Unobtrusively edited by Thorpe, the diaries reveal Rose warts and all. Ridiculously snobbish, yes, but a courtier who revelled in gossip, which is the lifeblood of biography, and a man who could never resist a good story. His journals are stuffed with juicy plums, and they will become an indispensable source.
As he got older and his health declined, Rose became querulous and many old friends found him impossible to deal with. Almost none of this asperity reaches these pages. I’m not sure whether Kenneth himself edited the writing in the journals or the editor of this volume, Richard Thorpe – who clearly has a fondness for his subject – has done the job for him. Either way, this is how Kenneth wished to be remembered by the world: as a suave, amusing columnist and gifted historian who walked with the great.
Rose’s entries occasionally burst into magnificent life, but overall they seem rather flat — what interested him and his circle no longer seems very important. And if you think I’m being unkind, this is mild compared with Rose’s criticisms of rival diarists. Alan Clark is dismissed as “trivial, self-serving and dirty minded”. The work of Duff Cooper is written off as “disappointing”.
This volume, even more than the first, is a glorious, multicolour gallery of snapshots of high society. Dip into it and you will find something fun, such as the story about Frank Longford, the anti-pornography campaigner, walking through Soho with a friend and declaring: “This place used to be a vulgar spot with a brothel and a sex shop. And now look: it’s a nice healthy massage establishment.” Or the revelation that when Laurence Olivier entered the House of Lords the perfectionist old ham insisted on having three dress rehearsals.