JOHN MURRAY £25/£22.50 (P&P FREE) 08700 798 897

The Milk of Paradise: Diaries 1993-1997, by James Lees-Milne

Aristos through a sawn-off telescope

Yes, Eton has a lot to answer for. Both good and maybe bad. Good in that James Lees-Milne became a great and candid diarist handing us his inside knowledge of staying in the noble houses as if we are there with him. Here he is at Chatsworth. "Lay on my bed in the Centre Dressing Room, not even reading but listening to Pizetti's seductive incidental music to d'Annunzio, and admiring the curtains of rich, pea-green moiré silk, fringed with appliqué galloon three inches broad..." Okay, enough of this artistic masturbation, where is Andrew? Breakfast the following day: "Knock half-full glass of orange juice over Andrew's place. Mop up with napkin and bolt to the drawing-room. Read at window. Andrew passes through at 10 and out again at 10.45 without recognising me ... Andrew weighed down by newspapers of which he reads every line through his sawn-off telescope. I give him as wide a berth as possible, knowing his disinclination for early morning chat."

There are times, though, when he feels Chatsworth is "just too grand for me. I cannot live up to it. I am inadequate, not withstanding the ineffable kindness I receive." Yet Andrew and Debo both clearly adore "Jim", the Duke sending his Bentley embossed with ducal insignia to fetch him from his Badminton home and drop him back there. He has known Debo and her Mitford sisters - Diana, Nancy and Pamela - since he made friends with their brother Tom at, of course... Eton. They are a part of him and he is quick to tell you when someone is not.

His class/behaviour detector lets off a terrible sound on his one encounter with Ted Heath. He observes Heath stuffing two sacks full of CDs formerly belonging to the late music critic Desmond Shaw-Taylor, when Shaw-Taylor had bequeathed him the choice of "a few". Lees-Milne remarks of this former prime minister: "Appearance suggests a beer barrel aboard deck poised on two inadequate supports... Is utterly without charm or grace. Shakes hands perfunctorily. No word of greeting... A man of no breeding, spoilt by circumstances and arrogant."

Lees-Milne was to die at the close of 1997, some months into his 90th year. The diaries brought him fame in a way he never expected. At the same time he has been dubbed a snob in that the ground he covers over and again is of a set of friends immensely privileged and not available to many. Is this the downside of an Eton education in his time that those of yeoman stock like Lees-Milne were driven to seek refuge from their humble origins in the arms of the socially mighty?

Yet it takes a man of different class credentials to observe in detail the ways of aristocracy, just as only Proust could tether the absurdities of the French noblesse. And neither is over-awed by what they find. Lees-Milne: "I have come to the conclusion that the aristocracy have always been shits, and that in my youth I was too beguiled by them." But it is only lessened here by his conviction, possibly over-egged, that "the decent and educated ones attain a standard of well-being and good-doing which has never been transcended by any other class in the world."

Considering the years that are on him - "the weight of my rolled umbrella and overcoat almost too much for my feeble shoulders and stick-like arms" - his mental camera is still astoundingly focused. He can look at a recently unearthed Caravaggio of Christ and note: "his hands tormented and so far away from his body that at first I thought they must belong to somebody else". And of himself: "There is an evil in old men's faces. I catch a glimpse of my own in shop windows when not expecting to, and take a step backwards in horror and fear."

You want to be irritated by his diaries and the annoyance is that you aren't. And it is his appealingly genuine tone of self-deprecation at what he has done that makes so many of his entries endearing. "I am no more than the Godfrey Winn de nos jours," he writes of the diary. And, yes, knowing him as I did, I think he really means it.

The footnotes to this present volume are as informative and anecdotal as previously under the editing by Michael Bloch. But flattered as I am to find myself footnoted as "an Old Etonian writer" I must make clear that I was at Stowe, not Eton. That privilege belongs to Mr Lees-Milne.

Arts and Entertainment
At this year's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas

Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
Crime watch: Cara Delevingne and Daniel Brühl in ‘The Face of an Angel’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
music Malik left the Asian leg of the band's world tour after being signed off with stress last week
News
Author J.K. Rowling attends photocall ahead of her reading from 'The Casual Vacancy' at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on September 27, 2012 in London, England.
peopleNot the first time the author has defended Dumbledore's sexuality
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
photography
News
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
people
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss