Henry 'Chips' Channon: The Diaries 1918-38 review – priceless interwar gossip

Editor Simon Heffer brings us the first, sensationally unexpurgated volume of the musings of the Chicago-born socialite and social climber

The great diarists get away with it. No matter how foolish or spiteful or pompous they appear in print, they transcend faults of character by the simple virtue of brilliant writing. Only it’s not that simple – if it were, everyone would do it. In the first half of the 20th century, no diarist in English would achieve greater notoriety than Henry Channon, AKA “Chips”, his name practically a byword for gossipy flamboyance and indiscretion. When first published in 1967, nine years after his death, the diaries were an instant sensation, a stunning fresco of the British social-political haut monde by an American interloper whose eye never seemed to sleep.

The Penguin edition most of us read was known to have been severely edited, representing a fraction of Channon’s original text, considered by his heirs too hot for the lawyers to handle. So the prospect of an unexpurgated version running to three volumes, of which this tubby tranche is the first, has an irresistible allure, like finding diamond studs in the pocket of a charity shop dress suit. (Some of the missing diaries were actually found at a car-boot sale.) We also have a full 10 years (1918-28) of unseen material – Chips Uncut – to keep us occupied. Woohoo! Will spats go with that suit?

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