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Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Leading the high-life

Saturday, September 18th., Cherkley Court, Leatherhead.

The house was built in 1866-70 for wool manufacturer Abraham Dixon (1820–1900) and re-built for him in 1893 after a fire, being lived in by his wife until her death in 1909. Cherkley Court was acquired in 1910 by Lord Beaverbrook, politician and owner of the Express Newspapers group, with him living there for the next 50 years. During Beaverbrook's time, the house attracted many famous weekend guests including Winston Churchill, Andrew Bonar Law, Rebecca West, H.G. WellsArnold BennettHarold Macmillan and Rudyard Kipling. Beaverbrook passed the house on to his son Max some years before his death in 1964. After the death of Beaverbrook's second wife in 1994, the house became the property of the Beaverbrook Foundation, a charitable foundation set up by Lord Beaverbrook.

Cherkley Court, the country house of Lord Beaverbrook

I left for Cherkley at 2.45 in a car, and after various stoppages en route by thickness of traffic, and losing our way several times after passing Leatherhead - I arrived at 4.15. At first I found only Jean Norton, on the verandah. 

Beaverbrook's personal magnetism had an enormous effect on women, including the writer Rebecca West, who became infatuated with him, and the Honourable Mrs Jean Norton, a society beauty and close friend of Lord Mountbatten, who became Beaverbrook's mistress. 

Then Max appeared. Only the three of us to dinner. I indulged in champagne and peaches and dozed during a film which Max inflicted on us. 

Beaverbrook was a fan of Westerns and Marx Brothers films, which he would play in his private Art Deco styled cinema. The walls of the cinema were lined with original copies of political cartoons. One cartoon, by Giles, features Beaverbrook himself being led to The Tower by six yeomen. However, guests invited to a screening rarely got to watch the film because Beaverbrook was notorious for talking all the way through.

This film, entitled "The City of Sin" is certainly the worst film, from point of view of intelligence, that I ever saw. But it is worth seeing because of its deliberate exploitation of public ingenuous religious feeling and its own staggering ingenuousness. We saw only parts 1, 2, 3 and 6. But I wish we had seen it all. It had to be seen to be believed. After this I felt much better and quite wakeful. A lot of newspaper talk, especially about journalists. I was undecided whether to go to bed or to wait up for Noel Coward, who was due to arrive (fast car) at 12.15. Time passed. I didn't go to bed. Coward arrived just after 12.30 quite fresh. At 12.50 I said: "Well, having glimpsed him, I'm going to bed." But we all went to bed at the same time. 2 a.m. This is twice this week that late bed has happened to me. I was vexed with myself. But I argued: Why not break out sometimes and suffer a little! As a fact, I had quite a good night.

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