Few men can lay claim to have known as many of the great and the good as Kenneth Rose. From the Fifties, he befriended the Royal Family, their courtiers, prime ministers and aristocrats.
With acute observation and a keen ear for a funny anecdote, he made his name as a diarist for the Daily Telegraph before moving to its Sunday stablemate, for which he wrote the Albany column for 36 years. His best stories, however, were reserved for his private journals — about to be published for the first time. Here, he writes about encounters with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, exiled in Paris . . .
November 26, 1969
Am invited to a large dinner party in the rue de Lota in Paris to meet the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.
I notice that most of the guests greet the Duchess as if she were Royal. After dinner, she sits in the main drawing room talking mostly to other women.
The Duke, however, sits on a sofa in an alcove, and people are brought up to talk to him in the Royal fashion. When my turn comes, he keeps me talking for the rest of the evening.
The first thing that strikes one is how tiny and shrunken he is. Standing, he leans heavily forward on a stick. But his head remains very handsome, in spite of a long upper lip, and he is dressed in an almost dandified fashion: his dinner jacket has vents at the back and he sports a red carnation.
Exiled: The Duke and Duchess of Windsor in 1941
Throughout our talk, he drinks quite a lot of whisky, rather fussily demanding of the butler that it should be mixed exactly as he likes it. He also smokes, or rather plays with, a large cigar. Apparently, the sight of one eye has gone, as he seems to have difficulty in applying a match to the tip whenever it goes out.
He has a somewhat staccato voice, with a slight Canadian accent. ‘Oh, yerse, oh yerse,’ he keeps saying.
But what he really enjoys talking in is German. He is very proud of speaking it so fluently, and keeps interjecting, ‘Jawohl, jawohl’ in the course of our conversation.
I gently lead him on to the subject of the Abdication, and he readily responds. On the refusal of the Government to make the Duchess of Windsor Her Royal Highness, the Duke says: ‘I served my country well for 17 years and all I got in return was a kick in the ass.’
I mention that I am seeing [former leader of the British Union of Fascists] Sir Oswald Mosley tomorrow. He tells me that they are friends and dine with each other.
‘He should have been Prime Minister, but it all went sour on him.’
The Duke tells me he is selling his house in the country because he can no longer garden in comfort. Not expecting to be taken seriously, he adds: ‘And another reason is that I am broke.’
At this point the Duchess bustles up, looking quite remarkable for her  years. She is smaller than I should have expected, but very trimmed and plucked and pressed, more like a woman of 40.
She is dressed simply in pale blue, with a huge sapphire round her neck. She has a harsh voice, but great vivacity and friendliness.
She says to the Duke in slightly bullying tones: ‘We must go, everyone is longing for you to go.’
A few more pleasantries, and they depart very regally, with much bowing and scraping all the way to the door.
Thirty-three years after his Abdication, he is still very much a King in manner, and nobody takes the slightest liberty with him.
November 27, 1969
At three o’clock, I call on Sir Oswald Mosley at No. 5, rue Villedo. It is a modest but charming little apartment in a small side street full of shops.
He himself comes to the door, a tall well-preserved man dressed very formally in a black suit and tie. The two outstanding features of his appearance are rather staring eyes and teeth which slope slightly outwards, both top and bottom. To avoid English taxation, he cannot spend more than three months in the year in England.
He believes that one day there will be a European Union and that when it comes, he may find a useful role in it. I mention that the Duke of Windsor spoke to me last night about their friendship and said that Mosley ought to have been Prime Minister.
Mosley replies: ‘Yes, I used to see a lot of him as a young man when we both hunted. But, of course, I could no longer see him for political reasons once he had become King. Now we visit each other fairly often.’ He adds: ‘One of the reasons that I failed in politics was that I could not resist being rude to people, and naturally they resented it. That is one of the most serious mistakes I have ever made.’
How Queen Mary’s ‘thievery’ was foiled
[Baron Altrincham, historian] John Grigg tells me that when Queen Mary was at Badminton during the war, she came over to see [his mother-in-law] old Lady Islington at her house.
As was usual on such visits, the Queen admired several objects which she wanted to be given as presents, including a large vase. But Lady Islington remained silent.
Queen Mary, determined to secure at least one trophy, poured praise on a little table. Silence. So she had to continue her tour of the house without it. But at the front door, as she was about to get in her car, Queen Mary turned to Lady Islington and said: ‘I really must go back and say goodbye to that charming little table.’
So Lady Islington led her back and Queen Mary said goodbye to it. Still Lady Islington refused to make a gesture of giving her it, and Queen Mary departed in rather a huff. It must be the first time she had ever been outwitted in that way.
January 14, 1970
Lunch with [Baron] Charles Tryon. When he was appointed Keeper of the Privy Purse, he was warned that the Duke of Windsor would keep coming to him in order to screw more money out of the Royal Family — but that he was to harden his heart.
January 29, 1972
Lunch with [ambassador] Christopher and Mary Soames at the British Embassy in Paris.
Mary says that they are on very friendly terms with the Windsors and dine privately with each other about once a year. But they cannot really appear very much together in public, as Christopher, being the Queen’s representative, must always take precedence.
In the evening, I go on to dine with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor at their house in the Bois de Boulogne. I sign the visitors’ book, and am then shown into the drawing room.
It is like stepping into a fairyland of fantastic luxury. Almost everything seems to be made of gold or crystal. There are wonderful carpets, exquisite gilt furniture, little tables covered with thickets of jewelled bric-a-brac.
The only light comes from candles, which cast their golden haze from chandeliers and sconces. Two pictures dominate the room — one of the Duke in Garter Robes and another of Queen Mary.
I am quite staggered by the Duchess’s appearance — the very slender figure of a schoolgirl and beautifully arranged auburn hair.
She wears a very severe dark-blue dress with a bare back, two huge diamonds on her left breast. A third large diamond on one of her fingers that perhaps is a mistake, as it draws attention to her large hands. The Duke roars at me in his very strong American accent: ‘Why, Mr Albany himself [Albany was the name of Rose’s Sunday Telegraph column].’ He then personally takes me round, introducing me to the other guests.
He takes me across to a large silver-framed photograph of the Emperor Hirohito, given to him the other day. The Duke says: ‘He came to see me. But he didn’t seem all there.’
We move off to dine next door. The room is again lit entirely by candles. There are two tables of eight or ten each, covered with gilt and silver objects, painted porcelain candlesticks, delightful flowers and porcelain-handled cutlery that is rather heavy and difficult to manage.
Endless butlers and footmen, all in white ties. Throughout the meal, the Duchess catches their eye so that they may receive swiftly whispered instructions, perhaps even rebukes.
How Dickie won Prince Philip a promotion
February 19, 1960
The decision of the Queen that certain of her family shall in future bear the name of Mountbatten-Windsor has been received without enthusiasm.
It recalls the remark of Winston’s father, Lord R andolph Churchill, about [Baron and Tory politician] Sclater-Booth: ‘How often do we find mediocrity dowered with a double-barrelled name.’
I suppose we must now refer to Brown Mountbatten- W indsor soup.
May 4, 1961
To the Ministry of Defence to see Lord Mountbatten. He says the Queen’s advisers didn’t want Prince Philip to be made an Admiral. The War Office wished him to be only a Major- General, and the Air Ministry only an Air Vice-Marshal.
So Mountbatten told Jim Cilcennin
[1st Lord of the A dmiralty] how the Admiralty had refused to make Prince Albert an Admiral.
Queen Victoria, to show her disapproval, then refused to allow the Prince of Wales to accept naval rank until his accession.
Both Mountbatten and Jim were determined that this sort of situation should not happen again.
[Prince Philip became an Admiral.]
March 7, 1972
Delightful evening talking to Denis Healey and his wife, Edna.
During his years as Defence Secretary, Denis saw a great deal of Mountbatten.
Healey once had to give an enormous party, attended by 800 guests. Towards the end, Edna complained to Mountbatten that her arm ached after all the handshaking.
Mountbatten replied: ‘That is nothing. My great-aunt, the Empress of Russia, used to have a blister on the back of her hand each Easter where the peasants had kissed it.’
November 6, 1976
[Baron and scientist] Solly Zuckerman tells me the Queen Mother hates Mountbatten because he changed sides from the Duke of Windsor to King George VI too late for her to appreciate it, and he never exerted himself to get his friend Noel Coward made a knight.
November 26, 1976
Lunch with [the Queen’s private secretary] Martin Charteris at White’s [gentlemen’s club]. Dickie Mountbatten continues to buzz with self-importance.
‘I have about three letters a week from him,’ says Martin, ‘usually on some topic such as how his decorations are to be arranged on the third cushion at his funeral.’
November 26, 1977
Dickie Mountbatten has been trying to persuade the Duchess of Windsor to return certain objects, particularly jewels that the Duke had inherited.
But the Duchess has never forgiven
Dickie for supposedly deserting them both in favour of George VI, and he got nothing out of her.
The Duchess tells me a story of how her husband one day wanted to telephone the office of a new lawyer. He rang, and after inquiring who he was, the secretary said that her boss would ring back. But he did not do so, so the Duke tried again. Still the call was not returned. By now furious, the Duke made a third telephone call and absolutely insisted on talking to the lawyer.
The secretary replied: ‘Do you really think I am going to believe that you are the Duke of Windsor with such an American accent?’
After the meal is over, the Duke obediently hobbles after the Duchess on his stick, and we all follow. At once, a man sits down at the piano and begins playing Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and other antique melodies.
A little pug dog called Diamond comes and sits on my lap, then jumps onto a pretty little sofa until the Duchess shouts at it across the room to get down. By now, it is 12.15 and the party begins to break up. I notice that all the women say goodbye to the Duchess with a kiss and a curtsy.
February 24, 1972
Prince Eddie [now Duke of Kent] is interested to hear about my visit to the Windsors, but speaks bitterly of the Duke.
‘At the time of the Abdication, he treated even my father [Prince George, fourth son of King George V] badly — and he was his greatest friend.’
July 18, 1972
At 6pm to the Savoy for a drink with Noel Coward. Find him suffering from phlebitis and sitting rather mummified in an armchair wearing scarlet pyjamas.
He never cared for the Duke of Windsor [who had died on May 28th]. ‘When he was Prince of Wales, I had to play the piano for him for hours on end while he learned the ukulele: it was a rough time. And the next day he would cut me in Asprey’s.’
November 1, 1972
At the Ritz to lunch with Oswald Mosley in a private suite. He tells me two stories about the Windsors. Although he was a fairly close friend of the Duke in the Twenties, he naturally saw little of him during his own Fascist phase. But during the Duke’s brief reign, [socialite] Emerald Cunard asked him to come and meet the King, who was accompanied not only by Mrs Simpson [as the Duchess of Windsor was then known] but also by [her husband] Ernest Simpson. [They later divorced in 1937.]
The Duke, with his love of talking about the past, exchanged steeple-chasing memories with Mosley until there came a sharp rap on the table from Mrs Simpson: ‘Remember, sir,’ she said, ‘that Sir Oswald is a very serious person.’
The other story is of a dinner party given by the Windsors after the war. [Viscount and politician] Walter Monckton was also there, and the Duke turned to him and said: ‘Come on, Walter, admit that it was the Jews who brought us into the war.’
Monckton naturally refused to agree with the Duke, who then turned to Mosley and repeated the question.
Mosley says to me: ‘As I was interned for three and a half years for maintaining just that, I had had enough and declined to discuss the matter with the Duke.’
November 25, 1975
Prince Eddie tells me that the Duchess of Windsor is less dotty than many people think. ‘She hates England, and is determined that none of the Duke’s possessions — least of all David’s money — shall find a final home in England.’ I suppose one can hardly blame her.
May 12, 1976
The Duchess of Windsor, Martin Charteris tells me, is rather ill and could die at any moment. ‘I hope it will not be in Ascot week,’ he says.
July 7, 1976
[Former Daily Telegraph editor] Colin Coote tells me how he once met Oswald Mosley looking rather upset.
‘I have just had a row with Cimmie [his first wife], and I was so provoked that I told her the names of all the women I had slept with.’
‘What, all of them?’ Colin asked.
‘Well, all except her sister [Lady Alexandra] and her stepmother [Marchioness Curzon].’
September 21, 1976
To Kensington Palace to talk to Princess Alice [granddaughter of Queen Victoria] about King George V. [Rose was writing a biography of the Duke of Windsor’s father.] Now 93, she is beautifully dressed and immensely alert.
She says that when the King shouted at his sons, they did not know how to respond.
Sometimes she would daringly tell him that he was being too heavy-handed with them.
He replied: ‘You always take their part.’
She responded: ‘No, only when you are unfair to them.’
Princess Alice continues: ‘The boys never wanted to come and stay at Balmoral. Why should they? They would only find people like Canon Dalton [born in 1839].
‘If the King had asked a lot of nice young people, the Prince of Wales would never have gone off with Mrs Simpson.’
- Extracted from Who’s In, Who’s Out: The Journals Of Kenneth Rose Volume 1, 1944-1979, edited by D.R. Thorpe, published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson on November 1 at £30. Copyright © The Executors of the Estate of Kenneth Rose, Lord Waldegrave and Marie-Louise Spencer Hamilton 2018. Editorial matter © C. D. R. Thorpe. To buy this book for £24 (20pc off), call 0844 571 0640 or go to www.mailshop.co.uk/books. Offer valid until November 6, 2018, p&p is free on orders over £15. Spend £30 on books and get free premium delivery.
To be continued
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