Seventy years ago, social and political life were bound together in a way difficult to envisage now. The Season – those few summer weeks of hectic and formalised gaiety involving all those ‘in society’ – brought together not only influential people in that society but also those in the higher reaches of Government. The Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, chaperoned his debutante niece to weekend parties at Cliveden, where the gust list often read like an unofficial ambassadorial get-together, Cabinet Ministers encountered diplomats, newspaper proprietors or the heads of the armed services at the balls of the great hostesses.
The intimate picture of the day-to-day events in this doomed world painted here draws on the writings and recollections of those who were there and provides an unsurpassed characterisation of England in 1939 – the conventions of fashion and behaviour, the position of women, the fetishes, beliefs and taboos of the day.
As the hot summer drew on, the newspapers were filled with ever more ominous reports of the progress towards war; the telegraph wires buzzed with frantic diplomatic and political activity, mothers were issued with gas masks for their babies and barrage balloons, slit trenches and gun emplacements dotted every large city. There was nothing to do but wait – and dance. The last season of peace was nearly over.