CHIPS CHANNON: Wicked old Winston… the greatest opportunist alive!

Fat, wicked old Winston… the greatest opportunist and political adventurer alive! The blistering view of society gossip CHIPS CHANNON in a rollicking extract from his uncensored diaries, penned as he drank magnums of champagne while German bombs fell

Britain declared war on Germany on September 3, 1939, after Hitler invaded Poland, destroying the peace prime minister Neville Chamberlain believed he had secured.

Henry ‘Chips’ Channon, an arch-appeaser, feared for the PM amid rumours Winston Churchill, who Chips loathed, was eyeing the premiership.

As the Blitz began, the Channons sent their son Paul to America and, despite rationing, Chips continued to live well. Meanwhile, his marriage was disintegrating as he pursued an affair with army officer Peter Coats, while sharing his bed with other men . . .

Winston Churchill, dubbed fat and wicked by CHIPS CHANNON, sits on a bench with his pet poodle

Monday, September 4, 1939

I woke after my short and disturbed night to read we had lost a ship, the Athenia [torpedoed by a U-boat with the loss of 98 passengers and 19 crew].

. . . I am in some doubt as to what to do. Remain here? Or take some semi-military occupation. I, with my flat feet, my stomach, my inefficiency and loathing of drill exercise, discipline and danger?

Wednesday, September 6

Awakened at 6.40 by the siren’s sad song. I took to the cellars but shall not do so again. Two dreary hours wasted.

Sunday, September 10

I went to Kelvedon [the Channons’ estate in Essex] on Saturday afternoon . . . We packed up all our jewelled toys and counted the wine, then we welcomed 150 refugees, all nice East End people.

Wednesday, September 13

The Windsors [the Duke and Duchess] arrived back last night.

Thursday, September 14

Winston [Churchill] is already driving the Admiralty to distraction by his interference and energy.

Sunday, September 17

I bathed in the pool, and then rang up the Foreign Office (FO) to be told the grim news that the Russians had definitely invaded Poland. Now the Nazis and the Bolsheviks have combined to destroy civilisation, and the outlook for the world looks ghastly.

Wednesday, September 20

Yesterday as I left the FO I caught a glimpse of the Duke of Windsor. He looked tired. Their visit has been a flop; due I fear to the hardness of the old Queen [Queen Mary, his mother], who is quite unforgiving.

Henry ‘Chips’ Channon, an arch-appeaser, feared for Neville Chamberlain amid rumours Winston Churchill, who Chips loathed, was eyeing the premiership

Friday, September 22

Honor [his wife] came up yesterday and I took her, Brigid [his sister-in-law] and Harold Balfour [a minister] to luncheon at the Ritz, which has become fantastically fashionable; all the great, the gay, the government; we knew 95 per cent of everyone there. But Ritzes always thrive in wartime, as we are all cookless.

Tuesday, September 26

The Duchess of Kent came to lunch, and Peter Coats [Chips’ lover], who looks young and handsome in uniform.

Wednesday, October 11

Mrs Rosemary Cresswell, the Queen of Yugoslavia’s mysterious girlfriend, sent me another large packet for HM. I put it into the bag [the diplomatic post]. Only lesbians write such long letters.

Thursday, October 12

The House was crowded and inattentive, half hoping for peace, but determined really on war. The PM rose at 3.50 and slowly and deliberately made his famous statement [rejecting Hitler’s peace proposals].

He was much cheered. Even fat wicked old Winston, sitting opposite (there was no room on the government bench for his baroque bottom), joined in.

All this we are sacrificing for what? For a Poland that can never be reconstructed.

Saturday, November 4

There is no real war, just as there was no real reason for one. Hitler is indeed shrewd. Is he trying to bore us into peace?

Monday, December 4

Alexander of Yugoslavia [son of Chips’ former lover Prince Paul] has been ‘reported’ to the Headmaster [at Eton]. A severe whipping would do him the world of good. It might instil some sense into him. I am on the side of the birch for boys, frequently and sternly administered, the more exalted the bottom the more necessary it usually is.

Sunday, December 10

An intoxicating day spent with someone I have hardly seen alone since January — ie myself. There is no such blissful companionship, no such satisfactory or stimulating friendship.

Monday, December 25

I reread Paradise City [his own novel] today and thought how excellent and really underrated it is.

Saturday, December 30

Alexander [of Yugoslavia] here for the weekend. I liked him very much. He will do, probably, for the role of the future Prince Consort [for the future Queen Elizabeth II]. I must arrange that.

CHIPS CHANNON wrote his diaries as he drank magnums of champagne while German bombs fell

Wednesday, Jan 4, 1940

I ordered a handsome dressing-case for Peter [Coats] at Asprey’s. I have now spent about £1,000 on him so far [around £56,400 today].

Monday, January 8

The King has begun to interfere with the Air Ministry appointments, to the annoyance of the General Staff: of course the Monarch is put up to everything by Alec Hardinge [his private secretary] and the Queen. She is a snob at heart, much more than any real royalty would be.

Sunday, January 14

Peter and I breakfasted and then I took him to King’s Cross — a v sad farewell. I shall perhaps never see him again; not like this.

Tuesday, January 16

I am broken-hearted.

Sunday, January 21

I find Alan — Sub-Lieutenant Lennox-Boyd, RN — philandering with Michael Rose [a diplomat]. Alan’s sudden happiness adds to my dull despair.

Thursday, January 25

Where, oh where, is my perfect Peter?

Wednesday, Feb 14

Dined at the Dorchester, which has become the centre of London. Dozens of people have abandoned their homes and moved there.

Tuesday, April 9

The Germans walked into Denmark at 4.30 am; and later we heard the agonising news that Norway, too, had been taken!

I think that someone has blundered and suspect old Winston.

Britain declared war on Germany on September 3, 1939, after Hitler invaded Poland, destroying the peace prime minister Neville Chamberlain believed he had secured 

Thursday, April 25

Winston is now throwing off his mask and plotting. He envisages running the show himself.

Friday, May 3

Winston C is in a corner: the fiasco in Norway is due altogether to his unsound advice.

Thursday, May 9

A long conversation has been held between Winston, Lord Halifax and Neville, each saying to the other two, ‘You must be PM’ — and each one, no doubt, secretly wanting it for himself.

Friday, May 10

Perhaps the darkest day in English history. Holland and Belgium invaded; bombs falling on Brussels, parachutists landing at The Hague.Sometime during the afternoon a message came from the Labour people that they would join a govt, but refused to serve under Chamberlain.

[Later]: The PM had just come back from the Palace, Winston had kissed hands and was now Premier. England in her darkest hour had surrendered her destiny to the greatest opportunist and political adventurer alive!! I rushed home, by now in tears.

Tuesday, May 21

Honor suggested burying my diaries in the garden at Kelvedon. She talks of shooting the dogs. It is all so horrible.

Monday, June 3

All our troops are now home [from Dunkirk], a most gallant withdrawal: something like 250,000 men saved.

Tuesday, June 11

I am a cauldron of acid, a mass of nerves. War began with Italy.

Wednesday, June 12

The Black Rat [Alec Hardinge] rules the King, and has bamboozled the Queen. They are really a very inferior, boring little couple: the institution is popular — the individuals are not.

[Lord] Beaverbrook is so pleased to be in the govt! He is like a great tart who has finally married the local Lord Mayor!

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, June 14

Paris was occupied this morning.

Monday, June 24

The armistice between Germany and France is now in effect.

Sunday, June 30

I am seriously attracted by Rab [Butler]. We might, and may, have a great friendship! But he is fundamentally so impersonal and unattractive physically — at least so I thought a fortnight ago.

Propinquity can do much: why shouldn’t Rab have a suivant [admirer]? [It is unlikely that Butler, who would marry twice and give no hint of homosexual tendencies, would have reciprocated Channon’s feelings.]

Thursday, June 20

Glorious news: my infant is safe and in Montreal.

Monday, July 1

Rumours are rife — that the Windsors genuinely believe that they will be restored to the throne under German influence: he will become a sort of Gauleiter and Wallis a queen. Perhaps!

Thursday, July 4

There are peace rumours about, Hitler has put out ‘feelers’ which to this government are a waste of time. Personally I am all for peace: why have a bombing match and more destruction?

Friday, July 5

I saw the Queen, our cars passed She was ridiculously dressed, in pale blue with an immense Gainsborough hat. She doesn’t quite pull it off, but succeeds in looking gay.

Monday, July 15

Michael Rose must be mad, and I fear he will end in the police courts, so sordid are his sexual habits. He says he only gets sexually excited in public lavatories!!

The more one lives the more one learns; but I admit his complex is a new one to me!

The raids continue killing a few people every night.

Thursday, August 8

Alan rushed me off to dine on his stationary ship near Brighton. He seems to have adapted to his new life. But it is a shock always to make contact with a lower class. Alan altogether delightful. I am sharing his bed.

Monday, August 12

The Battle for Britain has begun: there are mammoth air raids now every day. Tonight’s bag was about 50. It was a big day for the RAF.

Saturday, September 7

Kelvedon

Dozens of German planes flew over us. We saw the skies ablaze and heard the distant gunfire. The searchlights lit up the sky. At times we could almost have read, so bright were the skies.

Can we survive such bombardments for long? The windows rattle, the dogs howl, the servants have scurried to the cellars.

Sunday, September 8

The bombardment went on for hours and about half-past one we retired to bed. I woke later as my bed shook violently. The household was terrified. We were surrounded by walls of flame . . . started by dozens of incendiary bombs.

I have heard on the radio that over 400 people were killed in London, 1,500 seriously injured, and many fires in the East End.

Tuesday, September 10

I stayed with the Eltisleys. We bathed in an outdoor pool. Lady Eltisley looked superb, a long lithe figure. I have never before coveted an older woman but I could have seduced her with pleasure.

Saturday, September 14

The bombs on Buckingham Palace have made the King and Queen more popular . . . She is still glamorous, unspoilt and gracious, but people whisper that she intrigues; and he is the dullest most boring, but well-meaning, little man on earth.

Monday, September 16

I drove to London via the East End: it is a scene of desolation, house after house has been wrecked; debris falls from the remaining floors, windows are gone; heaps of rubbish line the pavements; some streets are roped off because of time bombs . . . yet the people, mostly Jewish, seemed courageous but sad: but the damage is immense. I gave many of them lifts.

Tuesday, September 17

I slept fairly well; only once was I startled enough to wake up when the bursting bombs were particularly noisy. If this bombing continues London will be devastated in a few months’ time.

Thursday, October 10

Dollie Warrender told me that yesterday, from the rubble she saw a human arm protruding. She waited to watch the rescue of some unfortunate person, but none came out. The arm had no body attached to it.

Thursday, October 17

In the night, four Treasury officials were killed when a bomb fell for the second time on that bit of the building immediately adjacent to No. 10 Downing Street. The Germans evidently think that Winston sleeps there. Actually he sleeps in the War Room.

Tuesday, Nov 5

Harold [Balfour, a minister] fetched me and drove me to the Dorchester . . . All London was there! We had four magnums of champagne. London lives well. I have never seen more lavishness, more money spent or more food than tonight. The dancing room was packed. There must have been a thousand people.

Wednesday, Nov 6

The raids are increasing in intensity . . . With a waxing moon we must expect more severe bombardments. Shall we escape with our skins and our possessions?

  • Adapted from HENRY ‘CHIPS’ CHANNON: THE DIARIES 1938-43, published 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.

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