Dinner at The Dorchester

Emerald, Lady Cunard by Cecil Beaton.

James (Jim) Lees-Milne has plenty to say in his diaries about people he meets in the course of his work for the National Trust – often not nice things. Others are charitable about him.

Harold Nicolson in a letter to his wife, Vita Sackville-West,  writes “Jim is such a charming person. He has a passion for poetry and knows masses about it. I like my friends to be well-read and well-bred. Jim is such an aristocrat in mind and culture. You would like him enormously.”

It is interesting to compare two accounts of the same evening. It is late May 1943 and J L-M goes in first:

I got back only just in time to dine with Emerald Cunard. Even so I was still wearing my brown country suit. James took me to task about it next morning. Dinner was at 8.30 … there were Field-Marshal Wavell, Sir D’Arcy Osborne, our Minister at the Vatican, a nineteen-year-old Paget girl, Bridget Parsons, Chips Channon, Jamesy and myself. I sat next to Jamesy and Chips, who is bear-leading Wavell, and indeed treating him as a considerate owner would a performing bear before an audience, sitting in the background with a proud expression on his face … Wavell was coaxed by Chips into reciting Browning and Ernest Dowson, which he did in a muffled, inarticulate voice, incredibly badly.

So what was Chips Channon’s take on the evening?

As soon as we got back to London the FM changed from his blue flannel suiting back into uniform and we drove to the Dorchester to dine with Lady Cunard. I had proposed ourselves, and was rather apprehensive lest her party would be more than usually ill-chosen, and it was a scrap Sunday collection of boys and girls. Bridget Parsons, Enid Paget, Jim Lees-Milne, James Pope-Hennessy. However, Wavell was in high spirits, and as he was treated like royalty, soon dominated the dinner and made it hilarious … before long Wavell was quoting from Keats and Kipling.

I don’t believe either diarist to be wholly candid but my guess is that J L-M is slightly more reliable than the boastful Chips. On the same page the latter says of a lunch party at Kemsley House; “a brilliant party, I must admit, though I arranged it myself”.

Meanwhile I’m on series five of The Avengers. It’s now in “color” with a bigger budget. Charlotte Rampling and Donald Sutherland supported Diana Rigg and Patrick Macnee in one episode.