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The Vintage Guide To London | November 21, 2017

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Famous Londoners: Diana Mitford - Rebel with a cause

Rebecca McWattie continues her series on Diana Mitford, the third of the notorious Mitford Sisters, and details her rise to one of Britain’s most well known fascists.

In 1932 Diana was still at the height of her beauty and her life with Bryan Guinness and their two children at Cheyne Walk was doubtlessly the envy of many. Then, one evening, she was seated next to the dashing Oswald Mosley at a dinner party, back then an up-and-coming young politician with dynamic views which could improve the country, some even tipped him as a future Prime Minister. Mosley was a different animal from Bryan altogether, physically and intellectually – athletic, confident and quick-witted.

Despite later declaring she was less than impressed, during this first meeting Mosley’s energy provoked Diana, throwing her into an immediate and deep frenzy of passionate love such as she had never experienced or would ever again. Mosley, a notorious womanizer with a habit of choosing married society women, meant the odds of this being anything other than another fling were not in Diana’s favour. His moral deviants included having an affair with his wife’s sister.

Soon Mosley and Diana secretly arranged to meet at parties and his inappropriately named ‘bachelor flat’ 22a Ebury Street, which had already seen a steady stream of women pass through it, not to mention the galleried bedroom with a very large double bed. Despite this, and to the distress of both their spouses, Diana and Mosley made no attempt at discretion in public. At parties they would disappear together for hours, or dance with each other all night.

It was as a guest at Diana’s 22nd birthday party that Mosley declared his love for her, making it quite clear however, that he would never leave his wife Cimmie and the children. This did not alter Diana’s resolve to divorce Bryan and throw in her lot with Mosley against the advice of her friends and family. She later said “advice is given by the unworldly…worldly people know from experience that it is never taken.”

Mosley, on a visit to the Italian Fascist Leader Mussolini in Rome, suddenly saw Fascism as the way to express his political beliefs. He returned home invigorated and founded his own Fascist party in October 1932 – The British Union of Fascists, later known as the BUF. Membership quickly rose with Mosley’s impassioned speeches declaring his mission to end unemployment and poverty. Cimmie worked on ideas for a Fascist flag and anthem and helped to design the notorious black shirt.

The first public meetings were low key, but soon after the famous black shirt uniform was imposed on all members, the meetings grew more and more violent. Hecklers would be forcibly removed by black shirted stewards with truncheons. The BUF rallies would often end in chairs, broken milk bottles and potatoes studded with razor blades being thrown.

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