We arrived in this city last week after dark … but I am getting ahead of myself.
Sticky wicket in Yorkshire
It is about three months or so since I last blogged. Where has the time gone ? I started to write something about racism and Yorkshire cricket a few weeks ago when Roger Hutton resigned. In the face of accusations of institutional racism. [I assume that Roger Hutton is no relation to Sir Len Hutton, outstanding opening batsman for Yorkshire and England, and captain of the England XI that regained the Ashes in the summer of 1953. One of my childhood heroes, if less charismatic than his contemporary Denis Compton. I have both their autographs in my prized autograph album upstairs.]
Since then the story has gone viral. Michael Vaughan, has been stood down by the BBC from commenting on the about-to-begin Ashes series in Australia. And a hitherto unknown Tory peer, who made her fortune in ladies underwear, is facing similar accusations. Attempts to hold institutions, or individuals, to account for historical racism are fraught with problems. But the press are generally happy to make a presumption of guilt.
One of the interesting [to me] by-products of the racism debate took us to Twickenham. Where supporters of the England rugby team, who are often portrayed as middle-class‘Hooray Henries’ have been happily singing Swing low, sweet chariot for several decades. This Afro-American spiritual was thought to be first sung when the black winger Chris Oti got a hat-trick of tries against Ireland in 1988. But it is now clear that the song was sung the previous year as a tribute to another black winger, Martin ‘Chariots’ Offiah. In the light of the Black Lives Matter movement that followed the death of George Floyd, the Rugby Football Union has said that is working “to create awareness”. Which sounds a suitably bland cliche.
Business as usual in the Commons
At one point I also thought of writing something about Owen Paterson. Paterson [b. 1956] was a middle-ranking Conservative Party politician; educated at Radley College [after Ted Dexter] and at Cambridge, who worked for some years in the leather industry. He entered the House of Commons in 1997, and was Secretary of Sate for the Environment 2012-2014. [He was succeeded in the post by the upwardly mobile Liz Truss.] Paterson was the first cabinet minister to oppose the Same Sex Marriage bill, has a long track record as a climate change sceptic, and was an active Brexiteer, who was co-founder of the pressure group Conservatives for Britain.
After lengthy investigations, encouraged by The Guardian, Paterson was found guilty of an egregious breach of parliamentary rules by lobbying on behalf of companies that were paying him more than £100, 000 a year. Blustering Boris’s first reaction was to whip Tory MPs in support of Peterson and to attempt to dismantle the system by which MPs’ behaviour is regulated. while a cross-party committee examined the Commons’ standards system with a view to establishing some kind of appeals process. Instead the Paterson case would be investigated by a committee chaired by John Whittingdale, a former Tory Culture Minister. [A man who was investigated by a former parliamentary Commissioner for Standards over a trip to Amsterdam in 2013, with his then girlfriend, a dominatrix sex worker.] Keir Starmer called Boris’s behaviour deeply corrupt. Even the Daily Mail called the PM’s behaviour shameless. When even Boris realised that this behaviour was unacceptable, Peterson was dropped quietly overboard. And there are rumours that the Lib Dems have a chance of winning the Shropshire seat at the imminent by-election.
Diaries and Diarists
I guess I’m a sucker for diaries. Other people’s, not my own. I certainly keep a diary, of a kind, and I have diaries dating back to 1987 on the shelf here as well as a couple of schoolboy diaries from the 1950s. But they have rarely been more than appointment books, meetings with people some of whom I don’t now remember. Together with as often as not the Sunday lectionary readings or outline sermon texts. And perhaps a weekly job list with the items crossed neatly through. Which is exactly what my father used to do. He invariably bought a new leather-bound pocket diary in January, and careful transcribed his list of jobs from the previous year. I’m not sure where his diaries are now, so I don’t know whether some jobs simply carried over from year to year.
I read somewhere a few weeks ago that the three great [English] diarists of the twentieth century were Henry ‘Chips’ Channon, Harold Nicholson, and James Lees-Milne. Channon was an Anglo-American, born in Chicago in 1897. After the First War he spent two years at Christ Church, Oxford, where he acquired the nickname ‘Chips’ and struck up a close and lasting friendship with Prince Paul of Yugoslavia. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography says of him, “adoring London society, privilege, rank, and wealth, he became an energetic, implacable, but endearing social climber.” In 1933, Channon married the brewing heiress Lady Honor Guinness and, after becoming a British citizen in 1935, he became a Tory MP, inheriting the Southend constituency from his mother-in-law, Gwendolen Guinness, Countess of Iveagh. He and his wife were great society hosts and social climbers. In November 1936 his diary records a dinner party at which they entertained Edward VIII, Price Paul of Yugoslavia, the Regent of Greece and his wife, the Duke of Kent and his wife Princess Marina, of whom Channon was a friend and an admirer.
Robert Rhodes James, who edited an expurgated edition of the diaries in 1967, quotes Channon’s self-portrait, written in 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.” Reviewing the diaries in The Observer in 1967, 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! “
My edition of Chips: The Diaries of Sir Henry Channon is a Penguin paperback, published in 1970, which runs to 500-plus pages. I’ve not looked at it for twenty years. But we are now promised a three volume edition, edited by Simon Heffer, of which the first volume was published earlier this year. The unexpurgated edition reveals that Channon was a promiscuous homosexual whose lengthy affair with the garden designer Peter Coats led to the break-up of his marriage. The exact nature of his friendship with others such as Terence Rattigan and with the Duke of Kent is not clear.
I did look again at James Lees-Milne’s diaries early in the autumn. An incorrigible, self-obsessed, bi-sexual Old Etonian, and a pioneer of the early days of the National Trust, he ended his life living in the strange coterie at Badminton that clustered around the Duke of Beaufort and family. Strangely, I think I may have his autograph too. But more of that another time …