We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more
Reference group
Glamour boys (act. 1938–1940) was the pejorative term used by the Conservative Party whips' office, headed by David Margesson, to describe Anthony Eden's followers after his resignation as foreign secretary from Neville Chamberlain's cabinet in February 1938 over the conduct of foreign policy. Predominantly though not exclusively young Conservative back-bench MPs, this Eden group was united by opposition to appeasement and by concern over the worsening European situation. The National Labour MP Harold Nicolson, who also attended their meetings, wrote in his diary on 9 November 1938, ‘They are deeply disturbed by the fact that Chamberlain does not seem to understand the gravity of the situation’ (Nicolson Diaries, 180). The party whips, particularly after the Munich agreement in September 1938, feared a back-bench campaign to reinstate Eden as foreign secretary and to install Winston Churchill as first lord of the Admiralty, and took every opportunity of isolating contrary opinion, a campaign co-ordinated by Sir Joseph Ball, former head of MI5's investigation branch, and director of the Conservative research department. Ball's influence as a skilled undercover propagandist with the national press barons ensured that the Yorkshire Post was one of the few newspapers to be sympathetic towards the Edenites. But Ball's fiercest attacks came in his recently acquired publication Truth, secretly controlled by him and the business committee of the national publicity bureau ‘to discredit Chamberlain's opponents in a way that the rest of the press would shy away from’ (Cockett, 11). Ball coined the term the ‘glamour boys’ in Truth, which soon replaced the ‘boys' brigade’, the ‘glory boys’, and the ‘insurgents’ as the accepted unflattering description of the Edenites by party managers. The image gained wide currency and when Katharine, duchess of Atholl, deselected as the Conservative candidate, stood as an independent anti-Munich candidate in the famous Kinross and West Perthshire by-election in December 1938, she was dubbed a ‘glamour girl’, even though she never attended the group's meetings.

By comparison with Neville Chamberlain, said to be permanently tuned to Midland Regional, Anthony Eden, the Beau Brummel of contemporary British politics, and his followers were largely glamorous figures, but it was a serious misjudgement to imply that they were all show and no substance. History was to vindicate their stance. The Edenites, whose cohesiveness has been exaggerated, had a fluid membership. ‘We decided that we should not advertise ourselves as a group’, wrote Harold Nicolson, ‘or even call ourselves a group’ (Nicolson Diaries, 180). After Eden, the most prominent members were Viscount Cranborne (later fifth marquess of Salisbury) [see Cecil, Robert Arthur James Gascoyne-] and J. P. L. Thomas, who had worked with Eden at the Foreign Office. Weekly meetings were held initially at the Westminster homes of Thomas and (Colin) Mark Patrick (1893–1942), who acted as secretaries. The Queen Anne's Gate house of (Arthur) Ronald Lambert Field Tree (1897–1976) was another venue, though Joseph Ball successfully bugged its telephone and the home numbers of other members (Cockett, 9). ‘I used to preside over these gatherings’, recalled Eden. ‘No minutes were kept and there was no compulsion to follow any decisions reached, though we kept to fixed topics which we met to discuss’ (Eden, 31). Other MPs who attended included Leo Amery, Robert Tatton Bower (1894–1975), (John) Ronald Hamilton Cartland (1907–1940), Duff Cooper, Anthony Commelin Crossley (1903–1939), Hubert John Duggan (1904–1943), Paul Vychan Emrys-Evans (1894–1967), Sir Derrick Wellesley Gunston, first baronet (1891–1985), Sir Sidney Herbert, first baronet (1890–1939), Dudley Jack Barnato Joel (1904–1941), Richard Law, Harold Macmillan, and Edward Spears. Lord Wolmer [see Palmer, Roundell Cecil, third earl of Selborne], often mentioned as one of the group, was to write in his draft memoirs that he had in fact followed Winston Churchill's line (Dutton, 504).

Churchill's followers, known as the ‘old guard’, included Robert Boothby, Brendan Bracken, and Duncan Sandys. Ball claimed in Truth that the glamour boys were merely Churchill's courtiers, which was very far from the truth. Eden's group was much more of a threat to party discipline, and, partly for generational reasons, but also suspecting that Churchill would dominate their gatherings, shied away from formal contact with the old guard, whom some of the Edenites saw as unreliable mavericks. Boothby in particular was deemed untrustworthy, and this aroused Churchill's hostility. Nevertheless there was some overlap between the two groups with Harold Macmillan and Edward Spears. ‘I attached myself to the Eden Group’, Macmillan wrote in his memoirs, ‘but also kept in close contact with Churchill and acted in a sense as a link between the two bodies’ (Macmillan, 549).

The glamour boys were essentially a discussion group, supporting collective security. They used the Whitehall News Letter, one of many private newspapers that sprang up after Munich, to disseminate their ideas. The two main obstacles they faced were ‘the power of the party machine and the general sentiment for peace’ (Eden, 32). Some felt that the old guard and the glamour boys should have forged a more assertive partnership, but Stanley Baldwin had advised Eden to be cautious and not to disqualify himself from an eventual cabinet recall. Both groups were prominent in the Munich debate in October 1938. The number of Eden's followers grew after the invasion of Prague in March 1939, news of which Chamberlain heard while fly-fishing on holiday with Joseph Ball. The group held frequent meetings in the summer of 1939 when Eden, who had rejoined his regiment, the King's Royal Rifle Corps, had not been recalled to government. After the beginning of the war, when Eden was appointed dominions secretary, the group continued to meet under Leo Amery's chairmanship. As public opinion had now increasingly ‘caught up’ with its views, the group's most influential period was ironically during its latter phase in late 1939 and early 1940, when Eden could no longer attend its meetings. By the end of 1940 Eden was once more foreign secretary in Churchill's National Government.

In a letter to his sister Ida, after Churchill and Eden had first rejoined the government, Chamberlain dismissed the remainder of the group as ‘just the usual crowd of disappointed back benchers who were once followers of Winston or Anthony’ (Self, 495). In fact, their now more open criticisms of Chamberlain's leadership contributed to the weakening of his authority, as Chamberlain tacitly admitted to his sister after a secret session of the House of Commons in December 1939. ‘The “glamour boys” turned up in force and were very noisy’, he wrote, ‘so that at one time things were rather ugly’ (ibid., 480).

However, the historical importance of the glamour boys lay not so much in anything they were able to achieve individually or collectively in influencing the conduct of foreign policy, or public attitudes, but in the way that their treatment by the party establishment revealed the ruthless extent to which the Chamberlain government machine was prepared to go in denigrating party dissidents. This political spin was ultimately unsuccessful as Chamberlain's own position was fatally undermined, not by those his followers so energetically demeaned, but by the march of events.

D. R. Thorpe


A. Eden, earl of Avon, The Eden memoirs, 3: The reckoning (1965) · U. Birm., Avon papers · D. R. Thorpe, Eden: the life and times of Anthony Eden, first earl of Avon, 1897–1977 (2003) · D. Dutton, Anthony Eden: a life and reputation (1997) · R. Cockett, Twilight of truth: Chamberlain, appeasement and the manipulation of the press (1989) · U. Birm., Chamberlain papers · Carmarthenshire RO, Cilcennin (J. P. L. Thomas) papers · H. Macmillan, Winds of change, 1914–1939 (1966) · N. Fisher, Harold Macmillan (1982) · S. Ball, The guardsmen: Harold Macmillan, three friends, and the world they made (2004) · J. Margach, The abuse of power: the war between Downing Street and the media from Lloyd George to James Callaghan (1978) · N. Nicolson, ed., The Harold Nicolson diaries, 1907–1963 (2004) · R. Blake, The Conservative Party from Peel to Churchill (1970) · The empire at bay: the Leo Amery diaries, 1929–1945, ed. J. Barnes and D. Nicholson (1988) · The diplomatic diaries of Oliver Harvey, 1937–40, ed. J. Harvey (1970) · ‘Chips’: the diaries of Sir Henry Channon, ed. R. R. James (1967) · R. Self, ed., The Neville Chamberlain diary letters, 4: The Downing Street years, 1934–1940 (2005)