will this last, this blissful honeymoon?
Friday, January 27, 1928
In the morning George played squash with the professional at Buck’s Club and of course he was beaten. But he was splendid, so hot and sweaty and later naked, so pink and ‘tempting’.
Saturday, February 4, 1928
George and I dined at Pratt’s, he is in terrific spirits and as the day passed they increased. We plan to live together until the end of our days. His sudden gaiety and affection are irresistible.
Later we went on to Knightsbridge, to a flat where there are women. There were three lying naked on cushions before a fire. I made them make love to one another, slapped their large buttocks and I at last copulated with the least ugly one, the others watching.
Wednesday, February 22, 1928
G very peevish and ‘disquietous’, I untactful, and we came nearer to having a quarrel than ever we have had all these years: he says he cannot understand me etc, but coated his pills with compliments, said I would be the best wife a man could possibly have etc.
I retorted a little, and I went to bed angry with him not at all knowing what to think. But I’ve seen signs of a mood for several days. Of course, no sleep, my nerves aching and my brain awake. Shall I divorce him? I know he doesn’t appreciate me.
Thursday, February 23, 1928
George very, very tender and clumsily gentle. He awoke in a contrite mood and all day was full of affectionate attentions. I worship him: one day he will leave me and my life will stop. I cannot even bear to picture it without him.
In February 1931, Viscount Gage married Imogen ‘Mogs’ Grenfell. It appears to have been a crushing blow for Channon. He heard the news while visiting his family in Chicago in a telegram from a mutual friend, dated December 10, 1930; Channon has written on the back ‘Le coeur case’ — the broken heart – his distress manifestly such that he has misspelt cassé.
It was another five days before Gage’s own telegram arrived – ‘ENGAGED MOGEN [sic] LETTER SHOULD REACH YOU SOON – GEORGE’.
The letter, dated December 12, arrived telling him the wedding ‘will probably be in February’ and saying ‘I hope you will be best man.’
Channon did oblige, and Gage wrote to him from his honeymoon saying that ‘you made Mogs very happy … I shall never have a friend like you.’ Nonetheless, as the subsequent diaries make clear, Channon’s relationship with Gage was not the same again.
Between 1929 and 1933 the diaries stop so there is no account of how he met and married, on July 14, 1933 at St Margaret’s, Westminster, Lady Honor Dorothy Mary Guinness, daughter of the 2nd Earl of Iveagh.
They had one son, Paul, who Channon adored. But the marriage was not happy and they did not have more children. He divorced her in 1945.
Extracted from Henry ‘Chips’ Channon: The Diaries 1918-38 (Volume 1) by Chips Channon, to be published on March 4 by Hutchinson at £35. © Georgia Fanshawe, Henry Channon and Robin Howard as Trustees of the diaries and personal papers of Sir Henry Channon 2021. Introduction and notes © Simon Heffer 2021.
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