“Some of the catty remarks (which fascinate) MUST be cut.” These were the express wishes of Lady Honor Guinness, the then ex-wife of Sir Chips Channon, who never allowed the editor of his diaries to see the original manuscripts. But even after careful censorship by Guinness as well as from Peter Coates, Channon’s friend, lover, and literary executor, the gossipy diaries, which took aim at British high society and its royal family, caused a stir when they were published in 1967. This week, Channon, who died in 1958, is in the papers again, owing to the publication of the first in three volumes of those same diaries. This time, though, they are unredacted.
The British journalist and historian Simon Heffer was tasked with editing a complete edition of the diaries—including a collection of lost volumes from the 1950s that were returned to Channon’s family in a plastic bag after having been mysteriously purchased at a yard sale—by Channon’s grandchildren. Sixty years after the American-born British socialite’s death, says Nicky Dunne, they could be “sure that everybody he talks about is dead.”
Even after careful censorship, the gossipy diaries, which took aim at British high society and its royal family, caused a stir when first published.
On the occasion of the first volume’s publication, Dunne, the Chairman of London’s Heywood Hill Bookshop, has invited British MP Michael Gove to join Heffer in a conversation about the book, which will stream live to viewers around the world. As well as fine-tuning the roughly half a million words in each of the three volumes, Heffer “expertly edited” a dense thicket of footnotes that mention “every grand person from English society and European royalty,” says Dunne. And unlike Channon, whose 23-year political career amounted to little, Gove “is a great survivor, who got very close to the summit of British politics.”
The book, available to purchase on the Heywood Hill Web site, makes for lively discussion. “Channon gets to know Jean Cocteau and Marcel Proust. It’s riveting,” says Dunne. “He gets a lot of things wrong but it’s not his judgments that you’re necessarily seeking to admire. It’s the detail of his observations. He noticed an awful lot and had a lot to say about all the people he was coming across. It’s a snapshot of a certain kind of class.”
Heywood Hill’s Chips Channon talk will take place on March 4 at 6:30 P.M. GMT (1:30 P.M. ET). Click here to sign up
Bridget Arsenault is the London Editor for AIR MAIL