I could never have imagined a future in which I would have to give account for the heartfelt amity Malcolm Muggeridge bestowed upon me. Recent ill-intended assertions, however, compel me to add a further chapter to this website.
Exhibiting great pains to affirm their scrupulous regard for historical accuracy, individuals who claim to defend Chanel are frantically scrambling together information designed to undermine my good-standing. And, despairingly empty-handed, they are directing their hostility against the Société Baudelaire which I preside.
These detractors, in reality, have little concern for the authenticity of Muggeridge’s 1944 interview with Chanel. Their true target, in point of fact, is my undeniable involvement in that document’s publication – a sufficient motive for their seeking to discredit the interview.
Counselled by Gabrielle Palasse-Labrunie, Coco Chanel’s great-niece, who prefaced my work on Chanel’s war years, I decided to defer its publication in the hope of warding off the spiteful manoeuvrings of those denigrators. Sadly, events prove that even with the passing of years, Chanel’s war endeavours cannot be discussed in the dispassionate atmosphere so earnestly sought after by Gabrielle Palasse-Labrunie and me.
Since her death in 2014, she has even been credited with opprobrious remarks against me, in defiance of the fact that she had always shown moderation in her address, and reposed absolute trust in me, a trust that nothing and no-one, not even those purported defenders of Chanel, could ever impugn.
The passing of my sole protectress has in no way deflected the covert designs of an adversary fearful of the revelations conveyed in my book, of which to this day the publication has repeatedly been postponed. In the latest attempt to discredit my scholarship, we learn that no record of the 1944 interview has been catalogued by Muggeridge’s archivists. That is quite correct, and I give the reasons therefor in a historical outline to be published in my book, along with the annotated interview.
My publication of the outline on this website, alongside some letters from Malcolm Muggeridge in proof of our friendship, does not seek to justify me – I have nothing but contempt for those whose elaborate efforts seek merely to defame me. Far rather, I well imagine the pangs Malcolm would have felt at my being forced in the present circumstances to reveal private information relating to an episode of his life so hurtful that he had wiped all trace of it from his memoirs.
Until 1988, there were two transcripts of the interview. In 1976, I had discovered by chance in Malcolm Muggeridge’s archives the prime source for the 1944 interview. According to Muggeridge, this transcript reproduced the interview faithfully and in full. It had been taken down in shorthand by a lady photographer friend of Chanel’s. This guest’s language skills also served to translate Chanel’s discourse when, at times, the intrusion of French idioms rendered her English hard to follow.In 1988, to my consternation, Muggeridge himself had destroyed that significant document, along with other items relating to his affair with the photographer. Thereafter, what survived of that interview was an abridgement that he had made as I looked on, in 1982. While following the original document, it omitted all Chanel’s references to the affair, which, in Muggeridge’s words, were “unseemly”, “insensitive” and even “humiliating”. This transcript was typed by Muggeridge on yellow draft paper, and bears his corrections of typing errors handwritten in felt pen. Apart from the excised passages, of no relevance to Chanel’s war, that document is an authentic record of the 1944 interview.
This transcript was sent to Jacques Soustelle, under cover of a letter dated 28 August 1982, in which Muggeridge clearly expressed his wish to donate the interview transcript to the Limouse Flowers of Evil Museum at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, of which he became president in April 1984. It was this interview which informed his play Liberation. The interview, typed at Soustelle’s secretariat, was available for consultation at the Museum, but fell under the dead hand of censorship by those who feared embarrassment from further revelations. Finding my way barred by this deliberate obstruction, especially after the release and international promotion of Vaughan’s book in 2011-2012, I thereupon decided to place the interview in the hands of Gabrielle Palasse-Labrunie. On her advice, I translated it into French and published it on the Internet.
Among the reactions it elicited I can cite the words I received in December 2011 from Ian Hunter, Emeritus Professor of Law at the University of Western Ontario, and Muggeridge’s official biographer: “I read the transcript of the Chanel interview with great interest. CC [sic] more than held her own with MM [Malcolm Muggeridge] which, as you know, was not easy. I agree with you that many themes in Liberation are foreshadowed in the interview… It is interesting, in retrospect, how guarded MM was about revealing his wartime experiences. When he wrote Chronicles [of Wasted Time], he decided (quite deliberately, I think) to consider the war as fit only for satire. So, he takes a world-weary, sometimes condescending, attitude toward the war and his (actually, rather important) role in it; I thought the interview shed light on how seriously he took things at the time”.
Further comments were voiced in Jean Lebrun’s Notre Chanel (published by Bleu autour, winner of the 2014 Goncourt award for biography). Lebrun is a historian and produces the radio programme “La marche de l’histoire” broadcast on France Inter. The interview conducted by Muggeridge led the historian to the conclusion that “Here, without doubt, we are as close as can be to the ultimate truth concerning Chanel”.
One account of Chanel’s life which is steeped in the thinking of her time is the carefully-researched work by Professor Rhonda K. Garelick, Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History, New York, Random House, 2014. This publication, some 600 pages in length, does not confine itself to authenticating the 1944 interview, but goes on to comment on certain fragments of it, one of which is corroborated by a remark confided by Chanel to her great-niece.
A hallmarking comment by Gabrielle Palasse-Labrunie, published on www.chanel-muggeridge.com, closes this first historical note retracing the history of the September 1944 interview. Her preface to the website, dated July 2012, ends with these lines: “Movingly vivid to me, some forty years after Coco Chanel’s death, is the sound of her voice transpiring from the words of that interview”.