Great Couples: Bryan Guinness, Diana Mitford, Bruno Hat & the Fascist
The 2nd Baron of Moyne and the heir to the Guinness family fortune and the Bright Young Things most eligible bachelor are just a few things to describe Bryan Guinness. He was also one of the Bright Young Things, top party planners. His “Bruno Hat" hoax show in 1929 was legendary. The art show was the mastermind of Guinness along with longtime friend Brian Howard. Howard fancied him an art career, so Guinness hosted the show while Howard claimed to provided the artwork under the fake artist name Bruno Hat. The duo tipped of the press and the art world attended the opening along with reviewers, almost all of them praised the artist and show. The artist did make a appearance at the show but it was Guinness’s friend Thomas Mitford in disguise while sitting in a wheel chair and speaking with fake german accent.
The press ate the show up as well as the artistic world the day following the show. Later that week The Daily Express exposed the show as a hoax. Most of the pieces did sell from the show, the piece pictured in this post “Still Life with Pears” recently went up for auction fetching 5 figures. For the longest time it was thought Howard might be the painter of the artwork but that all laid to rest after Howard’s longtime friend/companion and surrealist painter John Banting. After Banting passed away in 1972 portions of his estate were auctioned off including several pieces from the Bruno Hat show. The Tate refused to add the hoax pieces to their collection and the family put them up for sale.
The Bruno hoax was certainly the high point of the Bright Young Things era but not for 1929. For Guinness 1929 was extra special because he married his girlfriend Diana Mitford. They would prove that not all relationships should continue on as a married couple. Some believed they were truly and madly in love with each other. Many saw them as the poignant leaders of the artistic and social scenes of London during the Lost Generation period (1922-1930). After their marriage in 1929, the couple had 2 sons. They slowly withdrew from their social thrones but Diana was not so quick to jump out of the scene she was accustomed to.
Diana Mitford was born into the Mitford Family, who have held the Earl of Redesdale (now Baron of Redesdale) title for almost 300 years. She is one of the acclaimed 6 six Mitford sisters, known for there great beauty and literary and artistic talents, the sister where the grand dame’s of London society. All 6 were unique in their own rights and raised to be strong women with no convictions. Diana and her sister Nancy were the epicenter of the Bright Young Things. The straight men swooned over them and the closeted gay men worshiped them. Diana was smitten at the first sight of Bryan Guinness, the two even became secretly engaged after Diana’s presentation to society at the age of 18. One year later they were wed. Shortly after giving birth to her two sons, Diana met Sir Oswald Mosely in 1934 at a party thrown by her friend Nancy Cunard’s mother Emerald.
At the time, the great war between democracy, fascism and communism was raging. Mosely at the time was the Leader of the British Union of Fascists. Mosely was dark and slippery fella. He pursued the Diana regardless of the fact they were both married and had children When Diana announced she was going to leave Bryan for Oswald, it turns Oswald refused to divorce his first wife. Then suddenly his first wife Cynthia died from peritonitis, which at the time was a generic cause of death. Some felt that Oswald poisoned his first wife to be with Diana. The clincher, soon after Cynthia’s death, Mosely and Diana came together, against her parents wishes. But Mosely began a new affair with his dead first wives sister, Alexandra. Also during this period, Diana and her sister Unity were on a trip to Germany, while there they attended their first Nazi party rally. Unity would go on to be the star of Nazi social circles, even becoming close friends with Hitler himself. It would be Unity who introduce Oswald and Diana to Hitler.
While Diana’s family alienated Diana for her leaving her family for Oswald, the oust was not permanent. Oswald had gained more power in the fascist party and his connections with the Third Reich in Germany grew even greater. In 1936 Diana and Oswald wed in Berlin at Joseph Goebbels home with Hitler baring witness of the Union. In 1939 while still in Berlin, Hitler urged Diana and her sister Unity to return home to England because war with England was dawning. Diana returned to England, while Unity remained in Germany. Diana seemed to have two sides to her, many claim she was deeply rooted for her love with England and only stood by the man she loved in honor despite general public opinion that the Third Reich was out of control. On the other end of this story, MI5 documented that she was extremely ambitious and very clever and was deeply rooted in the Nazi regime and was more dangerous than her husband. When war came to the shores of England, the government began to crack down on sympathizers still in England. The Mosely’s were at the very top of that list and they were in prison for almost 3 years.
Diana’s sister Jessica & old friend Nancy Cunard protested the Mosely’s release, as did the general public. They were eventually released due to Oswald’s failing health in 1943 and placed in house arrest. The couple would be allowed to travel again 1947 and would keep homes in England, Ireland and France. Eventually they would settle in France with their neighbors being the Duke & Duchess of Windsor. The couple would actually have to remarry in France in their later years because Hitler safeguarded their marriage license so well, it was never found after the war. Sadly Diana’s relationship with her family and Bryan Guinness was extremely strained after the war, she and her sister Jessica never corresponded until their sister Nancy’s health was failing, after her death they never spoke again.
Diana’s style and the loving friendship between her Bryan had in their early years was the envy of all of London. The loving relationship in Evenlyn Waugh’s novel Vile Bodies between characters Adam Fenwick-Symes and Nina Blount were based on Bryan & Diana. Waugh even dedicated the novel to Diana.