Did I tell you that Henry Poole has acquired a new suite of rooms behind No 15 Savile Row to convert into a fit-for-purpose archive room? We’ve been slowly but surely re-binding the 120 plus customer ledgers dating from 1846 and I’ve been writing brief lives of the great, good and downright scandalous Hall of Fame customers including the forty Kings, Emperors, Crown Princes, Grand Dukes and Shahs who gave Poole’s their Royal Warrant.
It has been rather a dream to have a dedicated archive room. Lest we forget, Poole’s is a business not a museum so finding a permanent home for the historic collection of papers and garments has been a bone of contention. At times I felt we were moving important pieces of the firm’s past from one dusty vault to another. Hopefully now the Turnbull & Asser book is all over bar the shouting, I can set to work on the Henry Poole Archive Room at the beginning of October. We should be ready to repel all boarders in time for London Collections: Men in January.
One of the deeply satisfying elements of my work with Poole’s is being given the opportunity to research periods in history that aren’t what you’d call my natural habitat apropos generals (the 1st Marquess of Anglesey), financiers (John Jacob Astor), cowboys (Buffalo Bill) and politicians (Prime Minister Disraeli).
Of course fine tailoring has always attracted flamboyant characters well within my radar such as Prince Felix Youssoupoff, Count Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Sir Henry Irving and Crown Prince Rudolph of Austria. It is also rather nice to have the opportunity to explore characters such as Sir Henry ‘Chips’ Channon, who have had walk-on parts in many of my books, in greater detail.
Chips Channon was a Chicago-born Anglophile who came-up from Christ Church, Oxford, in 1921 and became rather a social sensation in London where he shared a flat in Westminster with his friend Prince Paul of Yugoslavia. Chips was independently wealthy so didn’t need to work. He was also bisexual so was compelled to marry as he did in 1935 to Lord and Lady Iveagh’s daughter Lady Honor.
The Channons set-up home at No 5 Belgrave Square next door to the Duke and Duchess of Kent (King George Vs fourth son and his Greek bride Princess Marina). He installed a rococo fairytale dining room in Belgrave Square, decorated in blue and silver, in homage to a hunting pavilion in the grounds of the Nymphenburg Palace in Munich.
The Prince of Wales came into Channon’s orbit with an introduction from his brother Prince George of Kent. Belgrave Square became a discreet hideaway for the heir to the throne and his mistress the twice-married American Wallis Simpson. They made for rather a rackety set with rumours circulating that Chips had liaisons with George Kent and playwright Terence Rattigan.
When the prince became King Edward VIII in 1936, Chips Channon was poised to become a leading light in the new court. Perhaps he had hopes of an appointment to the Royal Household. As we all know, within the year the king abdicated and his social set were ostracised. The fact that, like King Edward VIII, Chips was pro-Nazi appeasement made him even more of a pariah when war was declared.
Chips Channon could have been a mere footnote in history was it not for the daily diaries he kept from 1918 until his death in 1958. Chips was a caustic, nay forensic, observer of high society in London. Channon placed an embargo on his diaries until fifty years after his death but an edited volume was released in 1967 that proved he had a tongue with a tang.
Though Channon was catty, he redeemed himself by turning his critical antennae on his own complicated character. The following is Chips Channon’s verdict on himself and it resonates down the decades with me.
‘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’.
Describing himself as ‘riveted by lust’ is example enough of Channon’s honeyed way with words. Roll on 2018 I say when the diary embargo is lifted and we get to read Chips Channon’s unexpurgated acid drops. Now as you know I’ve had a couple of cracks at sketching-out the first chapters of several novels. One was a very thinly veiled homage to E. F. Benson’s Mapp & Lucia novels. Worse, another was semi-autobiographical. I was going to call it My Life is Based on a True Story.
I won’t rule out another attempt to commit novels but do think my talents might lie in being a diarist in the spirit of Chips Channon. I can’t touch my heroes E. M. Forster, E. F. Benson, Nancy Mitford, Evelyn Waugh and Noël Coward. But I do think I write a mean letter. Until next time…