The House Party is rife with shareable anecdotes about an era too often revived by BBC period dramas, but does not gloss over the crueller facets of the age: a generation haunted by war, locked into advantageous but unhappy marriages and suffocated by propriety. Tinniswood has served up a rich eulogy of “the days that are fled” as the aristocratic class failed both to acknowledge and adapt to a rapidly changing world. It makes a perfect host’s gift.
There’s a memorable vignette of after-dinner tedium for women, from Beverley Nichols’s diary of a 1930s weekend at Polesden Lacey. “When Winston Churchill was at a dinner table with a good cigar in one hand and a better Armagnac in the other, the chances were that they would be left without cavaliers until nearly bedtime, and would have to spend the rest of the evening hissing at each other over acres of Aubusson.” It was fascinating to discover that the German ambassador Joachim von Ribbentrop was nicknamed “the Londonderry Herr” because he was a frequent guest of the Londonderrys at Mount Stewart in the 1930s.
"Croquet. Parlour games. Cocktails. Welcome to a glorious journey through the golden age of the country house party-and you are invited." Tinniswood traces the evolution of this quintessentially British pastime from debauched royal tours to the flamboyant excesses of the Bright Young Things.