Henry (Chips) Channon

Henry (Chips) Channon

Henry (Chips) Channon was born in Chicago on 7th March 1897. He was educated in the United States and France and in served in Europe with the American Red Cross during the First World War.

After the war he returned to the United States for a short time. He wrote to a friend: "The more I know of American civilization, the more I despise it. It is a menace to the peace and future of the world. If it triumphs, the old civilizations, which love beauty and peace and the arts and rank and privilege will pass from the picture."

Channon moved to England to study at Christ College, Oxford. At this time he shared a bachelor house with a friend known as "Fish". As a result he acquired the nickname "Chips".

In 1924 Channon's father granted him $90,000. Three years later he inherited $85,000 from his grandfather's estate. Channon no longer had to work for a living and he spent his time travelling and socializing. He developed right-wing political views and during the 1926 General Strike served as a Special Constable and helped to distribute the anti-strike newspaper, The British Gazette.

Channon also published several books including the novel, Joan Kennedy (1929), a book about Chicago, Paradise City (1930) and a work of history, The Ludwigs of Bavaria (1933). He also wrote a diary that was published after his death.

In 1933 Channon married Honor Guinness, the eldest daughter of the second Earl of Iveagh. The marriage also helped Channon to become a Conservative Party member of the House of Commons. His father-in-law had been Conservative MP for Southend from 1918-1927. When he succeeded to the title on the death of his father, he became a member of the House of Lords. His wife, Lady Iveagh, held the seat until 1935 when it was passed on to her son-in-law.

Channon was elected to the House of Commons in 1935. A strong anti-Communist he one of Parliament's leading supporters of General Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War. Believing that Adolf Hitler could be persuaded to attack the Soviet Union, Channon was a enthusiastic advocate of appeasement.

Three years later Neville Chamberlain appointed Channon as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Rab Butler. He remained as a junior member of the government throughout the Second World War.

Sir Henry Channon suffered from poor health during his last years and died on 7th October, 1958, in London, at the age of sixty-one.

Throughout his life Channon kept a diary. The thirty volumes contained a total of three million words. Cannon once wrote "What is more dull than a discreet diary?" He added: "As I re-read my diary, I am frequently horrified by the scandalous tone it has; one might think we lived in a world of cads." An edited version of his diary was first published in 1967.

Primary Sources

(1) Henry 'Chips' Channon,diary entry (5th April, 1935)

A full, exhausting day. We had a luncheon party here, and the plot was to do a 'politesse' to Mrs Simpson. She is a jolly, plain, intelligent, quiet, unpretentious and unprepossessing little woman, but as I wrote to Paul of Yugoslavia today, she has already the air of a personage who walks into a room as though she almost expected to be curtsied to. At least, she wouldn't be too surprised. She has complete power over the Prince of Wales, who is trying to launch her socially.

(2) Henry 'Chips' Channon, diary entry (30th July, 1935)

I am bored by this Italian-Abyssinian dispute, and really I fail to see why we should interfere. Though, of course, the League of Nations will stand or fall by it. But I am a little uneasy that the destinies of countless of millions should be in the exquisite hands of Anthony Eden, for whom I have affection, even admiration - but not blind respect. Why should England fight Italy over Abyssinia, when most of our far flung Empire has been won by conquest?

(3) Henry 'Chips' Channon, Mrs Simpson (1936)

Wallis Simpson I first met at Emerald Cunard's in 1935... Our acquaintance drifted into genuine friendship, and I grew to admire and like her... She is a woman of charm, sense, balance and great wit, with dignity and taste. She has always been an excellent influence on the King, who has loved her openly and honestly. I really consider that she would have been an excellent Queen. She is never embarrassed, ill at ease, and could in her engaging drawl charm anyone... Her reserve and discretion are famous, and proved by the fact that no one knew of her impending divorce, also by the fact that she never confided in anyone her hopes of becoming Queen. I think that the idea grew, gradually. She was encouraged by the King to believe that he could marry her, and indeed there was nothing legal to prevent him doing so. Perhaps at first the idea was a joke, which blossomed into a plan... Not until too late did she realise the gravity of the position and then even she could do nothing with the King.

Now she is 'dethroned', almost an outcast, and her social ambitions - always very great - have crashed. But she will recover everything except the Throne ... I hope she will be happy. She has always shown me friendship, understanding, and even affection, and I have known her do a hundred kindnesses and never a mean act. There is nothing sordid or vulgar in her make-up, but she is modern certainly. She has a terrific personality and her presence grew as her importance increased: we are far from being done with her yet . . . She would prefer to be grand, dignified and respectable, but if thwarted she will make the best of whatever position life gives her.

(4) Henry 'Chips' Channon, diary entry (26th February, 1938)

'Rab' Butler who has become Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs... Butler is a scholarly dry-stick but an extremely able, cautious, canny man, of great ambition. I must cultivate him.

(5) Henry 'Chips' Channon, diary entry (28th February, 1938)

I happened to be walking in the 'Aye' Lobby and spied Harold Balfour talking to Rab Butler: I went up to them, by the mercy of God, and congratulated Rab on his recent appointment to the Foreign Office: actually, I said, 'Europe is to be congratulated'. He beamed and as I walked away (so Harold says) he asked about me, and Harold, of course, lauded me to the skies, and then suggested that he made me his PPS. He took to the suggestion, and they discussed it at length. It would be a position of power, great power, for whosoever gets it, since there will be only two MP's in the House of Commons at the Foreign Office. If I got it, I might play a great role.

(6) Henry 'Chips' Channon, diary entry (2nd March, 1938)

Today when I came into the House of Commons, no-one was about, and when I saw Rab Butler he seemed to ignore me. Later, however, Wing Commander James called to me and told me that he had heard that Rab was considering me. How I should enjoy the triumph, the power and position; but I would have even less time for Kelvedon and myself, my boy, my Bundi and my books - even my diary might have to be shut.

(7) Henry 'Chips' Channon, diary entry (4th March, 1938)

I met David Margesson who asked whether I had heard anything, and when I said no, he assumed that Rab was going to consider the matter over the weekend.

Much later, as I was leaving the House, hat in hand, and rather discouraged - politics (even minor ones, I know) bring one these exalted hopes, only to have them dashed -1 was caught up by a (Whip's) Runner who told me the 'Chief wanted to see me, and once again I was ushered into David Margesson's sanctum. He had, he said, spoken to Butler who assured him that his mind was now made up and that he intended to offer me the job, probably on Monday. Almost dancing with delight, but feeling the necessity, already, of discretion, I left the House by Westminster Hall.

There, standing, perhaps waiting, was Rab. Shyly, he said, 'I should like to talk to you for a moment', and we walked off together. Then he spilt the big beans, 'Would I consider being his PPS?' Would I? My heart throbbed, and I felt exhilarated, as I said he was voicing my life's dream. We walked amicably together towards the FO, where he took me to his room, a large one over-looking Downing Street and the Horse Guards Parade. He pointed to what would be my desk, and as we chatted, we suddenly became friends.

(8) Henry 'Chips' Channon, diary entry (11th March, 1938)

An unbelievable day, in which two things occurred. Hitler took Vienna and I fell in love with the Prime Minister. The morning was calm, the PM enchanting. I am in and out of his room constantly now. Early on, there were messages announcing mysterious movements of troops in Bavaria with the usual denials from Berlin. Then there was a grand luncheon party at 10 Downing Street at which, the Chamberlains entertained the Ribbentrops, the Halifaxes, Winston Churchills, etc. By then the news had reached the FO that the Germans had invaded Austria, and from 5 to 7 p.m. reports poured in. I was in Halifax's room at 7.30 when the telephone rang 'The Germans are in Vienna', and five minutes later 'The skies are black with Nazi planes'. We stood breathless in the Secretary of State's room, wondering what would happen next. All night messages flowed in; by midnight Austria was a German province. Rab Butler was dining with the Speaker, and as he was already late, I drove him there. Later Peter Loxley and I called on him about midnight and told him the latest news; he was still in his Minister's dress and we sat, an unreal trio, in the Butlers' flat in Little College Street, discussing the event. It is certainly a set-back for the Chamberlain Government. Will my adorable Austria become Nazified?

(9) Henry 'Chips' Channon, diary entry (29th March, 1938)

Franco advances - victory is clearly his. He has been so misunderstood, so misrepresented in this country that to champion him, and I have done, is dangerous from a Constituency point of view.

(10) Henry 'Chips' Channon, diary entry (12th May, 1938)

This Government has never commanded my respect: I support it because the alternative would be infinitely worse. But our record, especially of late, is none too good. Halifax and Chamberlain are doubtless very great men, who dwarf their colleagues; they are the greatest Englishmen alive, certainly; but aside from them we have a mediocre crew; I fear that England is on the decline, and that we shall dwindle for a generation or so. We are a tired race and our genius seems dead.

(11) Henry 'Chips' Channon, diary entry (14th September, 1939)

The first war budget. At 3.45 Simon rose (he was directly in front of me) and in unctuous tones not unlike the Archbishop of Canterbury, opened his staggering budget. He warned the House of its impending severity yet there was a gasp when he said that Income Tax would be 7/6 in the £. The crowded House was dumbfounded, yet took it good-naturedly enough. Simon went on, and with many a deft blow practically demolished the edifice of capitalism. One felt like an Aunt Sally under his attacks (the poor old Guinness trustee, Mr Bland, could stand it no more, and I saw him leave the gallery) blow after blow; increased surtax; lower allowances; raised duties on wine, cigarettes and sugar; substantially increased death duties. It is all so bad that one can only make the best of it, and re-organise one's life accordingly.

(12) Henry 'Chips' Channon, diary entry (5th June, 1945)

The PM delivered a Broadside against the Socialists over the wireless last night: it was heavy pounding, certainly; and today the Labour boys seem very depressed and dejected by Winston's trouncing. I met Attlee in the lavatory, and he seemed shrunken and terrified, and scarcely smiled, though Bevin seemed gay and robust enough. I personally feel that the prevalent Conservative optimism in the Commons is overdone: everyone today was chattering of another 1931 or at least another 1924. Everyone is cock-a-hoop.

(13) Henry 'Chips' Channon, diary entry (1st August, 1945)

I went to Westminster to see the new Parliament assemble, and never have I seen such a dreary lot of people. I took my place on the Opposition side, the Chamber was packed and uncomfortable, and there was an atmosphere of tenseness and even bitterness. Winston staged his entry well, and was given the most rousing cheer of his career, and the Conservatives sang 'For He's a Jolly Good Fellow'. Perhaps this was an error in taste, though the Socialists went one further, and burst into the 'Red Flag' singing it lustily; I thought that Herbert Morrison and one or two others looked uncomfortable. We then proceeded to elect Mr Speaker, and Clifton-Brown made an excellent impression. It is a good sign that the Labour Party have decided to elect a Conservative Speaker unanimously.

(14) Henry 'Chips' Channon, diary entry (15th February, 1951)

Aneurin Bevan wound up brilliantly and, for once, without malice or even fireworks. We were told not to barrack or interrupt him; those were the orders from on high, since 'Nye' thrives on interjections. He was quick to detect our tactics, and so modified his manner and tone, which made him more effective.