Henry Channon

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Henry Channon
Member of Parliament
for and Southend West
Southend (1935–1950)
In office
14 November 1935 – 7 October 1958
Preceded by The Countess of Iveagh
Succeeded by Paul Channon
Personal details
Born 7 March 1897
Chicago, Illinois
Died 7 October 1958(1958-10-07) (aged 61)
London, England
Political party Conservative
Spouse(s) Lady Honor Guinness
Children Paul Channon

Sir Henry "Chips" Channon (7 March 1897 – 7 October 1958) was an American-born British Conservative politician, author and diarist. Channon moved to England in 1920 and became strongly anti-American, feeling that American cultural and economic views threatened traditional European and British civilisation. He wrote extensively about these views. Channon quickly became enamoured of London society and became a social and political climber.

Channon was first elected as a member of parliament (MP) in 1935. In his political career he failed to achieve ministerial office and was unsuccessful in his pursuit of a peerage, but he is remembered as one of the most famous political and social diarists of the twentieth century. His diaries have so far been published only in an expurgated edition.

Biography[edit]

Early years[edit]

Channon was born in Chicago to an Anglo-American family. In adult life he took to giving 1899 as his year of birth, and was embarrassed when a British newspaper revealed that the true year was 1897.[1] His grandfather had emigrated to the US in the mid-nineteenth century and established a profitable fleet of vessels on the Great Lakes, which formed the basis of the family's wealth.[2] Channon's paternal grandmother was descended from eighteenth century English settlers.[2] Channon's parents were Vesta née Westover and Henry Channon II,[1] known as Harry.[2] After graduating from Francis W. Parker School and taking classes at the University of Chicago,[3] Channon travelled to France with the American Red Cross in October 1917 and became an honorary attaché at the American embassy in Paris the next year.[1]

In 1920 and 1921, Channon was at Christ Church, Oxford where he obtained a pass degree in French,[4] and acquired the nickname "Chips".[1] He began a lifelong friendship with Prince Paul of Yugoslavia, whom in his diaries he called "the person I have loved most".[5] The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB) said of this phase of Channon's life, "adoring London society, privilege, rank, and wealth, he became an energetic, implacable, but endearing social climber."[1] He also became an author.

Author[edit]

Channon rejected his American background and was passionate about Europe in general and England in particular. The US, he said, was "a menace to the peace and future of the world. If it triumphs, the old civilisations, which love beauty and peace and the arts and rank and privilege, will pass from the picture."[6] His anti-Americanism was reflected in his novel, Joan Kennedy published in 1929, described by the publishers as "the story of an English girl's marriage to a wealthy American and of her attempts to bridge the gulf created by differences of race and education."[7] Channon's anti-Americanism did not prevent his living off American money. A grant of $90,000 from his father, and an $85,000 inheritance from his grandfather made him financially comfortable with no need to work.[6] He wrote two more books: a second novel, Paradise City (1931) about the disastrous effects of American capitalism,[1] and a non-fiction work, The Ludwigs of Bavaria (1933). The latter, a study of the last generations of the ruling Wittelsbach dynasty of Bavarian kings, received excellent notices, and was in print twenty years later. Some critical reservations reflected Channon's adulation of minor European royalty: The Manchester Guardian said of his account of the 1918 revolution, "he seems to have depended almost exclusively on aristocratic sources, which are most clearly insufficient."[8] Despite this, the book was described on its reissue in 1952 as "a fascinating study ... excellently written".[9] Reviews of both the 1933 edition and the reissue singled out a section on architecture and décor, Channon's expertise in which took a practical form shortly after the publication of the book when he had first a large town house and then a country house in which to engage his passion for design.

Marriage and politics[edit]

Channon and Honor lived at 5 Belgrave Square (right), now the home of Oleg Deripaska.

In 1933, Channon married the brewing heiress Lady Honor Guinness (1909–1976), eldest daughter of the second Earl of Iveagh.[10] In 1935 their only child was born, a son, whom they named Paul.[2] On 31 January 1936, the Channons moved into a grand London house at 5 Belgrave Square, next door to the London house of the Duke of Kent,[11] and two years later also acquired a country estate at Kelvedon Hatch, near Brentwood in Essex.[1] Channon quickly established himself as a society host, in his famous blue and silver dining room designed by Stéphane Boudin and modelled on the Amalienburg.[12] Perhaps the apogee of his career in that role came on Thursday, 19 November 1936, with a guest list headed by Edward VIII, Prince Paul of Yugoslavia, then Regent and his wife Princess Olga of Greece and Denmark, the Duke of Kent and his wife Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark and Mrs Simpson, of whom Channon was a friend and admirer. Twenty-two days later, on 11 December, Edward abdicated.

Channon, who was a naturalised British citizen (as of 11 July 1933),[13] became a Conservative politician. At the 1935 general election, he was elected Member of Parliament for Southend, the seat previously held by his mother-in-law Gwendolen Guinness, Countess of Iveagh. After boundary changes in 1950, he was returned for the new Southend West constituency, holding the seat until his death in 1958.[2]

In 1936, the rising Conservative minister R A Butler (universally known as "Rab"), Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign Office appointed Channon his Parliamentary Private Secretary.[2] Butler was associated with the appeasement wing of the Conservative party, and Channon, as with the abdication, found himself on the losing side. In the words of the ODNB: "Always ferociously anti-communist, he was an early dupe of the Nazis because his attractive German princelings hoped that Hitler might be preparing for a Hohenzollern restoration." Just as after George VI's accession Channon's standing in royal circles went from high to low, so, as an appeaser, did his standing in the Conservative party after the failure of appeasement and the appointment of the arch anti-appeaser Winston Churchill as prime minister. Channon remained loyal to the supplanted Neville Chamberlain, toasting him after his fall as "the King over the Water", and sharing Butler's denigration of Churchill as "a half-breed American."[14] Channon's interest in politics waned after this, and he took an increasing interest in the Guinness family brewing interests, though remaining a conscientious and popular constituency MP.[2]

In July 1939 Channon met the landscape designer Peter Daniel Coats (1910–1990), with whom he began an affair that led to Channon's separation from his wife the following year and the dissolution of the marriage in 1945.[1] Despite Channon's conduct, it was he who sued for divorce. His wife, who had left him in favour of a Czech airman,[6] did not contest the suit and he was, therefore, theoretically the innocent party.[15] Among others with whom he is known to have had affairs was the playwright Terence Rattigan, and Channon was on intimate terms with Prince Paul and the Duke of Kent, though whether those relationships were platonic or otherwise is not yet known.[1]

Once it became clear that he would not achieve ministerial office, Channon sought elevation to the peerage, but in this, too, he was unsuccessful. The highest honour he achieved was a knighthood in 1957, the year before his death.[1]

Legacy[edit]

Diaries[edit]

Channon's diaries have never been published in full. Under Channon's will, he left his diaries and other material to the British Museum "on condition that the said diaries shall not be read ... until 60 years from my death."[16] An expurgated selection from the diaries, edited by Robert Rhodes James was published in 1967. The necessity for expurgation is illustrated by the reaction of an Oxford contemporary who, when told that no diaries from that period existed, said, "Thank God!"[17] Rhodes James said he saw well-connected people go white when they heard that Channon had kept a journal.[6]

An entry in Channon's diary for 1941, describing his introduction to a young member of the Greek royal family at an Athens cocktail party, is the earliest known reference to the future marriage of Prince Philip of Greece and then 15-year-old heiress presumptive to the British throne, Princess Elizabeth: "He is extraordinarily handsome, and I recalled my afternoon's conversation with Princess Nicholas [an aunt of Philip's]. He is to be our Prince Consort, and that is why he is serving in our Navy."[18]

In his comments accompanying the published selection, Rhodes James stated that "Peter Coats edited the original MS of the Diaries"[19] He also stated that Coats arranged the preparation of a complete typescript of the Diaries as Channon's handwriting was often difficult to read.[20] It is not clear whether Coats carried out an initial expurgation prior to the editorial discretion exercised by Rhodes James.

Four previously unknown volumes turned up at a car boot sale in 1991.[21] It was reported after Paul Channon's death that his heir, the diarist's grandson, was considering authorising the publication of the uncensored texts.[6]

Robert Rhodes James quotes in his introduction to the diaries a self-portrait written by Channon on 19 July 1935:

Sometimes I think I have an unusual character – able but trivial; I have flair, intuition, great good taste but only second rate ambition: I am far too susceptible to flattery; I hate and am uninterested in all the things most men like such as sports, business, statistics, debates, speeches, war, and the weather; but I am riveted by lust, furniture, glamour and society and jewels. I am an excellent organiser and have a will of iron; I can only be appealed to through my vanity. Occasionally I must have solitude: my soul craves for it. All thought is done in solitude; only then am I partly happy.[22]

Reviewing the diaries in The Observer, Malcolm Muggeridge wrote, "Grovellingly sycophantic and snobbish as only a well-heeled American nesting among the English upper classes can be, with a commonness that positively hurts at times. And yet – how sharp an eye! What neat malice! How, in their own fashion, well written and truthful and honest they are! … What a relief to turn to him after Sir Winston's windy rhetoric, and all those leaden narratives by field-marshals, air-marshals and admirals!"[23]

The diaries, even in their bowdlerised form, provoked a writ for libel from one of Channon's fellow MPs, though the case did not come to court, being settled privately.[24]

Late 20th century Conservative MP Alan Clark refers admiringly to Channon and his diaries in his own diaries.

Reputation[edit]

Channon's biographer in the ODNB notes that Elliot Templeton in W. Somerset Maugham's novel The Razor's Edge (1944) and the disappointed schoolmaster Crocker-Harris in Terence Rattigan's play The Browning Version (1948) were partly inspired by Channon.[25] Among his contemporaries his reputation ranged from high to low. Nancy Mitford said of the diary, "you can't think how vile & spiteful & silly it is. One always thought Chips was rather a dear, but he was black inside how sinister!"[1] Duff Cooper thought Channon a "toady"[1] but Cooper's widow, Lady Diana Cooper wrote immediately after Channon's death, "never was there a surer or more enlivening friend ... . He installed the mighty in his gilded chairs and exalted the humble ... without stint he gave of his riches and his compassion."[26] War historian Max Hastings referred to Channon as a "consummate ass".[27]

References[edit]

  • Carreño, Richard (2011). Lord of Hosts: The Life of Sir Henry 'Chips' Channon. Philadelphia, PA: WritersClearinghousPress. ISBN 978-1-257-02549-7. 
  • Channon, Henry (1967). Rhodes James, Robert, ed. Chips: The Diaries of Sir Henry Channon. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson. ISBN 978-1-85799-493-3. 
  • Colville, John. The Fringes of Power: Downing Street Diaries, Volume 1. London, Sceptre, 1986, ISBN 0-340-40269-5

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Davenport-Hines, Richard, "Channon, Sir Henry (1897–1958)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edition, accessed 29 August 2009
  2. ^ a b c d e f g The Times obituary, 9 October 1958, p. 16
  3. ^ Carreño, Richard (2011). Lord of Hosts: The Life of Sir Henry 'Chips' Channon. Philadelphia, PA: WritersClearinghousePress. pp. 43–46, 51–53. ISBN 978-1-257-02549-7. 
  4. ^ The Manchester Guardian, 5 July 1921, p. 12
  5. ^ Channon, p. 20, quoted by Davenport-Hines
  6. ^ a b c d e McSmith, A, "Original Westminster hellraiser: The secret world of Chips Channon", The Independent, 13 April 2007
  7. ^ Advertisement, The Times, 22 March 1929, p. 10
  8. ^ The Manchester Guardian, 29 June 1933, p. 5
  9. ^ The Observer, 21 December 1952, p. 7
  10. ^ The Times, 2 July 1933, p. 9
  11. ^ Carreño, p. 83
  12. ^ Abbott, James Arthur (1 April 2006). Jansen. Acanthus Press. ISBN 978-0-926494-33-6. 
  13. ^ Carreño, p. 69
  14. ^ Colville, pp 141–41
  15. ^ The Times, 21 February 1945, p. 2
  16. ^ The Manchester Guardian, 11 December 1958, p. 8
  17. ^ Diaries p. 6.
  18. ^ Vickers, Hugo (2000). Alice: Princess Andrew of Greece. New York: St. Martin's Press. p. 317. ISBN 0-312-28886-7. 
  19. ^ Diaries p. 253n.
  20. ^ Diaries p. 22.
  21. ^ The Daily Telegraph obituary of Paul Channon, 30 January 2007
  22. ^ Diaries p. 11.
  23. ^ "Diary of a super-snob", The Observer, 19 November 1967, p. 27
  24. ^ The Manchester Guardian, 1 March 1969, p. 3
  25. ^ The ODNB entry prints the name of the Rattigan character as "Croker-Harris"
  26. ^ The Times, 23 October 1958, p. 17
  27. ^ Hastings, Max., Winston's War, Churchill 1940–1945. 2010, Knopf, New York, p. 14

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
The Countess of Iveagh
Member of Parliament for Southend
19351950
Constituency abolished
New constituency Member of Parliament for Southend West
19501958
Succeeded by
Paul Channon